Gambling streams are nothing new on Twitch. For years, streamers have sunk money into slot machines and poker, often in conjunction with casino websites and other gambling companies. Though allowed on Twitch, these channels have a history of engaging in sketchy behavior. Recently, some of the biggest names on Twitch have adopted high-rolling lifestyles, leading other big names to question whether they’re leading impressionable fans down a dark road.
Over the course of the past few months, gambling has become a popular pastime of Twitch’s upper echelon, with streamers like Félix “xQc” Lengyel, Tyler “Trainwrecks” Niknam, and Adin Ross getting in on the action. Legal gambling is allowed on Twitch, with the site sporting official sections for slots and poker. In many cases, gambling streams are the result of sponsorships from companies with plentiful skin in the game, who often provide streamers with referral codes and currency to blow during broadcasts. While streamers are required to disclose sponsored ads, they do not always note that they’re being given money with which to gamble. They proceed to sink hundreds or thousands of dollars into slot machines on sites like Stake, a self-described “bitcoin casino” whose terms of service prohibit US-based users from participating due to gambling laws. However, some users get around this by using VPNs.
Big money streams make for tense viewing punctuated by the odd $400,000 payout, but also content that is very straightforwardly advertorial in nature. In short, gambling streams provide streamers with high-stakes broadcasts and gambling companies with long-form ads watched by thousands or hundreds of thousands of viewers.
Oh, and streamers also make money. Big money, to hear them tell it. Over the weekend, popular streamer Matthew “Mizkif” Rinaudo said an unnamed company offered him $35,000 an hour to stream while gambling on their website. During a stream earlier this month, Ross revealed even more eye-popping figures, mistakenly opening Discord DMs in which a crypto casino called Duelbits seemingly offered to pay Ross and other big-name streamers $1.6 million a month, which Ross turned down because of a better offer from another site that included referral code money and paid expenses. Lengyel also recently revealed his payouts, albeit in more confusing fashion, suggesting that he lost $300,000 because he gambled outside of a sponsored stream—effectively providing free advertising—but won almost $3,000,000 due to “genuine addiction.”
That last part is a big point of contention among streamers. Gambling can be addictive, not to mention illegal in some places. Advertising gambling websites means implicitly encouraging people to gamble. This has resulted in months of criticism directed at the likes of Lengyel and Niknam.
“I see gambling’s become kinda fucking big these days,” popular streamer and YouTuber Charles “Moistcr1tikal” White said during a stream back in April. “I was watching, and it seems a bit dangerous, I think, when you see one of your favorite streamers get a huge payday and you’re, like, an impressionable 15 [or] 16 year-old.”
The criticism has only grown louder in recent times.
“Twitch needs to ban gambling streams full stop,” Twitch World of Warcraft kingpin Asmongold said on Twitter last week. “The amount of bullshit and pitfalls this is going to create in the next 6 months will fuck the website in so many ways we don’t even realize yet. Just looking at EU gambling laws, anyone could see this will not end well.”
Not everybody outside the slot machine gambling meta is fully against it. Ludwig Ahgren—who famously streamed for 30 days straight earlier this year—sometimes does sponsored poker streams and believes that it only becomes a problem when “it’s perceived that the person is gambling their own money, but they’re instead gambling money they were paid for.” Over the weekend, he defended gambling in response to criticism from speedrunner and streamer Clint Stevens.
“Does he not fucking get that people’s careers on Twitch last literally, like, years, and then it goes away?” Ahgren said. “A few fucking years.”
While not directly responding to Ahgren, Imane “Pokimane” Anys, one of the most popular female streamers on Twitch, took aim at the idea that it’s necessary for big streamers to bet the house on gambling streams.
“Let’s be honest: If you’re getting an offer from a casino sponsorship, you’re already a multi-millionaire,” Anys said during a stream over the weekend. “You need to be a multi-multi-millionaire? I feel like once you get to a certain point of wealth, you have so many options available to you to generate more income. Like, you are so insanely privileged. Even just investing properly. Not even looking at what you’re investing in and putting it in a random vanguard-whatever fund and letting it sit—you’re making free money. I feel like it would be a good idea for people to sit down at that point and be like, ‘What am I OK with doing? What is ethically or morally maybe just not worth it?’”
Anys also called on Niknam, specifically, to acknowledge the “other side of a take”—namely, that gambling comes with many downsides. Back in May, Niknam actually did this. While gambling.
“You should not gamble,” he said at the time. “No cap, you should not gamble. Just watch me gamble. Don’t gamble. This is very bad. You’re going to lose, you’re going to get fucked. The same advice I give for this, I give for even crypto investing. Whatever money you put into crypto or gambling or whatever the hell, assume it’s already gone.”
In a moment truly characteristic of this entire trend, however, he managed to spin this into an ad for his referral code, which ups the “rakeback”—or regular return of a portion of entry fees—of those who use it on the gambling site in question. He advised that only “degens” who already gamble use the code.
“Everyone else, do not fucking gamble,” Niknam said. “I’m telling you: It will ruin your fucking life.”
More recently, Niknam has defended his gambling streams as “authentic and transparent” and has taken aim at streamers who use “fake balances” to “eliminate the risk of losing their own money.” He also said on Twitter that he gambles off-stream “because I actually love gambling.”
In his own life, Lengyel seems to believe that the last part has become a problem. Though he previously brushed off complaints surrounding his gambling streams, he began singing a different tune early this month.
“I get addicted to things very, very, very easily,” Lengyel said during a June 1 stream. “I noticed that my brain’s kinda going crazy. So I have to stop [gambling].”
However, he resumed streaming slots just a bit over a week later. Earlier today in his own Twitch chat, he once again committed to quitting.
“I wanna stop [gambling] for good,” he wrote. “I’m taking my shit out. I’m gonna force myself to. I’ma withdraw it, put it on a physical and lock it away.”