In summer 2016, it was discovered that CSGO Lotto, a so-called “skin gambling” site, was co-owned by two members of YouTube's Counter-Strike: Global Offensive community. But as it turns out, Trevor "Tmartn" Martin and Tom "Syndicate" Cassel weren’t actually running a gambling site at all. Coleman Watson, their lawyer, said that people could have played for free, had they simply read the directions.
Following the CSGO Lotto scandal, which broke on July 4, 2016, Martin and his company were the target of multiple civil lawsuits. But they were never charged with a crime by any state or federal agency. That’s because, their lawyer told Polygon, they didn’t actually break any laws.
CSGO Lotto was, on its surface, a portal to an elaborate game of chance. Players would connect their Steam accounts and use the weapon skins they owned to enter into those games. There was, and still is, a thriving marketplace where skins are traded for currency, and each skin’s value is tracked by Valve in real time. CSGO Lotto would simply accept skins as tickets to enter its contests.
But, Watson said, there was always a way for people to get those tickets for free. Watson said that means CSGO Lotto was as much a gambling website as McDonald’s is a casino.
Once a year or so, McDonald’s runs its famous Monopoly-themed game. On every package of fries and on the side of softdrinks is a pull-tab, and some are instant winners that award cash, electronics or even cars. But the promotion, and others like it, isn’t gambling because there’s always a way to get one of those pull-tabs for free.
No purchase necessary. Some restrictions may apply.
“The trick to that is if you’re in McDonalds and you look at the display, it says you don’t have to buy any fries or Coke to play the game,” said Watson. “You just have to walk up to the counter and ask for a ticket. Then you mail it in and they’ll tell you if you won or not.
“Our business model for CSGO Lotto was no different than that. It would have allowed anyone who ever wanted to play the games for free skins to get them. All they had to do was ask.”
We checked the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, and sure enough, it was written there in plain English: “You agree that the Company offers you an alternative method of entry to participate in any game pool.”
All people had to do was send an email in asking for a ticket, and CSGO Lotto would cordially invite them into each and every drawing on the website.
“That’s why this whole thing was so frustrating,” Watson said, “because you have a lot of people go on national platforms and say, ‘It’s gambling, it’s gambling, it’s gambling. It’s taking advantage of kids.’ Well, I mean, it was never a secret. It was always on the website. It was right there in plain sight.”
The CSGO Lotto site has since been removed from the internet, and the company itself wound down. Watson says that was an option from the beginning.
“The business closed for a couple of reasons,” Watson said. “First of all, they went into the business knowing it was a regulated area, and also an area that was very new and emerging. So when you’re in an area that’s new and emerging, somebody’s gotta be the canary in the coal mine — so to speak — and test it out to see what’s going to happen from a governmental regulation perspective. And sometimes you want to have that risk, and sometimes you don’t. In this situation, when all these allegations of alleged illegal gambling came up, honestly the cost benefit of continuing forward just wasn’t worth all the exposure and everything else that came with it.”
Watson said that he has been successful in getting multiple class-action lawsuits against his clients thrown out of court. There is a single, lingering case pending in Florida. You can read his motion to dismiss, which is as floridly written as it is complex, for free.
Watson also played a key role in helping Martin and Cassell through their troubles with the Federal Trade Commission, which took issue with the YouTubers promoting CSGO Lotto without disclosing that they owned it. He takes issue with outlets that claimed the pair were hiding their involvement with the website.
“Not disclosing you’re an owner is very different than hiding,” Watson said. “To me, hiding is someone asking ‘Are you the owner?’ and you say no.”
Polygon reached out to Trevor Martin on July 4, 2016, the same day that the original story broke. He declined to comment, and did not refer us to Watson at that time. In fact, the only reason we learned that Watson was the lawyer who helped set up CSGO Lotto in the first place is because his public relations staff mentioned it when they offered Watson up, unsolicited, to be an expert in an unrelated story here at Polygon.
A reference to Watson’s success in these cases resides prominently on his professional site. You just have to take the time to read it.