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Ontario Casinos to Use Facial-Recognition Software

18 February 2011 by admin

RPJ_FaceRec_01The Canadian province of Ontario has a new somewhat-creepy defense against problem gambling and it is coming soon to their casinos. The new system uses facial-recognition software to make sure people who enter the casino are not on an exclusion list.

Problem gambling is an issue anywhere there is gambling, so governments are trying to figure out ways of combating the problem. Ontario, like most jurisdictions, already has a voluntary exclusion list, where people who have a gambling problem agree to have themselves banned from any casinos for their own protection. Exclusion lists are important because people with gambling problems often lack the willpower to simply stay away on their own. Therefore, they count on the casinos being able to turn them away.

The current system relies on the security staff to be able to recognize problem gamblers who return to the casino after being placed on the self-exclusion lists. Through this method, Ontario casinos catch approximately 1,000 self-excluded gamblers per year. Critics say that number is too low and shows that the system isn’t working. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says that there are more than 300,000 problem gamblers in Ontario, but of course no one knows how many of them try to enter a casino after placing themselves on the exclusion list.

Critics of the current system say that problem gamblers are responsible for 30% of the $1.9 billion that Ontario casinos made last year. I’m assuming those critics just thought of a number that sounded really scary, because there is absolutely zero chance of arriving at an accurate number in this situation. Let’s look at the argument: Critics say that the casinos are doing a poor job of locating problem gamblers, which means an unknown number of problem gamblers are able to play on the casino floor undetected. After all, if you didn’t catch them, you don’t know they exist, which means you don’t know how many there are. Despite that, the critics claim to know how much money those people are spending at the casinos?

I will admit that casinos need a better system for spotting problem gamblers. That is why they’re turning to facial-recognition software, which identifies people by bone structure and other things that you cannot alter by changing your physical appearance. Everyone who places themselves on the self-exclusion list would have their image placed in a database. Everyone who enters the casino will have their face scanned to see if they match the database. If they do and a match is confirmed, they are escorted from the premises and the incident is recorded in the database. If they do not match, according to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), their image is discarded. And if you believe that line, you probably also believe that airports don’t save the nudie photos from their nude scanners (spoiler alert: they do save them and employees do like looking at them).

Privacy rights activists are upset at having every patron’s image scanned and possibly stored in a government database. They also point out that the system is unnecessary and too expensive. The OLG says that it will cost the taxpayers up to $5 million to install the scanners in its casinos. That seems a little pricey when you consider a simpler detection method: ID cards.

Critics of the facial scanners say that all they need to do is have everyone who enters the casino show a photo ID – such as a driver’s license. That is already expected at bars, movie theaters and any other place where you have to prove that you are legally able to enter. Looking the ID, they can determine whether you are on the exclusion list, and no expensive or intrusive facial scans are necessary. Of course, that would be a rather simple solution to the problem, so I understand why Ontario’s government won’t go for it.

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