The Bad RNG
Generating a truly random number may sound simple on paper. You pick a number within a certain range and voila. The question is how you mass produce those random numbers if let’s say you want to create a gambling website. To answer this question, many computer scientists have created computer programs, of which the sole purpose is to generate random numbers as efficient as possible. Those programs are usually called “random number generators” or RNG in short. However, contrary to the common beliefs, no matter how sophisticated the algorithm that is used to create those programs is, the software-level RNGs cannot generate true “randomness”. This is because, on a software level, those generators still have to follow predetermined formulas, which in this case are the algorithms. But because of the ease of implementation, most of the websites, applications and video games still mostly choose these pseudo-RNGs over the true RNGs. As a result, the concerns about fairness arose as the reality has shown from time to time again that those pseudo-random number generators can be easily rigged and exploited to intentionally cultivate gambling addictions among youth.
In 2017, the competitive shooter game CSGO has taken the Esports scene by storm. Besides the revenue that was brought by the competitions, Valve, the company that made CSGO mainly profited from the in-game cosmetics items, namely weapon skins. Those in-game skins can also be traded between players. Many websites are created by third-party companies to automate this process as a middle-man trading platform. Those websites often also provide casino-like features: players can place bets on a jackpot using either real life money or in-game skins with a chance to win the jackpot. Many YouTubers saw the opportunity and started making videos, in which they gambled their skins on those websites and either record or stream the process. One famous YouTuber called Tmartn uploaded a video, in which he started off saying that he “found this awesome website” and proceeded to show his earns from the gambling website called CSGOLotto. In those videos, he had wins and loses but in the end he still seemed to make a lot of “profit” in terms of in-game items. This has allured a lot of his followers to invest big money into this gambling site. However, later the whole situation turned out to be a complete scandal. In the article by ESPN writer Jacob Wolf, it was reported that Tmartn and several other Youtube personalities have intentionally hidden the fact that they were the owner of the gambling websites in the video they have uploaded to Youtube. They have also rigged the results of the gambling so that they appeared to be winning in general. But because the results of the gambling all come from the RNG that is not visible
to the public, people only paid attention to his cheating during his video after it was revealed that he owned those websites. The algorithms were mainly hidden for the most part. This scandal has shown perfectly the danger of the opaqueness that Cathy O’Neill has alarmed about in algorithms. The opaqueness made the general public not able to discern whether they are treated fairly. And when it comes to gambling, the situation it is even worse. Participants can be easily manipulated by changing rigging the RNG to make it seem like winning is easy when it is actually not.