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Macau casinos can spot who’s losing big

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The house always wins – and now it has artificial intelligence on its side.

Some of the world’s biggest casino operators in Macau, the Chinese territory that is at the epicentre 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 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, according to people familiar with the matter. Sands plans to extend them to an additional 1,000 or more tables, said the people.

Three others, Wynn Macau, Galaxy Entertainment Group and Melco Resorts & Entertainment, are in discussions with suppliers about also deploying the technology, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorised to speak publicly about the plans.

It is not unusual for casinos to have surveillance cameras for security and to detect cheating, with Las Vegas operators utilising RFID-enabled chips that they can disable if they are stolen out of the 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, recently received approval from the territory’s gaming regulator to deploy the technologies, said the people. One supplier, Regensburg, Germany-based Dallmeier Electronic, worked with casinos to re-design cameras so they could be embedded into columns and not visible to customers, said EP Smit, the company’s senior enterprise solutions manager.

The ability to identify customers with the potential to bet – and lose – big means that operators can offer special attention and targeted perks to keep them gambling. In Dallmeier’s system, facial recognition alerts floor managers once a high-value customer walks into the casino or sits down at a table, allowing them to immediately dispatch staff to the customer’s side.

“Those who can afford to lose, those who play even more when losing money, we can for sure offer them a free meal,” Mr Andrew Lo, executive director of junket operator Suncity’s listed arm, said in an interview. Suncity will use Walker Digital’s technology at its new casino in Hoi An, Vietnam.


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