Twitch Draws Fire For Gambling Streams Accessible To Youth

November 10, 2022
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Access to gambling streaming by underage viewers on Twitch is becoming more controversial, as countries such as Germany and Norway complain that streaming gambling violates their laws.

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Access to gambling streaming by underage viewers on Twitch is becoming more controversial, as countries such as Germany and Norway complain that streaming gambling violates their laws.

Twitch, the Amazon-owned gaming website, allows sign-ups at age 13, and boasts that nearly 75 percent of its viewers are aged between 16 and 34.

Last month it partially banned streaming of slots, roulette and dice games, barring four cryptocurrency gambling websites by name.

But it still allows poker, sports betting and daily fantasy sports, and slots streams from companies licensed in the US and jurisdictions with “sufficient consumer protection.”

Those changes are not enough to evade the ire of regulators in Germany and Norway, which said operators with licences from even other European Union countries still break laws against promoting unlicensed gambling.

Belgium and the Netherlands have similar laws, and Japan is cracking down on gambling on offshore websites, suggesting that affiliates that offer links on Twitch in Japanese may be threatened.

Beyond that, jurisdictions such as the UK and Ontario restrict their licensees from appearing on websites with a significant percentage of minors and US states such as Massachusetts are considering similar regulations.

Despite Twitch’s policy change last month, the website still hosts slots streamers, and poker streams include those from two titans of online gambling: Flutter Entertainment’s PokerStars and Entain’s PartyPoker.

“Something that’s been repeatedly shown is that young people are particularly susceptible to gambling problems”, David Zendle, a University of York, England-based lecturer who has studied the intersection of gambling and gaming. “It’s not rocket science”.

In a 2020 study, he found an “important link” between problem gambling and watching gambling streamed live, problematic at a level comparable to betting on eSports.

The fact that Twitch could be exposing 13-year-olds to slots or poker streaming “warrants restraint and consideration from licensed and unlicensed gambling entities”, said Virginia-based safer-gambling consultant Brianne Doura-Schawohl.

US states such as Massachusetts are now considering sports-betting rules and regulations that explicitly prohibit marketing on platforms with significant underage participation, she said.

According to an Entain spokesman, Twitch says 86 percent of its audience is over 18, and PartyPoker content “is designated for mature audiences only, carrying warnings that content should only be viewed by those over 18.”

“We do not have any links from our Twitch channel to our gaming sites and we comply with all applicable advertising codes relating to gambling when creating social media content”, the spokesman said.

A Flutter spokesperson said “PokerStars adheres to all local regulations and responsible gaming standards when publishing and streaming content across any platform or channel, while also adhering to each platform’s terms of service”.

“Viewers must consent to being over 18 to view our Twitch content, and this content does not feature promotions, call-to-actions, or links to any of our real-money sites”, he said.

San Francisco-based Twitch has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

On Twitch, affiliates such as Bonushunters.com and Aboutslots.com offer links to affiliate websites that supply online gambling only two or three steps off Twitch, albeit with disclaimers like “Click here – this is not a transaction site”, and “Please confirm you are at least 18 years old.”

At 2pm GMT yesterday, slots streamers had 6,700 viewers, “virtual casino” had 18,000 and poker had 3,500. That compares with 60,300 viewers for FIFA 23, 49,400 for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and 4,000 for chess.

Some gambling streamers claim their streams are of Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) licensees, though most seem to make no claims other than “18-plus.”

Canadian regulator the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has marketing and advertising restrictions prohibiting targeting minors, including a ban on celebrities or role models such as streamers popular with youth, said spokesman Raymond Kahnert.

Licensees are responsible for ensuring affiliates meet those standards, and AGCO has been in touch with operators active on Twitch to make sure marketing protects minors and does not promote excessive play, he said.

In the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) requires companies with age-restricted advertisements to show that an audience is below 25 percent underage.

The UK Gambling Commission enforces that code with fines and operators are responsible for the actions of their affiliates.

Although the 25 percent standard is the maximum, the ASA believes it is a “legitimate regulatory objective to seek to minimise children’s exposure to age-restricted ads generally and therefore want to see advertisers of products such as gambling use available tools to more effectively target their ads away from children, even where the vast majority of an audience is over 18”, according to spokesman Matt Wilson.

The MGA restricts licensees from disseminating material that could appeal to those who are underage or vulnerable.

It holds licensees responsible for the action of third parties, but the authority could withhold sanctions if the third party was acting without knowledge of the licensee and the licensee took “sufficient precautions” to avoid breaches and took immediate action when it learned of the breach, a spokesman said.

In the US, American Gaming Association (AGA) guidelines call for ads or marketing to only be placed in media where at least 73.6 percent of the audience “is reasonably expected to be of legal gambling age”.

In New Jersey, an internet marketing company needs one of two kinds of licence, and any such company found to be promoting underage gambling would face a monetary penalty, suspension or revocation of the licence, a Division of Gaming Enforcement spokeswoman said.

In much of Europe, the gambling age is 18; in Ontario, 19, and in much of the US, it is 21.

Last month, Germany’s Joint Gaming Authority of the Federal States (GGL) flagged to Twitch that it considered its slots streaming to be illegal, as licences from other countries are not valid in Germany.

Further, German regulations bar gambling broadcasts or streaming, even of licensed operators, and that ban “serves primarily to protect minors”, said Fabian Masurat, an attorney with Taylor Wessing.

The principle is, “in the absence of sufficient age controls, there is a risk of illegal advertising to minors through the streaming of games of chance”, he said.

The GGL also “sees the risk of viewers being confronted with the emotions of the streamers while gambling, and therefore viewers are confronted with gambling on an emotional level”, Masurat said.

Belgium bans knowingly advertising or facilitating gambling that is unlicensed in the country, on penalty of fines ranging from €100 to €100,000 per violation.

Even individuals who consciously play on a website illegal in Belgium can be fined between €26 and €25,000, according to the Belgian Gaming Commission.

Zendle said he does not understand why Twitch does not ban gambling streams or institute better forms of age gating.

“Why does Twitch think it’s worth endangering its whole platform for this niche practice?” he said.

He said that many gaming companies feel like they are in the Wild West, and growing so fast they lack internal controls.

“We get these companies are having big success, but are they able to self-regulate?” Zendle said. “They know the people who provide oversight are looking the other way”.

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