While slumming around the internet earlier today looking for something interesting to write about, I stumbled across a study from 2010 that ties in nicely to to the much-publicized CS:GO skins betting scandal we’ve all heard so much about lately.
The study was published in BMC Neuroscience observed what happens when people simply watch others gamble. What they found wasn’t particularly surprising, but it does cast certain Twitch broadcasters and YouTubers in an even more negative light – if such a thing is even possible.
First, for anyone not acquainted with the skins betting scandal, you can read the full story here. The long-story-short version is that Counter-Strike has certain in-game items (called “skins”) of varying rarity that can be traded for real money. After a liquid market developed around skins, a bunch of third-party websites sprung up to allow people to gamble with skins.
For example, one popular skins gambling game would have everyone throw their skins into one pot. A random spin of the wheel would then choose one winner who would win the whole pot of skins. Sometimes these pots could be worth thousands of real-world dollars.
The fact that a bunch of unregulated gambling was going on in relation to Counter-Strike was a scandal all by itself. However, the scandal got even worse when it was eventually discovered that popular YouTubers and Twitch broadcasters were caught streaming videos of themselves winning and losing thousands of dollars at gambling sites they owned without disclosing the fact that they owned those sites.
Now, back to the study.
Researchers conducted the study by setting up pairs of people in front of a simple small stakes gambling game. One person was situated as the gambler while one person simply observed. The gambler’s task was to predict one of two random outcomes. A correct prediction resulted in the gambler winning a small amount of money. An incorrect prediction resulted in a small loss.
Spectators were paired with gamblers in three different ways during the experiment:
- The spectator won and lost money along with the gambler
- The spectator won money when the gambler lost and vice versa
- The spectator sat as a neutral observer; neither winning nor losing
All the while, both the gambler and the spectator had electrodes attached to their scalps to record electrical activity in the brain.
The outcomes in the first two situations yielded expected results; the brain activity in the spectator mirrored that of the gambler when both won and lost money together. Likewise, both participants showed opposite electrical activity when one lost and the other won.
Researchers were surprised by what they found in the third situation with the spectator acting as a neutral activity. Even though the spectator neither won nor lost any money while merely observing the gambler, the spectator still showed similar brain activity to that of the gambler.
In other words, the study found that when we watch other people gambling, our brains respond in the same way as though we were the ones gambling
So, if you were to watch James “PhantomL0rd” Varga lose $10,000, your brain would react similarly to his. If you saw him win, your brain would likewise the same activity as if you were the one who won that money.
This is particularly disturbing when you consider that people like PhantomL0rd weren’t even really losing money. The YouTubers and Twitch broadcasters who are now in hot water were making it look like they were losing money, even though in reality they were simply “losing” money to their own gambling sites.
We can only guess how many kids watched these videos and then later went on to gamble real money on unregulated skins betting sites.
Wes Burns has more than a decade’s worth of experience as a writer, researcher, and analyst in the legal online betting industry and is co-founder of OnlineBettingSites.com. Wes approaches his work from the viewpoint of players.