George Orwell’s novel, 1984, was a prophetic work about a society under extreme government control and monitoring. The pervasive surveillance in the book is the source of the familiar phrase: “Big brother is watching.”
This statement has become more applicable as time progresses, even expanding in its scope. Not only is the government monitoring activities, but corporations and retail establishments have a keen interest in knowing what we do, when and how we do it, and how they can attract more of our disposable income. By watching us closely, they’re finding out just that.
Video surveillance has benefits beyond crime prevention, detection, providing evidence for prosecution, general security and overall monitoring of a wide area at a glance. For an operator it helps to identify self-excluded and prohibited gamers. It can also be used for general operational assistance such as visual jackpot recognition, machine faults and as a tool for slot technician dispatch.
As technology increases (both in hardware devices and software used in video processing), new uses for video surveillance technology come to light. Enter video analytics-the ability to treat video streams as data that can be mined and analysed. In the simplest of terms, a floor could be monitored for occupancy and trends determined based upon areas of high occupancy-both active gamers and people wandering about. Do jackpots, bonus games and large awards create more play on the machines close by? Do some floor areas have a higher concentration of people? If many people are concentrated in a particular area but are not playing, an analysis of machine activity would not show this. In this example, better games could be moved to this populated area to increase handle.
Analysing video could offer positive or negative data where traditional game data would be of no benefit. Video can provide a valuable source of data, far beyond something to look at on a monitor. Combine video analytics with game analytics and you have a data warehouse the breadth and width of which was unimagined just a few years ago.
Taken even further the marketing value of video analytics becomes astronomical. Video cameras can be placed within gaming machines, as demonstrated at G2E during the past couple of years. While the configuration demonstrated was to exclude prohibited players from using the machine, what is to stop the technology at that point?
Let us step back a bit and consider player marketing. Presently, players must opt into the club by signing up and providing personal information. Should a patron wish to partake in anonymous activity, they are able to do so without any effort. If they don’t join the club or don’t enter a players’ card into the machine, their activity isn’t tracked. Even carded players will remove their card ‘just for luck’ or if they feel that ‘big brother’ may have determined that they have won enough.
However, video analytics can allow you to track players without them opting into the club. Joining the club simply provides personal information such as name, sex, age, date of birth and other information that could be used to further optimize offers. In an ideal world, all game play would be recorded so that the data warehouse would be a repository for complete data, a must for accurate analysis. When uncarded play takes place a tremendous amount of data is essentially removed from your data warehouse.
The potential benefits of evolving video surveillance systems are indeed promising. But is it possible to have too much of a good thing, even for an operator in a casino environment? Expanded use of video surveillance technology raises a whole host of issues including the players’ rights to privacy. Is it right to analyse players’ activities without them knowing?
Is it right to collect information on patrons without their knowledge or permission? Should you disclose that you are tracking their activity? Do you have to disclose what type of information you retain and for what purpose(s) you will use it?
As player monitoring becomes easier, it brings to light many questions about individual privacy. Just how much can big brother monitor and what can be done with the data? George Orwell doesn’t have the answer; this is something gaming operators will have to determine on their own.