As video games have allowed for increasing interconnectedness thanks to the internet, the most popular titles have become hotbeds for gambling-related activity.
Whether players are risking in-game weapons and character “skins” against one another, or betting on the results of high-profile eSports contests, video games have come a long way from the arcades of old.
Two entrepreneurs in the U.K. attempted to capitalize on this growing trend by monetizing FIFA – one of the most popular video game franchises in history – but their scheme ran afoul of British regulators.
Per reporting published by The Guardian, 33-year old Dylan Rigby and 32-year old Craig Douglas were ordered to pay fines and prosecution fees totaling £265,000 by the U.K. Gambling Commission for multiple violations of the country’s Gambling Act of 2005.
Specifically, the pair admitted to serving as company directors for Game Gold Tradings Limited, which owned and operated a website known as FutGalaxy.com.
Douglas, who maintains a thriving YouTube channel boasting nearly 1.5 million subscribers under the handle “NepentheZ,” used the medium to actively promote the FutGalaxy platform.
Referring to FutGalaxy as a “social gaming” site, Douglas starred in a video directing subscribers to sign up and wager using FIFA Coins – or the in-game virtual currency used by players to sign star soccer players and build competitive squads in the FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) mode.
While playing in FUT mode, human players can earn FIFA Coins by meeting in-game benchmarks, with the currency then used to upgrade players and teams. Those players then can be sold on a transfer market which operates along the lines of a genuine sports league.
The FutGalaxy site was set up to allow users to purchase FIFA Coins via credit card, with the virtual currency then wagered between users on the outcome of matches.
The tandem managed to generate a pre-tax profit of £96,000 between July 2015 and February 2016.
Unfortunately, Douglas and Rigby failed to institute age restrictions on the site, leading to instances such as a 14-year old child losing £586 in a single day.
This fact was exacerbated by Douglas’ own words on the aforementioned YouTube video, which overtly targeted minors:
“You don’t have to be 18 for this, because this is a virtual currency.”
Furthermore, because FutGalaxy was not a licensed gambling operator, its very existence constituted a violation of the Gambling Act of 2005.
Appearing in front of a magistrate’s court in Birmingham, Douglas admitted to serving as an officer of an unlicensed gambling operator, and to advertising such services. Rigby admitted to a pair of charges tied to providing facilities for illicit gambling purposes, as well as the advertising charge.
In issuing his ruling, district judge Jack McGarva focused his ire on the fact that children were invited to risk real money:
“The aggravating features of these offences are they were committed over a relatively long period of about six months. Children were gambling on your site. It’s impossible for me to know how many or the effect on them.
In my opinion, both of you were aware of the use of the site by children and the attractiveness of it to children. At the very least, you both turned a blind eye to it.”
Rigby was ordered to pay £174,000 in fines and fees, while Douglas must pay £91,000.
Douglas issued a conciliatory tweet immediately after the ruling:
“I owe a huge apology to my family and close friends for putting them through this process, and appreciate all those that stood by me.”