Twitch's fractious relationship with casino streamers
Twitch, an Amazon-owned streaming network, announced this week a big crackdown on users who stream slots, roulette, or dice games from unlicensed operators. However, the debate over the slots streams has been building for years.
With gaming streaming site Twitch - and the streaming sector in general - exploding in recent years, early casino streamers are beginning to capitalise. Both CasinoDaddy and Roshtein, two of the most popular streamers at the time of the ban, began streaming slots in 2016. CasinoGrounds, which has become a hub for numerous slots streamers, began in 2016 as a community of those who livestream casino games.
"The casino streaming scene on Twitch was a snug and intimate area for all video slot aficionados," Roshtein remarked on his website's "About" page. "There were just a few casino streamers(...) who embraced me and encouraged me to follow my hobby."
Simultaneously, Twitch attempted an early crackdown on one type of gambling: skin betting. Twitch told users that it must ban any streams that promote skin betting sites after Counter-Strike: Global Offensive developer Valve sent cease-and-desist orders to skin betting companies.
By the end of the year, interest in casino gambling had reached a tipping point. According to analytics site TwitchTracker, the platform introduced a distinct category for casino gaming in September 2018, initially consisting of 18 channels and drawing roughly 4,500 viewers each day.
The company subsequently developed a distinct category for slots in December 2018, which soon garnered more than 10,000 viewers each day and nearly 5 million total hours of viewership that month.
Already, the section has sparked debate, with an article on the video gaming news site Eurogamer pointing out that there is little to no age-gating of content, and a number of unlicensed businesses being pushed. Meanwhile, an October 2018 piece in Kotaku noted that several casino-focused accounts appeared to be especially suspect, generating overnight surge in viewing that many users claimed should not be feasible organically.
2019 Streaming of casino games gains traction, with monthly viewing hours in the vertical more than doubling during the year. PokerStars introduces an in-client interface that allows players to link their Twitch account with their PokerStars account.
However, the debate remains. Casino channels consistently top the list of the fastest-growing channels on the network, with some collecting more than 500,000 new followers in 30 days, but users notice that the numbers appear to be inflated by bots.
The Covid-19 pandemic has enabled casino streaming to take off faster than ever before. With many other types of entertainment unavailable, both the online casino sector and the streaming world - particularly streams of online casino games - are experiencing significant development.
Kim Hultman, the host of the LetsGiveItaSpin channel, earns €47,000 for Covid relief groups during a 24-hour streaming challenge in April.
Meanwhile, a July 2020 poll indicated that 4.1% of 1,081 UK people stated they had seen a live video of someone gambling online in the previous 12 months.
There were few visible signals of the impending gambling crackdown at the time. Twitch added "Twitch predictions" around the end of the year, a free-to-play feature in which users could bet points on the outcomes of games being televised, implying some sympathy for the industry.
The general streaming community, as well as the online casino sector, are becoming more aware of the prospects available in casino games.
Acroud, a superaffiliate, is one of companies taking advantage of the new acquisition channel, declaring ambitions to develop a new streaming community and provide a "all-in-one service" to any streamer wishing to grow their channel.
Simultaneously, popular video game broadcasters like Felix 'xQc' Lengyel and Tyler 'Trainwreckstv' Niknam sign sponsorship arrangements with bitcoin casinos.
The debate surrounding casino streaming on Twitch continues to heat up. On June 28, Lengyel said that he will discontinue gambling streams, claiming that he had gotten "slightly, if not substantially, hooked" to gambling.
Meanwhile, many content providers openly discuss streams utilising casino funds or otherwise misrepresenting the hazards involved. Many content makers, according to Niknam, utilise "false balances" to "avoid the risk of losing their own money."
Stake.com, a bitcoin casino regulated only in Curaçao but accepting consumers from a variety of other markets, has become the most-promoted gambling operator on Twitch by this point.
