Masks May Cause Problems For Casinos

As the discussion around reopening casinos builds, some industry experts are concerned about how personal protective masks could affect casino security. With security guards relying on the facial identification of customers, operators are rushing to find solutions that will maintain the safety of staff and guests while remaining vigilant.

A cartoon woman with facial recognition metrics on face.

Security officials at casinos are concerned that personal protective masks may affect their ability to recognize player faces. This could affect both the security of casinos as well as enforcement of player exclusion policies. ©teguhjatipras/Pixabay

There has still been no word about when casinos at cities such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City will reopen, but there have been growing calls for state governors to ease restrictions. However, due to the high volume of tourist traffic associated with these establishments, officials are remaining cautious about when to reopen.

So far, health authorities are workshopping strict measures that will protect the staff and guests of casino resorts once business recommences. These will likely include enforcing table number limits, reducing casino capacity, keeping bars closed, imposing strict social distancing requirements, and increasing the number of cleaning staff rostered on.

One particular hurdle, though, is how to navigate requirements that demand customers must not conceal their faces. Casinos are a highly surveilled operation, with major casinos adopting the highest level of surveillance technology to ensure that players are not cheating, or that players’ gambling habits are becoming dangerous.

The use of facial recognition technology is becoming more commonly used by major casinos on the Las Vegas Strip and is expected to become the norm in the next few years. In fact, as much of 80% of security footage goes unmonitored by humans and instead relies on artificial intelligence to identify and track visitors.

However, the policies have not been without controversy, with some arguing that the technology infringes on players’ privacy. Last year, two casinos in Illinois were sued by customers for using facial recognition technology without their consent, in turn breaching the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act.

Proponents of the technology argue that facial recognition is used to reduce fraud, enforce self-exclusion, and prevent banned customers from playing. For this reason, the question of how to deal with the heavy use of players wearing masks, gloves, and other prophylactics has become difficult.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, casinos adopted a policy that would deny entry to patrons wearing a face-mask. There were a number of reasons for this, including that masked people may intimidate customers and that masks make identification difficult. Outside of a health emergency scenario, it was an obvious policy.

Current events have now changed this. Issues concerning mask policies started to appear in March as the coronavirus situation reached its peak. A Washington casino came under fire after ordering an elderly couple with vulnerabilities to the virus to remove their masks on the grounds that they must reveal their faces.

To deal with the issue, security firms have started seeking upgraded technology for masked facial recognition. Already, scientists at Wuhan University have managed to achieve a 95% accuracy rate for identifying masked people. It is expected that major artificial intelligence firms in Silicon Valley are also working on the upgrades.

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The Washington Casino Incident

The above-mentioned debacle surrounding casino mask policy happened at Washington state’s Little Creek Casino. After news broke about the husband and wife couple ordered to remove their masks, the tribal gaming property faced a media backlash and inspired divisive opinions on the matter.

When asked about whether or not the casino was in the right to order the masks’ removal, the Washington State Gambling Commission admitted that it was an issue that needed to be explored.

“We are aware that some Washington tribal casinos are struggling with how to balance security concerns with public health concerns. Casino policy considers masks to be a security concern and they are not normally allowed. This is a developing issue and we expect that each casino will address it as needed”Heather Songer, Spokesperson, Washington State Gambling Commission

In the wake of the media scrutiny, the casino reported that they would review their mask ban policy as the coronavirus situation unfolded. Weeks later, the casino, like every other in the country, was ordered to close due to the ordered shutdown of non-essential businesses everywhere.

How casinos manage once they are reopened is another question. According to Lois Shepherd, a law professor for the University of Virginia, as long as people aren’t discriminated against due to race, gender, sexuality etc., casinos can reject customers for their dress.

For the time being, it’s a business’ right to turn away guests if they are wearing protective masks. This could change if governments address these protocols, but it is likely that casinos will make policy adjustments based on their responsibility to keep their staff and customers safe.

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