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NZ gaming industry unveils world-first facial recognition technology

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A world-first facial recognition system, to help problem gamblers by identifying people who are excluded from gaming venues, is being trialled in New Zealand.

"While New Zealand has one of the lowest problem gambling rates in the world we still need to explore better ways to help people who identify or are identified as problem gamblers" said Paul Andrew, part of the consortium to develop the new system.

The Guardian system, developed at the request of the gaming industry, is the result of a partnership between Kiwi companies Torutek and COMS Systems.

It uses ground-breaking facial recognition technology to scan people entering gaming rooms and check their images against a cloud-based voluntary database of problem gamblers. If there is a match, staff at the venue will be alerted within seconds to check the person’s ID and ask them to leave.

COMS Systems director Paul Andrew said it was proposed that The Guardian, which is designed to adapt to people’s appearance changing, would be built into gaming management systems in numerous venues across the country in the coming year.

"This is a game changer," said Mr Andrew, whose company provides management systems for about half of New Zealand’s estimated 1,200 gaming venues.

The Guardian is designed to enhance the existing exclusion system and improve outcomes from the Exclusion Orders that can be issued under the Gambling Act 2003 that allow for gamblers or venue operators to exclude a person from entering a gaming room.

"Guardian is a pro-active industry-wide initiative. It’s not something that has been imposed, but an additional measure on top of the industry’s already stringent harm minimisation measures," said Mr Andrew.

"It has been led by, and designed for, the gaming industry and we believe it will work. Guardian is already being trialled in fifteen venues nationwide and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s planned to install the system into another 6 venues in the coming weeks and we hope many more will follow."

Under the Gambling Act (2003), problem gamblers can request to be excluded from venues for up to two years. They can do this through the venue manager or via a treatment provider, such as the Salvation Army’s Oasis service or the Problem Gambling Foundation.

All Class 4 gambling venues and casinos are required to keep records of persons issued with exclusion orders; but the current system relies on staff monitoring and recognising individuals - a challenge for busy bars, which may have scores of customers at any one time.

"This new technology has been incorporated into our QEC gaming management systems, which is already operating in hundreds of gaming venues around the country," said Mr Andrew.

Torutek’s Chris Yu said: "We are very excited about New Zealand technology helping New Zealanders. We believe this is the first time facial recognition technology has been used in this way. It is used by individual locations, but this is a multi-venue, multi-camera, multi-city approach."

"The system is designed to meet the requirements of the Gambling Act," said Mr Yu. "COMS Systems were already providing hardware solutions for the gaming industry, and we worked together to find an effective solution to identify excluded problem gamblers."

"Venue managers or treatment providers simply need a suitable photo and the person’s ID and they can log into the system and request exclusion for them for as many venues as required."

"Someone might ask to be excluded from 20 venues. A treatment provider would normally have to get in touch with each of those individually. With Guardian it takes just a few minutes. The venues all get an alert about a new exclusion request and accept it. It’s that simple. It has very high accuracy, it only takes a few seconds from a person walking into a venue for Guardian to identify them."

Guardian has been welcomed by New Zealand Community Trust, the country’s largest gaming trust.

Chief Executive Mike Knell said: "As an industry we are committed to harm minimisation-directed initiatives which support a culture of care at venues. This is a really exciting and innovative tool designed to help people who need help, but cannot quite help themselves."

Tony Crosbie, of Northend Hotels, one of the South Island’s biggest hospitality and gaming groups, also welcomed the development.

"Most people play pokies for entertainment, and only a very small percentage have a problem with gambling," he said. "We take our responsibilities very seriously. Staff are already trained around problem gambling and the exclusion process is an effective tool. But this is another tool in the toolbox; it will make it much easier to identify people, and help immensely."

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