Macau Casinos Eye Facial Recognition to Nab Cheats

Casinos in Macau are embracing the latest facial recognition software to keep shady characters off their premises. There is just one problem: while police often maintain lists of "undesirable" gamblers, they do not always have photographs to match.

Macau's three casino companies - Sociedade de Jogos de Macau, the Venetian and Galaxy Resorts - are testing facial recognition technologies, according to Robert Ruggles, business development manager at Vodatel Systems.

In some countries, gambling addicts voluntarily submit pictures of themselves to photo databases, but compiling data on career cheats is not so easy.

"You cannot do the same with criminals," Mr Ruggles said.

Vodatel, listed on the Growth Enterprise Market, is a distributor of identity authentication products from US-based Viisage Technology.

Building a database of undesirable gamblers for Macau's casinos is in the rudimentary stage but visitors to the Nevada Gaming Control Board website can browse a list of people who are excluded from, wanted at or denied access to gaming establishments in the US.

This online blacklist contains photos, names and explanations of why a person is considered "undesirable".

Once Macau authorities obtain a frontal face photo of banned individuals, facial recognition software can draw a map of their facial features, assigning points to the forehead, eyes and chin.

This map is stored in a database to be checked against images of patrons as they enter a casino. Although the system is mostly computerised, human elements inevitably come into play.

An alarm alerts security personnel to possible matches. A search engine provides a list of probable matches for review so that security personnel can decide what action to take.

A casino can choose how close a match it needs - anywhere between a 70 per cent and 95 per cent resemblance - before security personnel are dispatched.

Low-grade facial recognition software and subscription to a database system run by Biometrica, a subsidiary of Viisage, costs $70,000 per year. The database includes data on cheats provided by 170 casinos.

But Macau's casinos are also testing more sophisticated devices that start at about US$25,000, depending on the number of entrances guarded and other customised features.

"The funny thing is, if they can identify one card cheater before he strikes, this would already pay for the system," Mr Ruggles said.

One card sharp cheated millions out of the Sands last May. A Biometrica study of Stratosphere Casino in Las Vegas found that installing the system saved US$536,000 per year for the company.

But it is not just cheats that the casinos hope to keep away. As China's central government attempts to crack down on civil servants gambling in Macau, facial recognition systems could be used to keep party cadres from landing in hot water.

Andrew Hubble is the Hong Kong-based sales manager at Dallmeier Electronics, a German manufacturer that helped design and supply the closed circuit television system at the Sands. Mr Hubble said: "In theory, it is feasible. But it is another issue {hellip} whether the central government would release a database of its officials."