Comment: Macau casinos’ Big Brother tech needs to be deployed carefully

By Matthew Enderby

We all know casinos floors are some of the most watched spaces. Step onto one and eyes follow your every step. Cameras dotted along walls and pillars feed the venue’s intelligence, floor managers study bettor behaviour, and even players pay close attention to each other, looking to see what move is coming next.

But the casinos in the world’s largest gaming hub are about to add another set of eyes to the equation, powered by artificial intelligence. Top-level casino operators in Macau are deploying hidden cameras, facial recognition technology, and digitally-enabled poker chips to track which customers will spend and lose the most money.

So, how does it work? Algorithms process the way customers behave and calculate a player’s desire to risk. The more likely they are to risk, the more they can lose, giving the casino a much healthier profit.

The technology will also help casinos identify the customers who can afford to lose the most. They can then pluck these players from the crowd and offer them tailored incentives, designed to keep them happy in the casino and at the tables.

I can hear you thinking: “This machine can’t figure me out.” I tend to agree with that belief. I like to think we are all wired in weirdly specific ways that turn us into different people, with unique behavioural patterns. But sadly, that way of thinking is wrong, especially when you take into consideration the number of players swarming through a casino.

This technology has the potential to pick up thousands of data points every second and the algorithms watch for patterns. This means casinos can quickly spot a player looking to bet big, or figure out what they can do to further incentivise the more frugal bettor.

There are three main companies looking to supply casinos with this AI-enabled product; Walker Digital, Dallmeier and Angel Playing Cards. Walker Digital has already secured itself a client. Sun City will put the technology to work at its new casino in Hội An, Vietnam.

In Macau, divisions of Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts International are reported to have already started to deploy some of these technologies on hundreds of their tables.

This new advancement provokes the question of customer response; will they be happy to have all this data pulled from their every move?

For the majority of players, they won’t even know this is happening. The digitally-enabled poker chips or tables can only be picked out by an experienced eye and as a result, should make no difference to a player’s enjoyment. That however, does not make it okay to keep this data drive a secret. 

With the whirlwind of negative press swirling around the gaming industry, it seems short-sighted to implement this Big Brother-like system that watches from the shadows, learning about and classifying players. Casinos should let their customers know this is going on. 

Although some may find it uncomfortable, it will be better for the casino in the long term to be upfront about the new terms and conditions; if you step foot on its floor, a profile will be made and filled with your specific behavioural patterns.

The potential behind this new technology must excite casinos. Should it work successfully, operators can leap forward with personalisation techniques and tailor-made offers. But the danger in keeping it secret is that it can be revealed to the public through an investigative approach. This would hurt the profits operators are seeking to boost. Casinos need to be honest with this new technology and remind their customers they are always watching, and now AI is on board.

This article also appears in the September/October edition of Gambling Insider magazine. Click here to read our US CEO Special in full.


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