Macau casinos use AI to spot riskier gamblers

HONG KONG • 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 Chinese territory that is the epicentre of global gaming, are starting to deploy hidden cameras, facial recognition technology and 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 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 and MGM Resorts International - have already started to deploy some of these technologies on hundreds of their tables, according to people familiar with the matter.

Three others, Wynn Macau, Galaxy Entertainment Group and Melco Resorts & Entertainment, are in discussions with suppliers about deploying AI, according to the people, who asked not to be identified.

Macau junket operator Suncity Group Holdings, which is building a casino in Vietnam, said 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 maximising profits from the growing Chinese middle class, who stream into Macau en masse as it is the only place in Greater China where gambling is legal.

More than three million people visit the territory every month, from wealthy and focused bettors, to families on short trips with grandparents and kids 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.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2019, with the headline 'Macau casinos use AI to spot riskier gamblers'. Print Edition | Subscribe