Hundreds of ‘ready-to-gamble’ crypto casino accounts are being openly sold on Facebook and other mainstream social media sites, Sky News can reveal.
Online casinos that use cryptocurrency are known as crypto casinos and are unregulated and illegal in the UK.
They have risen in popularity thanks to gambling influencers, including celebrities such as the rapper Drake.
Sky News found it is simple to get around the barriers intended to block British people from gambling on these high-risk sites. The accounts come fully set-up and a buyer is able to simply log in and start gambling without the need to add personal details and fill out forms.
Carolyn Harris MP, who leads a parliamentary group that scrutinises gambling-related harms, said the findings are “astounding”.
Anti-gambling groups warn crypto casinos are particularly attractive to those with gambling disorders and children, with one campaigner telling Sky News the addictiveness of crypto casinos is “turbocharged” compared to traditional gambling.
WHAT DID THE INVESTIGATION FIND?
Over the last three months, Sky News has analysed hundreds of adverts across different social media sites, as well as speaking to sellers and buyers.
The adverts mostly appeared on Facebook and Discord, a message board popular with gamers, but were also posted on TikTok, Telegram, Reddit and X (formerly Twitter).
Analysis of these adverts showed that accounts for one of the largest crypto casinos, Stake.com, were the most advertised as for sale and requested by buyers.
Adverts for more than 200 Stake.com accounts were posted on Facebook since the start of October, while at least 100 were promoted on one Discord server.
There was no evidence Stake.com, or any of the crypto casinos knew about these adverts or endorsed them. Their branding is being used on social media without permission – like on this group with 18,000 subscribers.
After being contacted by Sky News, Stake.com said they are aware of fraudulent attempts to access their crypto casino and that they say their attempts to block behaviour like this is “constantly evolving”.
Some of the groups run a sophisticated operation, with sales teams and others offering of a “middleman” who – for a small fee – holds a buyer’s money until both parties are satisfied.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Crypto casinos are blocked in the UK which means a user gets an error message when they attempt to go onto one of these websites – but a previous Sky News investigation showed how British gamblers are encouraged to dodge these blocks using free, widely-known software.
But some sites also require a user to provide photo identification when making an account. This is to help the casino verify whether the gambler is in a country where they can operate legally.
The accounts Sky News found for sale come ‘pre-made’ – with this verification stage already completed.
This means gamblers can easily bypass these ID requirements – sometimes paying as little as $10 (£7.90) for an account.
Premium accounts are also on sale for thousands of dollars. These more expensive accounts tend to have active cashback or financial bonus features.
Verified Stake.com accounts are also available for free through the messaging app Telegram and work with a fake address.
Sky News tested this using an address for a small version of the Statue of Liberty which is in Japan, a country where Stake.com is permitted. The account remained live for a week until Sky News closed it.
The people selling the accounts are not affiliated with any of the casinos, and some appear to be gamblers themselves. Many adverts mentioned that the reason the seller was getting rid of the account was because they had gambled away all their money.
One seller told Sky News: “I lost $225,000 [gambling] this month. I don’t have any money anymore. I’m poor now. I need money for food in the next week.”
WHY ARE CAMPAIGNERS WORRIED?
The people most likely to be gambling on these accounts in the unregulated market are children and gambling addicts, according to Matt Zarb Cousin.
He co-founded Gamban, a software that blocks gambling sites, after developing his own gambling addiction. Mr Zarb Cousin says these sites are highly addictive thanks to features on their sites, such as no time or wager limits.
He said: “The idea of owning a very, very volatile currency you can wager on casino games, which are extremely addictive, would have been a very, very harmful experience for me… The addictiveness of that is almost turbocharged.”
Carolyn Harris and her fellow MPs on the Gambling Related Harms All Party Parliamentary Group have been campaigning to bring what she calls “analogue” gambling laws up-to-date in a modern, digital era.
She said: “I wish that it was something I wasn’t anticipating, but knowing what I do know about this environment I think it was only a matter of time before we saw these things happening.
“But the investigation was absolutely brilliant and the fact that’s going on is astounding.”
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR MONITORING THIS?
Social media companies have a role to play in preventing adverts like this appearing on their platforms, Mrs Harris told Sky News, but added that the blame also lies with the crypto casinos.
She believes the gambling industry does not do enough, saying: “There’s no moral compass there… They do not believe that they should be taking responsibility.”
Richard Williams, a gambling specialist at Keystone Law, told Sky News the trade of these accounts is legally a grey area but there could be issues of fraud at play.
He warns that this is increasingly becoming a problem, noting he is “seeing more and more cases of British residents gambling with offshore operators, particularly crypto casino gambling operators”.
It’s not possible to prove whether all the adverts are genuine or just a scam from criminals preying on those with disordered gambling habits.
WHAT DO THE COMPANIES SAY?
TikTok, Reddit, Discord and Meta, who own Facebook, removed the accounts after being contacted by Sky News.
The social media companies said the safety of users is a top priority said their community guidelines do not allow the promotion of gambling services or activities that facilitate illegal gambling, with a Meta spokesperson saying: “We don’t allow scam adverts and we have removed the ads brought to our attention for violating our policies.”
Telegram and X, formerly known as Twitter, did not reply to comment.
A spokesperson for Stake told Sky News: Stake is aware of attempts to evade our industry-leading controls by a variety of means. Stake has the strongest controls in the industry, meaning that anyone attempting to fraudulently gain access to Stake must devise new methods of doing so.
Our approach to combating fraudulent attempts to access Stake, working alongside regulators and law enforcement, is constantly evolving to stay ahead of bad actors.
Stake.com is not available in the UK, but is licensed and regulated in other jurisdictions. Stake invests significantly into detecting and preventing problem gambling.
The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.