Toral: The thin line between live stream entertainment and gambling

Jannette Toral.
Jannette Toral.File

In the digital age, live streaming platforms like Uplive, Bigo, Niki, Poppo, Kumu, Lami, Fancy, LightChat, Partying, among others have transformed entertainment, offering a new way for hosts to interact with audiences worldwide. These platforms took off during the Covid-19 pandemic period as many were at home and looking for sources of income, especially those in the entertainment industry.

It allowed almost anyone to join with low barriers to entry. Some implemented stricter quality control on the type of hosts that can monetize. These platforms enable hosts to earn income through viewer gifts and participate in bet-type games, promising lucrative returns. Uniquely, Kumu also has campaigns where hosts compete on gifts received rankings hoping to enter the cut-off and qualify for prizes. Most of the time, hosts shell out their funds in these types of activities and are not necessarily able to recover their investment.

Recent complaints regarding non-payouts and the gambling-like nature of earnings have sparked concerns, calling into question the need for stricter regulation.

Unresolved complaints and the call for accountability

In 2022, host reports have surfaced from various countries voicing frustrations about Uplive and its non-payment of earnings. Despite generating substantial income through the platforms’ mechanisms, many find themselves unable to receive their hard-earned money upon cashout. Lately, the platform turned off the feature disallowing users to convert or cash out their earnings.

The lack of effective resolution to these complaints highlights a significant gap in platform accountability and consumer protection. Despite complaints deluging Google Play Store and Apple App Store over the past years, the application remained transactional, allowing users to buy diamonds. As the platform has an international presence—Asia Innovations Group, the company behind Uplive is based in Singapore—where should the complaints be filed? Users also feared that if they filed complaints, the likelihood of not being able to collect would be higher.

Blurring the lines: Entertainment or gambling?

The core of the issue lies in the monetization models adopted by these platforms. The integration of bet-type games and the monetization of viewer interactions bear a striking resemblance to gambling activities. The reliance on viewer gifts and participatory earnings models, coupled with the changing nature of compensation and payout mechanisms, raises questions about the ethical implications of such platforms. As users, particularly the youth, engage with these platforms, the potential for harm grows, underscoring the urgency of regulatory oversight.

The case for regulation

The need for regulation is clear. To protect consumers and ensure fair practices, regulatory bodies must step in to:

Define clear guidelines: Establish what constitutes permissible entertainment versus gambling within digital platforms.

Enhance transparency: Mandate platforms to disclose the mechanics of games and earnings, ensuring users have a clear understanding of the processes.

Protect consumers: Implement robust consumer protection measures, including dispute resolution mechanisms and the protection of minors.

Monitor and enforce compliance: Develop systems to monitor platforms’ adherence to regulations and enforce compliance.

Moving forward: A call for ethical practices

As digital platforms continue to evolve, the distinction between entertainment and gambling becomes increasingly blurred. The complaints against platforms like Uplive serve as a cautionary tale of the potential pitfalls within the live streaming industry. It is imperative for regulatory bodies, platform operators and the community at large to engage in a constructive dialogue aimed at fostering an environment of ethical practices, consumer protection and innovation.


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