Content streaming platform Twitch has taken a stand against gambling affiliates, banning links or referral codes to online slots, roulette, and dice games.
In a statement published last week, the platform said, “To prevent harm and scams created by questionable gambling services that sponsor content on Twitch, we will prohibit sharing links and/or referral codes to sites that offer slots, roulette, or dice games”, and pledged to “continue to monitor gambling-related content and update our approach as needed”.
It’s a blow for the platform’s top affiliate streamers, which reportedly rake in more than US$1 million a month on the platform from certain operators. But it’s also another highly publicised kick in the teeth for the igaming industry, which with every ‘ban’ forfeits a little more integrity in the eyes of the public.
The objects of Twitch’s latest intervention are mainly crypto-gambling sites. The issue came intensely under the microscope in July, when Wired published a feature titled, ‘Twitch Streamers Rake in Millions With a Shady Crypto Gambling Boom’.
The main issue here was that U.S.-based streamers were using VPNs to access crypto-gambling casinos that were not legal in the states from which the streamers were operating. That made the promotion of such sites illegal. It’s hard to understand why Twitch hadn’t acted sooner. Surely, having a policy against promoting illegal activity is a no-brainer?
The platform’s new rules come into force today (17 August) and will demonetise hours of streamed slot games featured on the platform. Some of Twitch’s most highly remunerated streamers are among those that have streamed hours of casino content to millions of viewers around the world.
Twitch is a platform that, in fairness, skews very young – 21 per cent of users are between 13 and 17 years old, according to the recent Wired article. Which, again, begs the question: Why hadn’t Twitch installed a policy around gambling-related content earlier?
According to Wired, Twitch’s terms of service do prohibit illegal activity and ask users to comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines on advertising. But it does not explicitly ban gambling streams. YouTube and Facebook Gaming, on the other hand, do prohibit streaming some unchecked online gambling sites.
Curaçao-licensed Stake.com came under particular scrutiny in the Wired article, as did fellow crypto casinos Roobet and Duelbits. This highlights yet again how far public opinion and public-health policies lag behind the emerging technology.
Crypto casinos are not a new phenomenon, nor are they vastly different from their fiat-currency rivals, but they appear to be under the radar of the everyday gambling debate. Is there a greater risk attached to crypto gambling because of the volatility of the currencies? Or could it be argued that it’s safer, given that crypto is usually tantamount to a person’s savings or an investment pot? It’s not likely many people are paying their mortgage out of their Bitcoin wallet, unlike the current accounts hooked up to most mainstream online bookies.
I don’t deny that Twitch needed to take action where streamers were flouting local laws or that protecting the platform’s young audience from incitements to gamble is absolutely the right thing to do. But I do wonder whether we have our heroes and villains in the right pigeonholes.
To me, this story is yet another example of big-tech social-media firms failing to monitor the content they host and enabling unhealthy messaging to be disseminated until external voices force an intervention. They are no better in that respect than the crypto casinos forking out millions to showcase their products to teens.
Legislators, regulators, and big-tech bosses need to make a concerted effort to keep up with the pace of change online, across all verticals. They need to be honest about where harm is caused and how and take action to promote public-health policies that make sense.
Gambling is not necessarily intrinsically ‘worse’ because a cryptocurrency is used. Addiction is not intrinsically ‘worse’ because it’s associated it with gambling rather than the compulsive use of a social-media site, for example. What is often ‘worse’ is regulation of little-understood verticals, compared to those that have been demonised for years and, ironically, are probably doing the most to self-regulate.