Focus on eConnect: Sharable facial recognition databases set to launch

August 11, 2023 8:00 AM
  • Mark Gruetze, CDC Gaming Reports
August 11, 2023 8:00 AM
  • Mark Gruetze, CDC Gaming Reports

A first-of-its-kind sharable facial recognition database of casino “bad guys,” or even visitors who might merit a friendlier reception, will debut soon.

The “ID|Connect” database, currently in pre-launch testing at selected properties, will be widely available by October, said Dave McCormick, director of marketing for eConnect, a Las Vegas-based company specializing in casino security software and artificial intelligence. The company will oversee the largest sets of the database, which draws information from law enforcement and other sources. Operators will be able to choose which, if any, of their own data to contribute.

The database builds on the established practice of surveillance directors sharing information with each other about violent customers or cheats. “They’re a club of professionals, a community,” McCormick said of security executives. “Even though they may work at competitive gaming properties, they’re all on the same team. It just makes the industry better.”

While laws governing the use of facial recognition vary by jurisdiction, the eConnect system is capable of checking “every single face that enters the property” against the ID|Connect database, he said.

“We’re allowing surveillance directors with our software to share their list of bad guys, and other casinos could subscribe to it,” McCormick said. “If someone gets thrown out of a property down the street for being a violent drunk, you can consciously decide if you wish to allow them in your own property.” The database could expand beyond what casinos themselves collect by including the FBI’s most-wanted list, criminals being sought by state and local law enforcement, state regulators’ lists of self-excluded patrons, or a variety of other credible sources.

For example, he said Nevada is home to more than 7,000 registered sex offenders, with 4,500 of them living within a few miles of the Las Vegas Strip. “They’re not wanted criminals but (casino security) may want to know if one walked in the door.”

He added: “There’s no limit to the amount of faces you can add to this database You can add everyone – everyone.

However, McCormick said identifying cheats and other security threats is only the first level of what a facial recognition system can provide for a casino. With 30,000 or more people visiting some properties in a weekend, hosts and hospitality directors also could use it to recognize patrons who might not be top-tier players but deserve extra attention.

“Everyone’s taking care of their VIPs,” he said. “It would be nice if a host can say ‘Who are the top 10 people on my floor right now that just don’t get enough love?’” That could be sorted by a variety of parameters, from players who won a jackpot last week to local celebrities to social media influencers. He said comping a $100 meal that includes a photogenic dessert for an influencer with “only” 100,000 followers would pay off in publicity worth far more.

“You can rethink the use of facial recognition when it comes to hospitality,” he said.

eConnect will curate the outside datasets, and individual casinos will decide which segments of their own information they make available. “You’re not exposing everything,” McCormick said. “People decide what they want to share, if they want to share.” He added that ID|Connect shares only identified faces and describes why they are people of interest: criminal, celebrity, cheat, advantage player, and the like.

Federal rules discourage the use of hard percentages in describing the efficacy of facial recognition software, but he said it is “very, very accurate.” The key elements in getting images for the system are the quality of the camera and placement that produces usable images even when portions of faces might be obscured by hats, headbands, or other items. eConnect typically works as a user interface with a casino’s existing surveillance system.

Because of the use of surveillance cameras coupled with artificial intelligence throughout daily life, not just in the gaming industry, “the era of anonymity is coming to an end,” McCormick said. “For better or worse, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. The technology is here to stay. Let’s use it for good.”