Is eSports Betting legal in UK and Europe?
Last updated & tested: 2019-07-26
eSports is a rapidly expanding industry with widespread popularity across the globe. In fact, according to a recent study by Super Data Research, based in the US, the market scraped in a value of $892 million (around £717.6m) in 2016. They believe that this year this figure will soar to over $1 billion. So what exactly is its appeal?
Well, many are drawn, it seems, to the fantasy elements of gaming. Since the dawn of time people have always sought new ways to entertain themselves. Since the mainstream appeal of gaming in the 70’s, dipping into the often immersive worlds of video games – and becoming someone else or something else entirely – has been a pastime of those looking to remove themselves from modern life. Some players when pressed will speak of the competitive edge that these video games can bring about by expressing their need to drive their scores higher or kill more dwarves than other players or collect more skins (more on this later) than their competitors.
What are eSports?
eSports is a difficult thing to pin down – even those who are used to witnessing emerging markets struggle to agree on what it is, however, we will use the eSports definition provided by Nick Tofiluk of the UK Gambling Commission. He states that:
“It is difficult to define eSports but for the purposes of our discussion paper, we use the term to describe the playing of computer games which can range from play by two individuals to playing in professional competitions.”
So basically, in a nutshell, if you play a video game with another person, whether you are part of a professional eSports competition or not, you are an eSports player. I guess that makes us casual gamers eSports players and we didn’t know it?
Where our focus is today though, is the use of eSports in tournaments. eSports tournaments are huge events where professional players face each other in a video game knockout competition, sometimes alone, sometimes as part of a team and are watched by a huge audience of observers. To give you some idea of the scale of this, 36 million people logged online to watch the League of Legends World Final between the Koo Tigers and SK Telecom – five million more than those who watched the NBA Final worldwide! Players and teams hail from all over the world, with huge followers of the tournaments in Asia, North America (in particular the USA) and also European countries such as Sweden, Lithuania and the UK. Each of these regions have highly successful tournaments of their own, and they often specialise in a single game. For example, in the UK and Europe you’ll find the European Gaming League which focuses solely on Call of Duty tournaments.
Many of these competitions offer huge prize funds to the winners. The industry has grown to such a scale that multi-million dollar prizes are regularly up for grabs. On DOTA 2 in 2015, a reported $31,015,892 (£24.9m) was awarded to players of the game. If that sounds like a lot of cash, bear in mind that we haven’t even touched on the revenue generated from advertising or eSports bets yet.
As eSports gambling is an emerging betting market many countries have been slow to arrange regulation for eSports bets. Most of the difficulty surrounds the use of the word ‘sport’ to describe video gaming, something that has long been considered a fun pastime. If we are to take a look again at Tofiluk’s eSports definition, someone from the gambling industry, then it is all cut and dry. If you and I were to log into our Steam accounts and play DOTA: 2, heck if we challenged each other to a game of Sonic the Hedgehog we would be taking part in eSports. But many others argue that a bet on this market would fall under gaming laws rather than sports betting regulations. And that’s where the sticking point is. While the debate rages on worldwide on exactly WHAT category eSports falls under it has remained unregulated in some areas of the world.
While this is a concern in the wider countries in Europe – only the UK, Malta, Spain, Italy and Denmark have defined gambling in eSports and have successfully regulated it – it should not be a problem for those who wish to bet on legitimate sites. All UK based eSports gambling sites fall under the jurisdiction of the UK Gambling Commission, who in August 2016 took the first steps in making eSports betting in UK safer for gamblers. Their decision was made in part due to recent controversies surrounding ‘skin gambling’, a process where players can use their in-game items in place of cash to make bets on eSports games.
When playing games online such as Counter Strike, players receive drop ins or crates of goods such as addons or skins. While most people would use these items in the game, those surplus to requirements can find themselves on the Steam Community Market, where their owners can make a tidy profit. Valve, the company that owns Counter Strike takes 15% out of the transaction for their own gain. However, players can also easily access their Steam Web API Key, which allows them to link their Steam account up to external sites. This is where skin betting comes into play. There are sites out there that allow people to bet on the results of eSports games using the value of their items.
However, until recently it was also common practice for players to use their Steam Web API Key to connect to Skin lottos where players can place their items in a pool with other people. One item is picked out randomly, and whoever owns that item wins the whole kitty. While this may sound like a great idea, there was very little in the way of regulation for this type of site to ensure that the pick is random, and one such site, CSGO Lotto, which was heavily promoted by two popular CSGO bloggers, turned out to be owned and financially backed by them. Something which would have been a non-issue if they had given full disclosure at the start.
