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New South Wales was set to lead the way by installing facial recognition cameras in pokies. This measure is to ensure that gamblers have another level of protection. The new initiative was pitched by many concerned groups and committees. This idea was scrapped by the government in November 2022. We at True Blue know this subject has not gone away so stay tuned.
It is also making some anxious. Some are seeing a dystopian overtone in the facial recognition solution that will supposedly eradicate problem gambling from the state and, at the very least, help keep vulnerable consumers safe. This, along with cashless pokies, is part of an ongoing initiative to reduce the harm gambling does.
“This is as terrifying as it is absurd,” said NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann who described the move as “a sop to the powerful gambling industry,” suggesting that the focus of this initiative was misplaced, and the real impact of the measure would not be justifiable at all. She believes that this is the latest attempt by pokie operators to dodge a much more efficient solution, including a mandatory gambling card.
But Faehrmann is not entirely in the right here, because NSW is also rolling out a pilot cashless gaming test, and it’s very likely that pubs and casinos will be very soon also facing pressure from the government to enable this option as well.
On the face of it, the idea of having an AI scan for problem gamblers who may have entered a property has clear benefits. Many gamblers cannot overcome the temptation to stay away from gambling for long periods of time, even when they self-exclude. They engage in self-destructive patterns where they seek to gamble more and more.
This creates a two-fold problem. On the one hand, it inflicts life-altering harm on the gamblers, and, on the other hand, it demonstrates that there are clearly areas of pokie rooms’ safety that can be improved to protect vulnerable consumers, which should be the utmost priority, to begin with. So, is facial recognition software going to sort this out?
While there are some sceptics, Faehrmann included, there is much reason for optimism. AI facial recognition successfully identifies people in large crowds. The solutions deployed across NSW pubs and bars will have the added benefit of being able to recognize gamblers even if they were glasses or hats, making it an efficient way to keep track of vulnerable gamblers and protect them.
In a word, installing facial recognition software in pubs and bars across NSW, at least in some capacity, should not hurt business, and focus on helping vulnerable gamblers remain protected. ClubsNSW chief executive Josh Landis has pointed out the effectiveness of the scheme. In an interview in the Guardian, he said,” Close to 100 clubs are already using this technology and the feedback is that it works.”
Problem gambling is a serious mental health condition that, because of the nature of gambling, can have serious life-altering and long-lasting impacts on people’s lives. Problem gambling has a negative impact on people in their professional and personal lives. It is of great concern in Australia at a national level.
Pubs and bars across Australia are a big part of the available pokies in Australia with some 95,800 across the state. Making sure that these venues are completely secure is paramount for the long-term success of any responsible gambling program, and it is a first for the gambling industry to have shown such strong commitment. Installing facial recognition technology is not cheap per se.
As to people and consumers, there is a growing trend among Australians about the risks of problem gambling. This is why many seek to limit their gambling habits, if not completely, then at least to some extent. But to efficiently fight problem gambling, it’s not just that consumers need to take the first step – they need to be actively encouraged.
Australians are already interested in self-exclusion, but they need additional safety nets, such as facial recognition, cashless gaming and other options that effectively help consumers stay on top of their habits.
Self-excluding the way it is done suggests no follow-throughs. The system is porous in its present variation and anyone can find a backdoor to continue gambling if they were so inclined. However, the introduction of facial recognition will significantly diminish the opportunity to play. Pokies may be automated to lock out any players they scan as problem gamblers.
The cameras will scan every customer of a pub or a bar in New South Wales, but they will not store this information in any centralized database. Instead, any gambler that has opted out of gambling will be automatically flagged by the cameras and barred from playing.
However, for a player to be recognized as a problem gambler, they must have voluntarily opted out first – including the provision of a photo of themselves that the AI can use to compare against the self-exclusion program’s database and then make decisions about gamblers on-site.
The cameras themselves do not in fact collect any information, which will have most people who worry about privacy at ease. They do use databases to ensure that they spot problem gamblers and restrict them.
Casinos have a lot to gain from using and leveraging such cameras. Since casinos need to meet ever-increasing standards of player safety, every little helps. Facial recognition software in casinos will have an immense impact on each casino’s ability to track and protect consumers. This “tracking,” though, is only limited to establishing whether a gambler has a problem with gambling.
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