High tech slots.
The OLG slots at the Rideau Carleton Raceway are now equipped with facial recognition technology, meant to keep away problem gamblers who are on the self-exclusion list.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation has installed facial recognition technology at the Rideau Carleton Raceway’s slots centre in Ottawa South to help self-proclaimed problem gamblers resist the temptation of Ottawa’s only gambling centre.
The new system has been fully operational in Ottawa since the first week of July. Twenty-four hours a day, it matches the faces of slot machine patrons with photos in Ontario’s long-standing self-exclusion list of identified problem gamblers, who have asked the province to forcibly stop them from gambling.
The same technology has been installed at 19 of 27 OLG sites across the province, with the remaining eight sites to come online by the end of the year.
OLG spokesperson Tony Bitonti said the new technology from Oakville, Ontario company iView is an important upgrade on the old identification system, which relied mostly on security guards being familiar with local gamblers.
“The old way was they enrolled and their photo was taken and put in a book or a computer, and the security guards were fairly familiar with those who had self-excluded on that site,” he said. The benefit of the new system is access to the province-wide database, which would stop a Rideau Carleton regular even if he or she travelled to Woodbine’s slots in Toronto. “We’d take the photos at Rideau and we’d send it to Windsor and Toronto and everywhere, but security there wouldn’t know them that intimately just by looking at them. So now it is all connected all over the province.”
There are about 15,000 people on the list at any given time, Bitonti said. In Ottawa, there are about 120 problem gamblers who identify Rideau Carleton Raceway as their main gambling venue.
Under the old system, about 1,000 listed people were caught across the province each year. Since the cameras started matching photos in the spring, about 680 people have already been caught. This with only two-thirds of OLG sites on board and with many systems only partially operational through those months, Bitonti said.
“We anticipate that our numbers will go up, which is a good thing for the technology, but we also hope those numbers eventually go down,” Bitonti said. “We hope people will start to say in the back of their minds, ‘I don’t think I’m going to go because they have facial recognition.’ We’re hoping its going to prevent people from coming.”
Patrons entering a casino or slots centre have their photo taken instantaneously without even having to stop. Within seconds, the database will decide if there’s a match and alert a security guard in a back room, so as not to make a scene. A silent photo alert would also come up on the front door security guard’s screen. Security would then discreetly approach the patron and escort them off the property. They are usually given a penalty, such as doubling their time on the list.
Acrosss the river in Quebec, Casino Lac Leamy and the other three Quebec casinos do not have facial recognition technology on site, but Lac Leamy communications director Catherine Schellenberg said Loto Quebec will be putting out a call to tender in the fall, with the hopes of installing the technology in early 2012.
Bitonti said no technology is 100 per cent successful, but OLG is hoping the system will add another layer of support for problem gamblers. “It’s not a foolproof system, but it’s just another added layer of deterrence, sort of like a stop sign. To make people think, ‘Am I going to chance this and maybe be embarrassed in front of my friends or other people?’” he explained.
Since the corporation began exploring facial recognition technology in the early 2000s, Ontario’s privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian has been monitoring the process carefully. One of her major concerns was what happens to photos taken of patrons not on the list – an issue Bitonti said has been fully addressed.
“As soon as their picture’s taken and nothing comes up, their picture is automatically deleted. We do not save those pictures for any reason whatsoever,” he said. As for the privacy of those on the self-exclusion list, the data has been biometrically encrypted by University of Toronto researchers to prevent hackers from accessing their information. In November 2010, Cavoukian jointly released a report with OLG condoning the “win-win” attributes of the encryption, and OLG’s privacy controls in general.