After a whirlwind week that started with a Twitch streamer scamming his fans and other creators out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and only escalated from there, Twitch has finally cracked down on gambling. But after initially celebrating a total ban, streamers are beginning to realize Twitch’s language isn’t as ironclad as it seems.
Twitch is an Amazon-owned live-streaming platform with an audience of around 31 million visitors per day. (Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.) The site has long turned a blind eye to gambling streams, in which streamers functionally advertise gambling websites to an audience that skews young: Twitch says nearly 75 percent of its viewers are between the ages of 16 and 34. Around 6-9 percent of young people struggle with gambling compared to 1 percent of adults, according to the National Center for Responsible Gaming.
In a tweet published Tuesday evening, Twitch announced that beginning in October, it will “prohibit streaming of gambling sites that include slots, roulette or dice games that aren’t licensed either in the U.S. or other jurisdictions that provide sufficient consumer protection.” Such sites include Stake.com, Rollbit.com, Duelbits.com and Roobet.com according to the announcement — all of which partnered with popular Twitch streamers or otherwise had a presence on the platform. The tweet included a carveout for websites focused on sports betting, fantasy sports and poker.
This strikes a blow to casino-style betting, which has become big business on Twitch in the past several years. The formula is simple: Streamers visit a gambling website and exchange real money for cryptocurrency, which they can bet on simple games of chance like slots and roulette. Viewers tune in to vicariously experience the thrill of being a high roller, with wealthy streamers dropping tens or hundreds of thousands — and sometimes more — to very occasionally win millions.
As early as 2018, Twitch’s casino section contained numerous channels of questionable repute, some of which inflated their viewer counts with bots to advertise specific slots gambling websites. Over time, this grew into a more influencer-driven strategy, with the relative success of longtime slots streamers like Ishmael “Roshtein” Swartz luring bigger names like gamer-turned-gambler Tyler “Trainwrecks” Niknam and Twitch king Félix “xQc” Lengyel.
Sites like Stake struck deals with Twitch-grown personalities like Niknam and Lengyel, with Niknam saying he pulls in over $1 million per month from his Stake sponsorship alone. Another popular gambling regular, Adin Ross, seemingly receives nearly that much per week. Even Drake, the rapper, got in on the action with his own Stake deal for an undisclosed sum.
For a time, streamers paired those sponsorships with links to gambling sites and referral codes; Twitch banned those additional advertising and moneymaking methods last year. This change arose from a staff-led movement to curtail gambling on the platform, according to former Twitch employees who chose to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal. The ban ultimately did little to curtail gambling.
Many streamers have grown uncomfortable with gambling’s increasingly prominent place on the platform, viewing broadcasts as a gateway to real-money gambling for impressionable viewers already familiar with gambling-inspired mechanics in and around games like “Counter-Strike,” “Genshin Impact,” and the FIFA series’s Ultimate Team mode, among others.
Moreover, there’s another, bigger issue: Some streamers are breaking the law by gambling on Stake, given that crypto gambling is illegal in the United States. To circumvent this, Niknam first used a virtual private network to spoof being in another country; when even that proved untenable, he uprooted his life and moved to Canada, where online gambling laws are less stringent, in 2021. There, he continued to gamble on Twitch nearly every day while swearing up and down that others should not do so. In January, he said he was “down” $12.9 million due to gambling.
Nonetheless, he and others like Lengyel who claim to have become “addicted” stick with it, hoping that their warnings — and charitable efforts like Niknam’s partnership with mental health-focused nonprofit Rise Above The Disorder — will be enough to offset damage done by their lucrative yet destructive career turns. It’s a move that mirrors entities in the sports betting space like the NFL, which has poured $6 million into the National Council on Problem Gambling despite partnering with sports betting sites like DraftKings and FanDuel. With Twitch, the effectiveness of this approach is debatable. In August, Bloomberg published a report on Twitch viewers who’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars to gambling sites after watching their favorite streamers try their luck day in and day out.
