The Controversial Future Is Here: Facial Recognition Tech Is Now Scanning Problem Gamblers

Anyone who’s been terrified by George Orwell’s 1984 or its subsequent Wikipedia page knows that living in a surveillance state isn’t a good thing. However, back in August, ClubsACT challenged the notion that technology-based supervision is never warranted. 

ClubsACT proposed a system where problem gamblers can volunteer to have their faces scanned by facial recognition software in various Canberra clubs. If they enter a gambling area of one of these venues, the staff will be alerted, and the patron will be asked to leave. 

“The system is based around the idea that an individual who chooses to self-exclude from a club, who is already part of the self-exclusion regime, would be photographed if they went into a gambling area only,” said ClubsACT’s Chief Executive, Craig Shannon. 

“It’s really just to reinforce their own self-exclusion request.”

Additionally, ClubsACT isn’t the only company that’s wanting to implement such a system. From next year, pokie machines across NSW will be installed with facial recognition technology.

“There is no data that will be onsite, but it will detect if someone has self-excluded and doesn’t want to be in the venue,” said Clubs NSW’s CEO, Josh Landis.

“We’ll be able to identify them in a matter of seconds and have a respectable conversation.”

“Sometimes people lapse, but we have to help ensure you stay out,” he said.

Is This Facial Recognition Software Ethical?

ACT’s Attorney-General, Shane Rattenbury, is wary about this proposed scheme. “I’m not clear that’s the best way forward,” he expressed. Rattenbury also questioned whether “customers really want this or whether there are other ways we might actually seek to minimise gambling harm.”

However, some folks that have worked in the clubs and pubs system believe that implementing such a programme could be a smart move. “I’m really suspicious of facial recognition technology, but this is the one instance where I think there’s an argument for it,” a former pub worker told The Latch.

“Having worked in pubs between the ages of 18 and 23, I was often left ‘manning’ the pokies. In bars in the CBD, this meant sitting in a bulletproof glass cabinet that had enough room for me, my chair, and a till. There were constant attempted robberies, including one guy with a machete.”

This person asserted that the back of their cubicle door was covered in hundreds of passport-sized photos. “Every photo was a problem gambler who at some point had requested not to be served,” they explained.

“The idea of a 19-year-old memorising these faces and successfully identifying a customer, let alone denying services to an addict three times their age, is laughable”.

“The photo submission system is a purely symbolic gesture and does nothing to curb problem gambling. In these situations, I do feel facial recognition could provide a solution to this issue!”

Moreover, facial recognition software is already being used in some South Australian pokie machines, and it’s been creating waves.

“We’ve heard from our South Australian colleagues that this automated identification of gamblers who have self-excluded or been venue-excluded has proven to be effective,” said the Australian National University Centre for Gambling Research’s director, Aino Suomi. She believes that this might be the case because such tech takes away human error. 

Related: Why the ACT to Decriminalise Small Amounts of Illegal Drugs

Related: Turns Out Your Favourite Shops Have Been Using Facial Recognition Technology to Track You 

Either Way, More Needs to Be Done to Stop This Crisis

Whether or not you believe facial recognition software should be used to prevent problem gamblers from playing the pokies, Australia’s gambling epidemic needs to be crushed.

For instance, the Queensland Government reported that in April 2021, people in this state lost over $200 million while gaming. Just one year later, this number skyrocketed up to over $300 million. The pokies system is ruining lives, breaking families, and our leaders can’t sit idly by as this happens.

Read more stories from The Latch and subscribe to our email newsletter.