A Pioneering Casino in Facial Recognition at the Service of the Ultra Rich

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You could easily miss the exclusive Les Ambassadeurs casino in London. Just off Hyde Park Corner, it sits at the end of a quiet street populated only by black vans with drivers waiting to take wealthy patrons to five-star restaurants or football matches. The casino‘s only imposition on the street is a red awning over the door. A wall of fragrance, floral and citrus notes in the foreground, strikes as you walk through the marble tiles to be greeted by a receptionist.

Owned by Paul Suen Cho Hung, a Chinese-born businessman who also counts Birmingham City Football Club among the British trophy assets, ‘The A’s’ is one of the most exclusive gambling dens in the British capital, charging 25 £000 ($31,340) per year for membership. Most of its more than 20,000 active members come from Asia and the Middle East and include billionaires, royalty and celebrities. British retail billionaire Philip Green reportedly won £2million at one of his roulette tables in 2004.

An integral part of how the casino provides services to its members is to monitor their movements onsite – using facial recognition cameras in recent years. Of the 400 cameras in the building, 10 are linked to a facial recognition system. Every time a member enters the building or one of its private game rooms, the staff gets a ping on their phone.

Customers, for their part, accept this Orwellian review as necessary to improve their experience. “That’s the expectation,” says Ryan Best, the casino’s monitoring and security manager who implemented its facial recognition system in 2018. Several luxury hotels near Mayfair have recently introduced systems similar to alert everyone of arriving VIPs, he said. .

“It’s an early warning system,” adds Best. Ambassadors’ service staff and croupiers – women in ballgowns and men in tuxedos who glide through the premises – all have phones with the Wickr encrypted chat app. If a high roller enters “The Palace” gambling hall, where gold gilding decorates the walls above thick oriental rugs, a facial recognition camera mounted in the corner automatically pings the staff through the app. messaging. The VIP’s preferred host will then head into the room, Best says, where staff can discuss how best to greet the guest.

Casino members are ranked in levels from 1 to 10, with 1 being the most important, such as tycoons and sports stars; the higher the ranking, the more closely they are watched. The network of face-matching cameras in each of the gaming rooms allows staff to map where valued patrons and their surroundings are heading, though they don’t know when patrons visit the bathroom or public areas at the exterior of the building.

It stands to reason that casinos would pioneer high-tech surveillance for the wealthy, having been at the forefront of using vision screening for years, albeit to recognize cheaters. (1) Over the past three to five years, casinos have increased their use of technology as high-definition cameras have become more accurate and server costs for processing and storing facial images have increased. decreases.

Best and his team still use technology to detect bad guys, he told me during a recent visit. The casino’s blacklist comes from three different sources: a database of around 1,000 players who signed up to a national self-exclusion list; about 300 other people who were convicted of committing a crime in a casino; and a bespoke list of a few ex-clients who misbehaved on the premises. If the system flags any of them at the entrance, a receptionist verifies that the software is correct, then politely asks them to leave.

But VIP tracking has now become the primary use case for facial recognition at Les A, and that bodes well for a more tracked and automated future for the rest of us. For all its controversy, facial recognition is fast becoming a popular convenience tool, used ubiquitously to unlock phones and, increasingly, to pay for things. Sports stadiums and airports have offered facial recognition kiosks as an alternative to tickets, while Mastercard Inc. began testing the facial recognition payment system for stores in Brazil this month, with plans to roll it out. internationally soon.

Facial recognition is typically used to validate your identity or to search for a face (usually a person suspected of a crime) in a crowd. What’s unusual about Les Ambassadeurs is that it uses this latest approach, based on police surveillance, to keep its favorite customers coming back. “It’s all part of this premium service,” says Best. It’s also a signal of where surveillance-based technology might be headed: a form of real-world customer tracking that offers businesses new sources of data, and one that consumers could easily adopt if it seems to make them life more convenient.

Could Best be using emotion analysis software to check if a VIP is getting too grumpy and craving food, or eye-tracking technology to flag when players are staring at a dealer with suspicious frequency? “It’s a bit intrusive. It’s overkill,” says Best, adding that its human staff perfectly monitors customer behavior. “It’s all about balance.”

But other casinos are already pushing the boundaries of what Best and many others find acceptable. In Macau’s world gaming hub, casino operators have used hidden cameras to track their customers’ behavior at the betting tables to determine which are most likely to lose money and gauge their appetite for the risk, according to a 2019 report published in Los Angeles. Time. Facial recognition’s even more controversial cousin, facial analysis, has been used in Chinese schools to monitor students’ attention or in Chinese workplaces to track emotions. Zoom Video Communications Inc. is developing a mood analysis tool for its video conferencing software, according to the Protocol News website.

Technology has often had a divisive impact on our dignity and privacy before, for better or worse, finding wider acceptance through the benefits it ostensibly offers – think of all of Facebook’s behavior tracking of Meta Platforms Inc. or the way Amazon.com Inc.’s Ring Doorbells share images with police. It’s not hard to see a future where hotels, restaurants and retailers develop their own early warning systems when their favorite customers show up on site. For people at the bottom of the social ranking, it might not be much fun.

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(1) Before the era of cameras, security personnel used binoculars to look through a one-way window in the ceiling of casinos, known as the catwalk, to check for card counters or cheats, while that the door staff were trying to memorize thousands of mugshot photos behind reception.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Parmy Olson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. A former journalist for the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, she is the author of “We Are Anonymous”.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion

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