In near lockstep with the explosion of legal online sports gambling sites, the card-collecting industry has seen a proliferation of card breakers—parties that buy unopened boxes of sports cards and open them live on social media streams. Hobbyists (a/k/a gamblers) pay for spots in the “break” that will entitle them to keep all the cards in the box or case from a particular team. The outfits publicize their breaks with fantastic claims, “No matter which breaking method you choose, you always have a chance at uncovering the next Holy Grail!”
In most breaks participants pick a team or several teams (typically priced commensurate with the potential values of the most expensive cards for each such team) or a random distribution of teams (usually for a less expensive entry fee that is the same for each participant). The card packs are opened live, and the cards are shown individually so that all viewers can see who gets what.
The main enticement for participants is the hope for a “hit,” a valuable—if not contrived—insert like a 1/1, rare parallel, or autographed card that far exceeds the entry fee. Card breakers profit by charging more for spots than the cost of the unopened box or case. If all of this sounds a bit like gambling, you are probably right.
“While surprise-based products can be sold, they are currently restricted on our platform. This means that sellers who wish to sell or promote such products must abide by our TikTok Shop Gambling, Gifting and Surprise-based Product Control Guidelines.”TikTok guidelines
Social media giant TikTok announced in early March 2023 that it will no longer allow card breakers to broadcast their videos on its platform because of concerns that the activity may constitute illegal gambling. TikTok’s terms and conditions regarding surprise-based products were updated to specifically include “Surprise Trading Card Packs” and now require any presenter (e.g., card breaker) to sell any baseball cards in “the manufacturer’s original packaging and content without any alterations. All sold product(s) must also be sealed.”
PayPal had previously cracked down on breakers through its gambling prohibition, even when the specific activity was lawful or not legally defined as gambling, including: “Games of chance and games of skill – Includes any activity with an entry fee and a prize, regardless of whether the outcome is determined by chance or skill.”
Although the actual factors vary by state, the elements of gambling typically require (1) consideration [the price charged for entering the break], (2) chance [that the box(es) opened may contain chase cards such as 1/1s, parallels, and autographed cards, or alternatively, that the cards that are worth less than the entry fee] and (3) a prize [the insert cards (“hits”) have significant value on the secondary market].
You may be familiar with the phrase “no purchase necessary” when entering a contest promoted by a reputable company. Offering participants an option to enter a contest for free eliminates the “consideration” requirement—required to deem a contest illegal—even if a particular entrant had paid to purchase a product for entry. Not surprisingly, card breakers rarely allow free entry.
There are dozens of highly regarded card breakers operating now, however, the industry is unregulated and susceptible to issues. In 2022, Backyard Breaks got into some hot water when they decided to keep a Trevor Lawrence “Gold Kaboom” card (they believed to be valued in excess of $15,000) found during a break, instead of sending it on to the person to whom it was originally promised.
Rumors abound that card manufacturers intentionally give boxes loaded with hits to breakers.
Otherwise, a breaker who is adept at slight-of-hand can easily make sure valuable cards are not seen or distributed. In fact, there are articles available to help new breakers appear trustworthy. These recommendations include: keeping both hands on the screen, using multiple cameras, and showing that the box is empty.
Several baseball card manufacturers faced charges of illegal gambling in the 1990s when valuable insert cards first took the hobby by storm. [The card manufacturers ultimately won because a customer’s disappointment from not finding an insert card was not sufficient to establish damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.] It seems like it is just a matter of time before a disappointed break participant pursues a similar case against a breaker.
It remains to be seen whether other social media outlets like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch will follow TikTok’s lead due to the potential that card breaks constitute illegal gambling or if lawmakers will seek to impose any regulations on the booming card breaking business. As for now it is still the Wild West out there for gamblers—caveat emptor.
3 thoughts on “Dems the Breaks: TikTok Bans Card Breaking Video Streams”
Baseball pack breaking is another way to ruin the hobby.
The gold kaboom wasn’t during a break. No one paid money for the box and didn’t get the contents. It specifically was a giveaway, article mistakenly says “during a break”.
Sigh! This actually is completely in line with all of the “new blood” that came into the hobby during the pandemic, when people with a lot of money and nowhere to spend it decided that sports memorabilia would be a good way to make a buck. Nothing specifically illegal, immoral or unethical about that, but because they’re the ones with the money, it does seem like the companies are catering to them, littering the sets with endless parallel cards and 1-of-1’s that you have as much chance of finding as you do of winning the lottery. Not something that seems like it would be worth getting involved in, unless one’s whole point in collecting is immediately throwing whatever “hit” you acquire up for sale on eBay . . .