Much of the larger Twitch community began to speak out against the platform's increase in casino games. World of Warcraft streamer Zack "Asmongold" Breen has called for a complete ban on streaming casino games on Twitter, while Imane "Pokimane" Anys, one of the site's most prominent users, has also criticised the amount of popular streamers who have accepted casino arrangements.
Adin Ross mistakenly exposes his direct messages on a live in July 2021, providing users an idea of how much money was in the realm of casino streaming. According to Ross' discussions with cryptocasino Duelbits, the operator offered to offer $1.6 million every month, but in his replies to these chats, Ross stated that he was "receiving more" from Roobet.
Following this, Niknam announced on stream that he earned $1 million per month by marketing gambling websites.
Twitch launched a severe assault on the gambling industry in August 2021. From the 17th of August, all sites that offer slots, roulette, or dice games will be prohibited from using links or referral codes.
"We will restrict posting links and/or referral codes to sites that offer slots, roulette, or dice games to prevent damages and scams produced by questionable services that promote content on Twitch," Twitch said in a creative update.
Some gaming-centric firms were quick to capitalise. Time2play, an affiliate site owned by the Kafe Rocks Group, created a new streaming platform with age-gating and other player protection features to avoid the difficulties that Twitch streamers had.
"There is certainly a demand for the content produced by gambling streamers," stated Kafe Rocks CEO Simon Pilkington. "What we want to do is assist in ensuring that it is shown in the appropriate environment and to the appropriate individuals."
Soon after, LiveSpins launches, providing streaming directly into operator sites as well as the option for viewers to gamble alongside streamers.
The prohibition had an immediate impact on slot streams, but it did not end the genre. Slots streaming reached a low point in October 2021, with 18.3 million hours watched, which was still more than the previous year's amount.
From there, viewership gradually increased again.
Spring 2022 Twitch viewing hours set a new high of 36.3 million in March, surpassing levels reached prior to the link restriction.
When Lengyel returned to streaming slots in May, the programme received increased attention. A Change.org petition that month urged Twitch advertisers to advocate for a ban on advertising gambling on the service.
League of Legends streamer Sykkuno, who left Twitch for YouTube in April, coined the word "gambling meta" in May when he denounced it on Twitch.
June to August 2022
Casino streaming have surpassed Call of Duty: Warzone to become one of Twitch's top ten categories, trailing only esports blockbuster Dota 2.
Drake becomes the largest figure to enter the casino streaming industry, agreeing to an undisclosed partnership with Stake.com. On his second webcast, he had 112,000 concurrent viewers at its peak. Within two months, affiliate Casino.org claimed that the rapper had already put down more than $1bn.
However, the genre continues to face more scrutiny, and told Bloomberg that it was “currently in the midst of a deep-dive look into gambling behavior on Twitch”. Breen, meanwhile, reached out to US Senator Ted Cruz, encouraging the Republican Party heavyweight to push for a ban on gambling on the platform.
The controversy around gambling on Twitch heats up amid a brand new scandal. Abraham “Sliker” Mohammed admits that he had scammed fans and other content creators out of at least $200,000 after developing an addiction to betting on esports matches.
While Mohammed did not stream casino games, the news prompted a greater backlash against the category. A group of streamers, led by Anys, threatened to boycott the platform if it did not do something about the prevalence of gambling, while Anys also regularly took to Twitter to call for new restrictions and discussed the issue on her own streams, to an audience of more than 9 million followers.
Amid this latest controversy, Twitch announced its new crackdown on slots, roulette and dice games, banning any streams of these games if they are played on unlicensed sites such as Stake.com.
The new ban will come into force next month, so its effects will only be felt then. Before it comes into place, though, the platform has promised more clarity on the specifics. At the moment, a lack of clarity over what counts as an appropriate level of regulation or as a casino-first site may lead to uncertainty.
At the same time, other businesses in the streaming space may hope that the ban creates an opportunity for a new gambling-focused streaming platform to rise, and be better equipped to tackle the problems that have plagued Twitch.
By fLEXI tEAM