Focus on eConnect: Facial recognition helps improve operations throughout the casino

April 19, 2024 8:00 AM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports
April 19, 2024 8:00 AM
  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports

One of the exciting technological advancements in the casino industry is the advent of facial recognition technology, as casinos balance pleasing patrons and ensuring profitability with compliance and avoiding crime.

Manual security was all well and good back in the day when it came to vigilance and responding to risks, but these days, a digital solution opens the door for casinos to do more.

The eConnect platform focuses solely on casinos and gaming – all of their products are developed specifically for that industry, the majority of users of which are in the surveillance room.

“We’ve been working in the surveillance room for many years,” said Henry Valentino, founder, CEO and president of eConnect Inc. “Some of our early patents would take data and synchronize it with the video, so that if you’re responsible for reviewing video you could use the data to point in the right direction instead of having to watch hours of video.”

Then along came facial recognition.

“Because casinos operate like a financial institution, they have all these compliance and regulatory requirements,” he said. “And casinos also seem to attract a lot of people who are not wanted on the property. Some are criminals. Some are advantage players. Some may not know how to control themselves and get banned.”

For casinos, the human factor can only take you so far. There are only so many security guards. It’s challenging to remember everyone who is on the banned list.

Facial recognition technology is also an important tool for individuals who have signed on for voluntary self-exclusion programs with casinos. That individual can be flagged and assisted at the entrance, in a non-contentious way. The fact they are not getting in also takes away any uncomfortable scenarios – like if a person who self-excluded gets into the casino anyway and wins a jackpot, and doesn’t get paid because they made that earlier decision to take themselves out.

“Facial recognition takes all of that away,” Valentino said. Those people who self-excluded are typically thankful if they get stopped at the entrance.

So the eConnect technology helps people who have asked for help. It also keeps the bad guys out while helping keep the good patrons in longer, spending money and staying engaged. Overall, then, facial recognition is good for business.

“Using facial recognition, you can allow people to pre-enroll, and if they’re VIPs or they come back regularly, you could send him into a VIP lane,” explained Valentino. “The camera essentially does all the things that a security guard might do today.”

So casinos don’t need to see a patron’s ID again.

“Now [a patron] could say anytime you need to pay me or you need to approve some kind of transaction, you’ve got me on file. I want you to use my face,” Valentino noted. “I think over the next few years we will see all of [the patron’s] ratings and all of their loyalty calculations.”

The eConnect platform is the only one in the world that successfully correlates faces with casino data and financial transactions. eConnect provides better management of shared identity lists – casinos can quickly reference state databases of excluded players, FBI lists and license plates. Data that’s generated by the eConnect technology is locked down on premises.

“Typically, the surveillance room is off limits to everyone in the operation except for maybe the C level, unless you’re in the surveillance room,” Valentino said. “And so what eConnect has done is created some tools that allow you to get just the information about who’s being excluded, or what their tag is. It’s a mobile capability that can be done on an iPad or a phone, that enables the surveillance data to get into the hands of the security guard or the cage operator or somebody that needs to be informed.”

Valentino said eConnect developed the software in-house.

“Facial recognition got a bad reputation because it wasn’t that good prior to AI and the neural network,” he said. “Now it’s faster and nearly 100 per cent accurate if you’ve got a good enrollment photo, and a good camera.”

Since COVID, casinos needed to get tighter at the entrances, more accurate about how many people were coming and going, so they started to put different types of systems around the entrances.

In the old days, cameras would come from the top down. Now with facial recognition, you want to be able to capture someone’s face as they’re walking through an entrance, or through the higher traffic areas.

“Some people consider facial recognition just the ability to do a search by face on an existing database,” said Valentino. “And clearly that is some form of facial recognition. What eConnect is doing is we’re taking a live video stream in real time. We’re analyzing that video stream to see if there’s a person in it, and then to see if there’s a face that we can pull aside and match against our database. That happens in milliseconds.”

Other than the entrances to the casino, places you get the best matches are areas like the cage and the TITO machines, where someone is standing there by themselves for 30, 40 seconds doing a transaction.

In the past, that built-up human intelligence would go out the door if the head of security, for example, left the company.

“One of the tougher jobs is the security guard,” Valentino said. “The security guard doesn’t make a lot of money. Working for the casino, the valet might make more money than the security guard. It’s a high turnover job. And they’re the ones on the front lines speaking to your customers. So if you can help them out with some certainty … it’s going to make their job easier for them.”

It’s the type of technology security people at ground level in the casino can really use because they’ll approach a person with background information and history on that individual in hand, to know how to best interact with them.

eConnect is in 350 casinos with their software today, and the facial recognition piece is in about 50 of those casinos.

“I think you’ll see it in every casino, not just in North America but around the world,” Valentino added.