Software to keep eye on problem gamblers

CAUGHT ON CAMERA: Paul Andrew said if the system is good enough for Customs ... then it is good enough for gaming.
CAUGHT ON CAMERA: Paul Andrew said if the system is good enough for Customs ... then it is good enough for gaming.

A secret-camera system using sophisticated facial-recognition software used by border guards and security is being hailed as the solution to keep problem gamblers from the pokies.

A Hamilton company believes its new system is a world-first and can solve the issue at a stroke - and short-circuit $400 million alternative plans which pokie trusts claim would cripple them.

The inspiration for the system, which uses a camera hidden inside each pokie to compare potential players' faces to a database of problem gamblers, came from the SmartGate systems at New Zealand and Australian airports.

"We thought, ‘If it is good enough for Customs, then it is surely good enough for the gaming industry,' " said Paul Andrew of designers Gaming Inc.

The system disables the machine until it confirms the player isn't a problem gambler. So if someone wears a disguise, it simply doesn't switch on. If the machine isn't certain if it has a match, it will send images to a pub staff member, who will ask for identification. Andrew said in-house testing had been successful and he was about three months from being ready to trial the system in pubs.

Presently, gamblers "self-identify" their problems and ban themselves but it is up to bar staff to spot recidivists. Andrew believes his idea is the first to take away possible human error.

Both Internal Affairs and the Problem Gambling Foundation will visit next week to study the system, and three of the six biggest pokie trusts - New Zealand Community Trust, Pub Charity, and Trusts Community Foundation - have all expressed interest in trials.

Pub Charity chief executive Martin Cheer: "It's the future - the best solution I've seen. This is the only system which doesn't rely on a human element and can ensure people are excluded from every gaming room in the country."

The gambling reform bill presently before Parliament asks for a "pre-commitment" system, where players would set themselves a gambling limit and wouldn't be able to surpass it. But Cheer, a vociferous opponent of the bill, says a pre-commitment system would cost $380m to install, while he estimates that Andrew's system would cost only $15m.

"I think it does solve a lot of the problems facing the industry," Andrew said. But Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said while the new system would prevent identified problem gamblers from punting, it didn't stop regular punters spending more than they could afford, which pre-commitment software did.

"On the face of it, it sounds very promising," he said. "One of the difficult issues is how to recognise people who have got issues." There is no nationally collated list of problem gamblers, with lists kept locally, so if rolled out nationwide, a list would need to be compiled.

Internal Affairs manager Maarten Quivooy said they had "no particular view" until their staff had inspected the system. "On the face of it, you have to say this must be a good thing," he said, but he questioned how a national self-exclusion system would work and what impact it would have on gaming. He said pre-commitment technology was "probably a stronger candidate".

Sunday Star Times