Legality of eSports betting in the UK
The issues mentioned above may give slight cause for concern, but eSports betting in UK is legal providing you are over the age of 18, and that makes it much easier to monitor. eSports attracts a young demographic – Newzoo suggest that 20% of those interested in eSports are under 20 and 37% between 21-35, and by placing your eSports bets on a reputable site you can be sure that validation checks are completed before you are able to place your first bet. Sadly, this is not always the case in other parts of the world where guidelines are less strict.
The UKGC were the first gambling commission in the world to issue a discussion paper on esports legal clarifications in August 2016. The huge paper discussed, among other topics, the use of licensing for both skin betting and for normal eSports betting. Through their research, they decided that all bets on eSports constituted gambling, meaning that those who provide eSports betting and those bets provided online should be regulated under usual UK gambling rules.
This was an important step in the UK, as it not only provided boundaries with which to police eSports betting, but it also sought to protect those who continued to place bets. The UK Gambling Commission & the Gambling Act 2005, which covers online gambling, work towards three main objectives:
- Preventing gambling from becoming a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder, or being used to support crime.
- Ensuring that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way.
- Protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling.
We have already discussed the third option, protecting children and vulnerable persons from being harmed by gambling, but are the other two really an issue in eSports? Well, there have been examples throughout the world where cheating has been used by players or teams in eSports matches to either win or throw a game due to eSports gambling.
Players have also been known in the past to hack into their opponents computers and bombard them with data that slows down their PCs so their play speed is also compromised. This is a little harder to control, but would fall in part under the jurisdiction of the UKGC as they ensure that ‘gambling is conducted in a fair and open way.’
By introducing regulations to UK betting this can help to curb the problem on a wider scale. It is worth noting that these cases of match fixing or cheating very rarely come to light, and if they do the offending team is swiftly nipped in the bud to help preserve the eSports community. On the whole betting on eSports is safe providing you use a reputable site.
Legality of eSports Betting in the European Union
Although Europe may have their own governing body, the EU, each country is separately responsible for their own country’s gambling laws. As such there is no standardised regulation on European gambling. So is eSports betting legal in Europe?
Well that’s not quite so cut and dry. While it’s clear that eSports bets are taking place regularly in the UK, not all parts of Europe allow quite so much freedom. In some countries such as Sweden and Germany they have no problems in declaring eSports betting legal, but in France the battle still rages on to get legislation in place. Sports betting online is however, legal in France. This blanket ban in France may be starting to shift over the last year with discussions on eSports legal clarifications raging on in parliament.
The debates have been helped by large businesses in France such as football team Paris Saint-Germain who have taken their first leaps into the eSports world. In 2016 they were pictured alongside eSports legend Bora ‘YellowStar’ Kim, the European League of Legends champion, who is set to represent PSG’s team alongside Agge Rosenmeier and Lucas ‘DaXe’ Cuillerier. And with growth in the industry of 10% per year, it is hardly a surprise that the French government want to get a piece of the revenue too as esports betting in Europe becomes more and more popular.
Steps have also recently been made to make eSports betting legal in Italy, and while they are one of the most liberal countries providing esports betting in Europe, the games available to the public are under scrutiny. All tournaments that allow betting must not ‘contrast with the morality, public order and public decency.’ Strict guidelines are in place to decide which games and tournaments are suitable for betting.
Final Remarks regarding eSports betting in the UK and Europe
So while gambling on eSports in the UK is a commonplace thing, eSports betting in Europe is much less clear cut. We recommend that if you would like to place bets on the exciting, emerging market of eSports that you check out the legal and moral implications of doing so in your home country. And of course, it goes without saying that you check out larger, established sites to ensure that your money and personal data can be trusted in their hands.
It is also important to remember that eSports is an emerging sports and betting market, and as such some teething problems are to be expected. Still, if you’re into your video games (and who isn’t?) then placing a cheeky wager as a side bet on DOTA 2, StarCraft 2 or COD is a great way of increasing the fun. And who knows, you may even strike it rich!
Check out the top ranking EU regulated eSports Betting websites with our reviews:
|BEST ESPORTS BETTING SITES|
|1||96 / 100||Esportsbetting Review||GO TO ESPORTSBETTING|
|2||95 / 100||Betway Review||GO TO BETWAY|
|3||94 / 100||Arcanebet Review||GO TO ARCANEBET|
|4||93 / 100||Pinnacle Review||GO TO PINNACLE|
|5||92 / 100||10Bet Review||GO TO 10BET|
We always recommend our readers to choose eSports Betting Operators which are either overseen by the UK Gambling Commission, or alternatively fall under European Legislative bodies, thus ensuring security and transparency when betting on eSports.