Leading livestreaming platform Twitch has announced a revised gambling policy that introduces a ban on the streaming of certain gambling sites, with effect from the 18th October. The decision came following threats from leading streamers to remove and stop future streaming of their content on Twitch, and high-profile debate across social media about the platform's role in promoting gambling activity.
What has Twitch announced? Who does it affect?
Twitch's initial announcement on 20 September detailed that the platform would be revising its gambling policy, namely to prohibit the streaming of sites that:
- contain slots, roulette, or dice games, and
- which are not licensed in the US or in jurisdictions that provide "sufficient consumer protection".
This was followed by the platform officially updating its community guidelines on 18 October. Twitch has identified four specific sites that are banned at the time of writing, but it also makes clear that others may be added to this list in future. The policy further details that if a gambling site is licensed in the US or in another jurisdiction which meets the requirements of the policy, or does not involve slots, roulette, or dice games, streaming of the site will continue to be permitted.
Though open to interpretation, and with no specific jurisdictions listed, examples given by Twitch of regulatory measures which might afford such "sufficient consumer protection" include "deposit limits, waiting periods, and age verification systems". Following the clarification issued on 18 October, it is clear that the policy update is unlikely to have as wide-ranging an impact on the streaming of gambling activity as was initially thought might be the case by some observers.
The policy begs a number of questions, however. For example, it makes clear that Twitch will continue to allow website content that focuses on sports betting, fantasy sports and poker, and it does not specify that such sites must also be licensed in the US (or another satisfactory jurisdiction). This suggests that Twitch's move is focused only on consumer risk, given that it is apparently unconcerned by where (and indeed whether) websites offering only these "softer" products are licensed, rather than also concerning itself with the legality of the streaming of potentially unlicensed activity. In addition, the policy also indicates that the prohibition will extend to all domain extensions of the banned sites, including those containing only "free social versions".
Further, there is no mention of blackjack and other card-based games (with the exception of poker). The policy also appears to indicate it will operate on a blacklist basis, with a small number of crypto-based casinos being prohibited initially and Twitch electing to "identify other sites as we move forward". It is notable, therefore, that Twitch is targeting specific 'sites' as opposed to streaming of the prohibited games themselves, with an emphasis on the site's 'focus'.
How is gambling advertising regulated in the UK?
Advertising of gambling sites and games is heavily regulated in the UK, with a number of revisions to advertising codes and practices put in place last year and in October this year the "Strong Appeal" test was introduced. At a high level, advertisers must ensure ads are accurate, transparent, and not misleading (particularly with regards to claims of methods of risk mitigation, exaggerated levels of control or elements of skill on behalf of a participant) in order to be compliant and gambling and lottery adverts must not “be likely to be of strong appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture".
The above requirements extend to streamers on the platform that have signed brand and sponsorship deals with gambling and casino operators, which recent reports speculate could be worth well in excess of seven figures each month. It is highly likely that the sponsored streaming of gambling and concurrent interaction with live viewers would be deemed to be advertising of gambling under the Gambling Act 2005, in that:
- such activity may encourage one or more persons to take advantage of gambling facilities;
- such activity is being done with a view to increasing the use of gambling facilities and brings information of them to the attention of one or more persons; or
- they (sponsored streamers) are knowing or believing that such activity is designed to accomplish either of the above outcomes.
Unless content is also licenced by Gambling Commission, there is a risk that the offence for the advertisement of unlawful gambling may apply. Under the Gambling Act, an offence is committed if the gambling being advertised is taking place without the operator's reliance upon a valid licence, notice, permit or exception at the time of advertisement. However, defences exist if the individual "reasonably believed that the advertised gambling was lawful."
Twitch's decision will undoubtedly cast a light on how other major platforms will continue to ensure compliance with their respective guidelines and policies following the immense success of various gambling-related streams over the last few years, with multi-million brand deals at stake for leading streamers and creators.