AI and Facial Recognition Tech Transform Vegas Casinos

As security experts and society gloat over the power of facial recognition technology and AI to protect against terrorists and criminals, civil rights activists are warning that the same technology has the potential to strip individuals of their protections against invasion of privacy.

Nowhere is this more striking than at Vegas casinos where private companies track their customers, both for security reasons and for their own purposes of growth. Some observers say that in a short time, AI and facial recognition technology will reshape Vegas and give unprecedented power to gambling companies.

Companies that operate online casinos may be the biggest beneficiaries of the worry that gamblers have about this new technology.

Facial Recognition and AI

Facial recognition technology involves a sophisticated surveillance technique that is used to track people based on unique facial characteristics.  Facial recognition tech is said to be more accurate than the human eye and governments and security organizations around the world see its potential as an enhancement to existing security precautions. For many of these agencies, the ability to identify an individual who is likely to engage in criminal or terroristic activity before s/he can act is priceless.

AI, or artificial intelligence, is a realm of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans.  The computer uses algorithms and historical data to learn how to respond to certain actions through propensity models which can make predictions that mimic human responses.

Face recognition isn’t new but it has more capability than it ever did thanks to AI. Through AI, a revolutionized facial recognition system creates a smart system that’s able to identify an individual by  automatically adapting to changes.

Use of Facial Recognition and AI

It’s fairly clear how facial recognition and AI can enhance public safety and security. If an individual is identified who has been linked to a criminal or terrorist organization, the security apparatus can apprehend him before he has a chance to carry out a criminal or terroristic act. Few would argue that, in such cases (at hubs of public transportation, in public buildings, at large events, etc) an individual’s right to privacy supersedes the public’s right to safety.

But what about in the private realm? AI, combined with facial recognition tech, is being used by increasing numbers of private enterprises for their own promotional purposes. At present, one of the industries that is at the forefront of embracing this technology is the casino industry. There are those who argue that it’s a proper use of the technology while others say that it infringes on personal privacy. Everyone agrees that its use has the potential to transform the world of Vegas casinos.

AI and Facial Recognition Technology at the Casino

In the not-too-distant future, it could be nothing out of the ordinary to enter a casino and be greeted by name by the slot machine where you sit down to play, have your preferred drink delivered to you and be offered casino compensations based, not on how many games you have played but on how many games it’s anticipated that you will play. 

But those are the kinds of things that may start happening soon at casinos around Vegas as casinos search for ways to make the gambling experience more seamless than ever.  Casino executives, industry analysts and other gambling professionals are convinced that AI and facial recognition can transform the casino for the benefit of all involved and they’re investing massive resources in figuring out how to accomplish that. 

Beyond the use of facial recognition for purposes of casino security, to cut down on fraud and enforce casino-banned or self-banned players from entering the casino, the technology could allow camera-equipped slot machines to recognize and log in VIP players and pit managers to identify and track known players. Casino managers would be able to improve player experience and bring new players in existing customer loyalty programs. 

Moving Forward

Casinos of 2020 are already integrating these technologies into their games. Anthony Cabot, Distinguished Fellow in Gaming Law at the UNLV Boyd School of Law, said that “What we’re seeing is this introduction of technology into the gaming industry in ways we’ve never seen before, and because of it, it started to raise issues — or questions — as to how this works and what the ramifications could be for things like patron privacy, anonymity and data protection.”

Last month the UNLV Boyd School of Law organized a day-long conference to discuss AI, machine learning and facial recognition. The seminars ranged from discussions of the implications of using AI on sportsbooks, table games and slots to ways that casino security teams could use the technology. 

Cabot believes that, although there is little consensus on the legal and ethical implications of using AI and facial recognition technology in casinos,  the key to finding solutions would involve collaboration from the industry and its regulators while the technology is still young. “This literally was the first time, that I’m aware of, that the industry and the experts and the regulators have ever gotten together to even discuss these issues,” Cabot said. “We’re right at the cusp of a new era, and it gives us that unique opportunity to do it right from the beginning.” 

Problem Gamblers

Even critics of using facial recognition technology at casinos agree that such technology can help address the issue of “problem gamblers.” Using biometrics and AI in casinos can be utilized to identify and limit the gaming time of individuals whose gambling habits are unhealthy or addictive. 

Only 8 percent of gamblers or less display problem gambling behaviors and gamblers who have a diagnosable gambling addiction encompass only a fraction of that. However, that population can’t be ignored. Diagnosing and getting help for such gamblers has long been a challenge for the industry. 

Advocates of data and machine learning say that such technology will be useful as a vehicle to identify harmful behaviors. Specialized games can be used to separate typical gamblers from problem gamblers and facial recognition usage could help operators identify those players who might need professional help.  


Alan Feldman, former executive at MGM Resorts International and current Distinguished Fellow in Responsible Gambling at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute said that, while facial recognition is worthy of more study, there are still more questions than answers. 

“Facial recognition technology has become quite effective in recognizing an individual, but as it relates specifically to problem gambling, I’d say the jury is still out,” Feldman said. “There is still an understanding of what we’d like to know, in other words, it would be nice to know if there were patterns you might detect that might prevent someone from getting into any kind of trouble, or if there were patterns that could actually identify someone who is in trouble.”

Chief among the concerns is the conflict between facial recognition technology and data privacy and protection concerns. Feldman feels that even if the system could manage to identify and alert an operator to a customer with problematic behaviors or habits, there’s nothing to stop an individual from opting to remove him/herself from the system entirely. 

“Here you have the unintended consequence of an impossibly bad outcome coming from a really good intent and a good idea, which is: let’s go see if we can identify people who may be having a problem and keep them healthy, and instead, what we do is upset a customer, cause them to refuse to let anyone see their data. And now, whatever problems they are going to suffer, they are going to suffer them alone, with no one observing.”

Legal Questions

Casinos are currently bound by the customer’s country of origin when it comes to matters of such privacy regulations. Such laws are lax or non-existent in some states but in others, notably California, new laws are being adopted that would allow people to opt out of the collection, use or sale of personal data. 

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation is already a legal reality. The GDPR is a comprehensive rule of data privacy and protection that stipulates that users have a right to have certain data erased entirely. 

Even as the gaming industry develops its relationship with the technology, there’s a growing unease about the use of facial recognition. In some jurisdictions it’s been banned outright while in others, it’s been severely limited.

One major concern involves the  safety of such massive amounts of personal data. The world has already seen numerous cases of “safe and secure” databases, including those of credit cards and highly personal data, that have been breached and the data used for malicious purposes. Who can ensure that a casino’s database won’t be accessed by the wrong people? Not only that but the addition of massive amounts of personal data to casino databases might increase the possibility of ransomware hacking attacks on the casino.

Cabot commented, “There’s different ways this can evolve. In one sense, we can do nothing, in all the different casinos, manufacturers, they can all go out and do their thing and try to comply with this patchwork of laws. The second thing we can do is, as an industry, try and get ahead of it.”


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