Big Brother Hovers Over Casinos With Facial Recognition Technology

December 8, 2022
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Matching a face from a digital image with another face in a database is becoming more common in casinos, raising questions about whether regulations should be enforced to protect the privacy rights of gamblers.

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Matching a face from a digital image with another face in a database is becoming more common in casinos, raising questions about whether regulations should be enforced to protect the privacy rights of gamblers.

Casinos often use facial recognition technology to enhance security by identifying patrons who have been evicted or banned.

But facial recognition also can ease the process of financial transactions.

To make a facial recognition payment, a customer must register his or her face before uploading bank card information to a mobile app.

The customer can then complete the payment by merely glancing at cameras positioned at checkouts in stores.

Although this payment method has not yet been introduced in the United States or the UK, nearly one-third of Chinese consumers have made facial recognition payments, according to Christopher Curtis, who is the head of the public protection division in the Vermont attorney general’s office.

“China pushes the envelope on everything [regarding facial recognition],” said Gary Marchant, a law professor at Arizona State University.

Australia and Israel also have begun using facial recognition payments, so it appears to be only a matter of time before this new financial transaction method appears in casinos.

“The ubiquity with which facial recognition technology is now being employed is going to be exponential,” Curtis said.

Patrick Grother, a scientist at the U.S. Department of Commerce agency known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said many Las Vegas casinos are already using facial recognition to collect data about their customers.

“Most of the people who would walk into a casino are completely unknown to the casino, but [casinos] are looking for … high-rollers or card sharks that could easily victimize the casino,” Grother said.

The challenge facing the gaming industry is how to balance the need for data effectively against the desire by patrons for privacy.

“A recent Ipso poll, for example, in May suggested 84 percent of American consumers [are] very uncomfortable or dissatisfied with the notion that so much data is being collected about them,” Curtis said.

Margrethe Vestager, who is executive vice president and commissioner for competition at the European Commission, said consumers are mistaken if they think they are using Google for free.

“You don’t pay for Google with money; you pay for Google with your data,” Vestager said on Tuesday (December 7) during an earlier session of the National Association of Attorneys General.

Clare Garvie, a training and resource counsel for the American Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said facial recognition technology is not always reliable and can result in misidentification.

“It’s not a yes or no question with this technology; it’s a cost-benefit analysis. It’s a question of regulation; it’s a question of what are the harms and are those harms acceptable?” Garvie said.

Like internet gambling, federal regulation might be preferable to state-by-state oversight but probably is not realistic to oversee facial recognition technology.

“The [federal] law we use to regulate digital privacy was written in 1986 before there was even an internet,” said Marchant, the law professor at Arizona State University.

“So we have this problem. We don’t get federal legislation and then, when we do get it, it’s frozen in place. It’s out of date. So that’s why states end up stepping in.”

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