All of this culminated in a week of pure chaos on Twitch. On Saturday, a streamer who goes by the handle ItsSliker (who has not publicized his real name) admitted to borrowing money from other streamers — including big names like political pundit Hasan “HasanAbi” Piker and Niknam — under false pretenses, claiming his bank account had been frozen or his Twitch payments hadn’t come through and he just needed money to keep his head above water. He failed to pay friends back for months or years; he had gambled away around $200,000.
During a confession stream, ItsSliker said he got started in the popular competitive shooter “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” which contains cosmetic weapon and item skins with real-money value that third-party sites use like casino chips. For him, this was a funnel into sports gambling, on which he spent “basically all” of the money he earned through Twitch.
“I deserve punishment. Whatever happens, happens,” he said. “I don’t know what to say to the people I borrowed from.”
Despite the fact that ItsSliker’s apparent addiction centered around sports gambling — whose boom has concerned addiction experts since a 2018 Supreme Court decision made it a state-by-state issue and which remains allowed on Twitch — his admission sparked another community-wide discussion of casino-style gambling’s potential impacts on impressionable viewers. Top streamers Imane “Pokimane” Anys and Matthew “Mizkif” Rinaudo, alongside agency head and industry insider Devin Nash, ended up discussing a possible solution during a Sunday stream: to rally other top creators to boycott Twitch during the week of Christmas, an especially profitable time for the company.
The resulting clip caught fire on Twitch, Twitter and YouTube, prompting a series of increasingly incendiary debates that culminated in Rinaudo saying Niknam should be banned from Twitch, at which point Niknam replied by alleging Rinaudo had previously covered up an instance of sexual assault perpetrated by one of his friends against a fellow streamer. One True King, the streamer-led gaming organization Rinaudo co-owns, suspended him Tuesday evening and promised a third-party investigation. Rinaudo, meanwhile, has issued an apology.
Amid further increasingly personal mudslinging between big names prompted by this conflict — which audiences ate up with voyeuristic glee across Twitch and Twitter, as well as the 1.5 million-user subreddit Livestreamfail — Twitch made its announcement. Gambling beneficiaries like Ross did not take the news well, while others like Anys and Piker celebrated on Twitter. In August, Twitch told Bloomberg that it was in the midst of a “deep-dive look into gambling behavior.” But when asked by The Washington Post what that investigation found and how much it factored into this week’s rule change — as opposed to recent outcry from big-name streamers — a Twitch spokesperson said the company’s rule change announcement would be its only statement on the matter for the time being.
But just because Twitch’s policy update looks like a ban and talks like a ban, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a ban.
“Soon it will hit people that gambling is not banned on Twitch; only sites incompliant with U.S. regulations will be removed on the 18th of October,” said Twitch star turned YouTube streamer Ben “DrLupo” Lupo.
“Unfortunately under these updates slots, roulette and dice gambling still can live on Twitch, just in their diluted form on U.S.-licensed websites,” Nash told The Washington Post, noting that even Stake has a U.S. version, albeit one that does not require real money to play games. “The good news is, we might see more consumer protections built in from those websites, but the bad news is gambling is still here to stay even under the updated policy. Twitch still needs to do more work to acknowledge the harm gambling does to their audience and take a total stand against luck-based gambling.”
That could prove difficult, however, due to the growing normalization of gambling in America. Gambling-like mechanics are prominent in popular video games, and Twitch’s parent company, Amazon, has made forays into the world of gambling, including a multiyear partnership with sports betting site DraftKings as part of its $13 billion Thursday Night Football deal with the NFL.
Christine Reilly, senior research director at the International Center for Responsible Gaming, thinks what happens next will depend on Twitch.
“There is very little research about the relationship between illegal gambling and gambling disorder,” she said. “Restricting access to sites that are regulated could be helpful, but consumer protections tend to vary in the online space. I’d be interested to know how [Twitch] defines consumer protection — do [gambling sites] allow customers to self-exclude, track transactions and send warning messages if excessive gambling is detected, or provide information on getting help with gambling problems?”
Nash, too, believes the ball is now in Twitch’s court — but that streamers and viewers should be ready to catch it when it’s thrown back their way.
“In its current wording, this isn’t even close to a luck-based gambling ban,” he sad. “We must hold Twitch accountable as a platform to do the right thing, since they only seem to respond to extraordinary pressure.”