Over the past few months, the Twitch gambling meta has absolutely exploded. While streamers and viewers were arguing about the adult-themed hot tub meta and subsequent ASMR meta, the controversy around big YouTubers promoting gambling to their underage audiences was growing behind the scenes.
Some of Twitch's biggest stars have made gambling a regular part of their broadcasts, with many even taking sponsorships from online casinos to promote gambling to their audiences. Their streams, often titled something like '[Streamer] wins $50,000 dollars gambling" reach huge audiences of people.
For years, there have been streamers who play online casino gambling games. However, the rise in popularity surrounding "cryptoslots" and other online casino games has caused a renewed interest in gambling streams from some of Twitch’s biggest stars like Tyler Niknam, xQc, Trainwreck, and more.
The issue of streamers taking casino money is prolific too. According to an article published by Wired, they found that 64 of the top 1,000 Twitch streamers have “streamed crypto slots or advertised sponsorship deals from crypto gambling websites” with some streams attracting “over 100,000 live viewers.”
And despite what you may expect, the Twitch platform is actually very open to gambling. Online gambling games like Slots, Poker, and Virtual Casino have had their own categories for years.
The rise in gambling promotion on Twitch has been met with some backlash from streamers and viewers alike. Major streamers like MoistCritical, Asmongold, Pokimane, and many others voiced their criticism against promoting gambling to children. Even for the streamers that aren’t breaking any laws or Twitch terms of service, these critics argue that exposing vulnerable audience members to gambling is dangerous.
And based on my research, critics of gambling on Twitch are 100% right.
While I don’t think that gambling should be banned entirely on the platform, I do think that the dangers of gambling are severe enough to warrant some type of action. To help curb the risk of harm, if they won't quit gambling entirely, I think at the very least streamers should self-regulate and age-gate their gambling streams.
What are the rules for gambling on Twitch?
If you're looking to broadcast casino content, a Twitch spokesperson told Inven Global that the only rules are that you must follow your local, national, and international laws. So if it's not illegal where you live, it's not against Twitch's TOS.
So if you use a VPN to dodge gambling laws, as addressed in Wired’s article, that could potentially be a violation of Twitch terms of service. Twitch clarified that they will take action against streamers like this, who do break local laws by gambling. They also specified that they are constantly working to refine their community guidelines to address any harmful behaviors, so Twitch very well could change their rules should things get worse.
Notably, Twitch’s Terms of Service do not require that streamers age-gate gambling content. With no rules or policy in place, it is up to the streamer if they will age-gate their adult-oriented gambling content or not. But that doesn't make it ethical or wise to promote gambling to children.
Should streamers age-gate their gambling content anyway?
xQc, Trainwreck, and the other gambling streamers aren't breaking any Twitch rules when they run casino streams with children watching. However, I think that streamers who engage in and promote gambling should take responsibility for their actions, regardless of the rules, and mark their gambling streams 18+.
This is because exposing children and adolescents to gambling has potentially harmful effects, even if they are just watching.
According to a metastudy published by Mary Wilber and Dr. Marc Potenza in the Psychiatry journal: “While adolescence is only a short period of one's life, it is a time of critical developmental change and growth. There exist high rates of risk-taking behavior during adolescence, including with behaviors like gambling that have addictive potential and carry associated risks.”
According to their metastudy that reviewed 26 gambling prevalence studies, not only do adolescents face a greater risk of developing pathological gambling problems, they also face a greater risk of failing to identify problematic behaviors in their gambling activities. Wilber and Potenza identified early age exposure to gambling activity as a key risk factor in developing dangerous gambling habits later on in life, even if the child wasn’t the one gambling.
In an exploratory study published in 2013 by the journal of International Gambling Studies, Nerliee Hing found a significant association between gambling promotions during televised sport and intention to gamble among young people. In the conclusion of that study, Hing suggested that in the light of those findings, limitations of gambling promotions during events are warranted.
So while watching the stream doesn't always cause harmful effects, some percentage of xQc’s younger audience members could be harmed by the exposure to gambling behaviors. xQc and other gambling streamers are actively encouraging their audiences, which include minors, to try gambling games or have a positive view of those games. Some of those fans who do try gambling as a result of this exposure could develop problematic behaviors later on in life as a result.
Considering the documented dangers of exposing children and adolescents to gambling content — and considering the large number of younger viewers that watch Twitch streamers — the responsible thing to do when gambling on stream would be to age-gate the stream. I fully acknowledge that Twitch doesn’t require that, but I think that self-regulation is a good thing.
If streamers don't self-regulate, Twitch will eventually do it for them
When it comes to potentially dangerous content, self-regulation is the only way to avoid official regulation.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was first established in 1994 to apply content ratings to games. It was a result of the industry realizing they need to regulate themselves after violence and sexual content in games prompted congressional hearings on the matter in 1993. The ESRB is a non-governmental, self-regulatory trade organization that was able to effectively regulate video game content, so the government didn’t have to.
Streaming is in a very similar situation today, in regards to gambling content.
While streaming has, up until now, been relatively free of regulations from both Twitch and governments if streamers want to keep that privilege they need to start regulating themselves and thinking critically about their content.
As demonstrated above, the dangers of exposing young people to addictive gambling on stream are clear, real, and recognized by policymakers. I think that streamers who play casino games on Twitch should recognize that and age-gate the content preemptively, even if it means taking a small hit to their viewership during that gambling stream.
Age-gating gambling streams (especially promoted gambling streams) is not only the legally smart thing to do, it is also the right thing to do.
Aaron is an esports reporter with a background in media, technology, and communication education.