Sun, Jun 30, 2019 - Page 7 News List

AI helps Macau casinos spot losers

China’s Big Brother casinos can spot who is most likely to plunk down the big bucks

By Jinshan Hong  /  Bloomberg

The house always wins — and now it has artificial intelligence (AI) on its side.

Some of the world’s biggest casino operators in Macau, the epicenter of global gaming, are starting to deploy hidden cameras, facial recognition technology, digitally enabled poker chips and baccarat tables to track which of their millions of customers are likely to lose the most money.

The new technology uses algorithms that process the way that customers behave at the betting table to determine their appetite for risk. In general, the higher the risk appetite, the more a gambler stands to lose and the more profit a casino tends to make, sometimes up to 10 times more.

This embrace of high-tech surveillance comes as casino operators jostle for growth in a slowing industry that is under pressure globally from economic headwinds and regulatory scrutiny.

In the world’s biggest gaming hub, where expansion is reaching its limits, two casino operators, the Macau units of Las Vegas Sands Corp and MGM Resorts International, have already started to deploy some of these technologies on hundreds of their tables, people familiar with the matter said, adding that Sands plans to extend them to more than 1,000 additional tables.

Three others, Wynn Macau, Galaxy Entertainment Group and Melco Resorts & Entertainment, are also in discussion with suppliers about deploying the technology, the people said, on condition of anonymity.

Macau junket operator Suncity Group Holdings, which is building a casino in Vietnam, said that it is planning to deploy a system where radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology — which uses radio frequencies to attach tags to objects — is installed on chips and tables, storing data on players.

The gambling giants are motivated by the challenge of maximizing profits from the growing Chinese middle class, who stream into Macau en masse as it is the only place in China where gambling is legal.

More than 3 million people visit the territory every month, from wealthy and focused bettors, to families on short trips with grandparents and children in tow. The advanced surveillance technologies give casinos a way of easily separating who might become serious gamblers from those just having a fun weekend.

It is not unusual for casinos to have surveillance cameras for security and to detect cheating — with Las Vegas operators utilizing RFID-enabled chips that can be disabled if stolen from a casino — but these new technologies go a step further in tracking and rating every customer, building up a treasure trove of data.

Sands China, the Macau arm of the world’s largest casino company, has received approval from the territory’s gaming regulator to deploy the technologies, the people said.

One supplier, Germany-based Dallmeier Electronic, worked with casinos to redesign cameras so that they could be embedded into columns and not be visible to customers, Dallmeier senior enterprise solutions manager EP Smit said.

Representatives for MGM, Galaxy Entertainment, Sands and Wynn did not respond to requests for comment, while a spokesperson for Melco declined to comment on business matters that are not public. Macau’s regulator, the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, did not respond to e-mails and calls seeking comment.

In a product demonstration at a Macau industry conference by Walker Digital Table Systems — a Las Vegas-based company peddling technology to invisibly track chips, wagers and game outcomes — vice president of Asia operations John Orth assured a potential buyer: “Your customers don’t even realize they are being tracked.”

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