Facial recognition technology looks set to be rolled out across NSW pubs and clubs from next year, as the hotel industry steps up its efforts to combat problem gambling.
The Australian Hotels Association and Clubs NSW have signed an agreement to use the technology as part of the Multi-Venue Self-Exclusion (MVSE) scheme, which prevents problem gamblers from entering gaming areas.
A person entering a gambling area would have their faces scanned and compared against the faces of all people already in the self-exclusion system. If matched, an alert would be sent to the venue within seconds.
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AHA NSW Director of Liquor and Policing John Green said the move follows a trial of the technology and strengthens the current self-exclusion scheme.
"It's far more effective and the trial found that this system was highly effective at identifying people, including in situations where they're avoiding detection," he said.
"During COVID I could go into a venue with a mask on, glasses on, or a hat and it would still identify me."
The current exclusion system works only in small geographical areas, but the new technology will allow exclusion to be statewide.
Wagga RSL chief executive Andrew Bell said the club has been working on facial recognition for the past four years.
"We see it as the way of the future to actually control problem gambling ... but it will also be a benefit to our members, " he said.
Mr Bell sees a future where facial recognition allows clubs to personalise hospitality to members.
"It's also recognition of the member. Can you imagine if you walk up to the bar and the bar person says 'hello Conor, how are you today?'," he said.
For now, Mr Bell said the club was prepared for the new scheme.
He said clubs have two dangerous products on offer and any measures that can be used to minimise harm to patrons should be welcomed.
Publican Matt Oates, who is head of the Wagga liquor accord, said the technology will take some of the burden off pub staff.
"It takes a lot of the guesswork out of it for us, because if somebody were to self-exclude in Albury for instance ... it's really hard for us to be able to identify people from out of town," he said.
Mr Oates said he even sees a future where facial recognition technology is also used to keep problem customers out of venues.
"I think there's definitely an application for it, but there's a bit of work to be done in the background before we get to that stage," he said.
Talk of facial recognition often raises privacy concerns, but the AHA said that there will be strict privacy protections in place. No licensed venue can access the data, for example, and Mr Oates is convinced the technology can be applied safely.
"There's always been an apprehension about facial recognition, but done in the right way ... it arms us with those tools to go to a customer and say 'hey, is there anything we can do to help you?'," he said.
The NSW Government has lost its mind if it thinks people want pubs and clubs to have self managed facial recognition tech. This is as terrifying as it is absurd.- NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann
Mr Oates said the technology will ultimately improve the service venues can offer.
"This will give us more of a reprieve ... so that we can focus on hospitality," he said.
However, NSW Greens MP and gambling harm spokesperson Cate Faehrmann argues the move is a concession to the "powerful gambling industry" which avoids real action.
She would rather see more effective harm reduction measures, like mandatory cashless gambling cards.
"The NSW government has lost its mind if it thinks people want pubs and clubs to have self-managed facial recognition tech. This is as terrifying as it is absurd," Ms Faehrmann said.
Gambling Impact Society executive officer Kate Roberts said that strengthening self-exclusion is a good thing, but more effort needs to go into preventing problem gambling.
"In terms of canvassing people who have self excluded, they consider it may be a helpful thing, because they recognise the weakness in the current system," she said.
"But, we're about prevention and early intervention and we'd like to see the technology used to do that as well."
Studies have shown that of the people who play poker machines once a week or more, 50 per cent will end up with a problem, she said.
There are also concerns some smaller venues may not be able to afford the cost of setting up the technology.
However, Mr Green said there are discussions with the government regarding funding for the rollout.
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