Australian Anti-Gambling Group Warns Of Predatory Facial Recognition

March 1, 2023
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A leading Australian anti-gambling group is warning that gambling companies could use facial recognition technology to subvert responsible gambling reforms, a key election issue for the nation’s most populous state.

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A leading Australian anti-gambling group is warning that gambling companies could use facial recognition technology (FRT) to subvert responsible gambling reforms, in what is a key election issue for the nation’s most populous state.

The Melbourne-based Alliance for Gambling Reform described attempts by gambling companies to promote FRT as an alternative solution to a proposed mandatory cashless gaming regime in New South Wales (NSW) state as “hypocritical and misleading”.

“The international evidence clearly shows that FRT can be used to increase customer losses and time spent using poker [slot] machines, a fact that will concern anyone seeking to reduce gambling harm,” alliance chief executive Carol Bennett said in a statement on Tuesday (February 28).

“Industry trade papers also freely discuss the use of FRT for ‘enhancing customer experiences’, which is code for increased poker machine use and gambling losses,” she said.

The alliance’s comments, which accompanied the release of a brief policy paper and recommendations on FRT, are likely designed as an intervention in the NSW election campaign. The election will be held on March 25.

Gambling reform has been a prominent feature of the campaign, which has seen conservative Premier Dominic Perrottet take on the slot machine segment and ClubsNSW, the all-powerful pubs and clubs lobby that supports it.

Amid recovering polling numbers, Perrottet has committed to mandatory cashless gaming in his next term, while Labor leader Chris Minns has baulked at such a reform.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform called for a ban on FRT “in all hotels, clubs and casinos” until consultative legislation is in place to regulate the technology.

Specifically, the alliance’s policy paper calls for a ban on cameras being placed on individual slots, a ban on personalised customer data collection and for the use of cameras only to implement player exclusion.

Should a mandatory cashless gambling regime be introduced in NSW and Tasmania state, which is also considering the move, the use of FRT would be made redundant, it said.

“Such technology would mitigate the risks associated with FRT and indeed do more to prevent harm to people who are experiencing varying levels of gambling harm, rather than the significant harm that people often experience before excluding or being excluded,” the paper said.

The alliance’s call for a moratorium on FRT dovetails with the stance of the Australian Human Rights Commission, which has argued that FRT must wait for federal, state and territory jurisdictions to introduce legislation on biometric tools that protect human rights.

The policy paper notes that FRT is increasingly common but unregulated in all Australian territories except the state of South Australia, where gaming operators are prevented from using gamblers’ biometric data as a promotional tool or beyond the gaming premises in question.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform’s involvement in material gambling reform has traditionally been modest.

But the removal of hardline ClubsNSW CEO Josh Landis over a perceived religious slur toward the NSW premier in January has invigorated anti-gambling forces as the election approaches, with new pressure being applied on the Labor party to match the Liberal government’s commitments.

Meanwhile, Konami Group’s Las Vegas-based subsidiary on Wednesday (March 1) announced a patent licensing deal with Sydney-based gaming equipment manufacturer Independent Gaming to roll out FRT options for slots and table games in Australia and globally.

Komani’s FRT add-on module allows gamblers to be recognised upon seating instead of upon swiping a player card.

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