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Ohio gamblers’ photos may be on file

Senator wants gambling locations to record images to help fight money laundering.

Photos of Ohio gamblers could be snapped and stored for five years, if one lawmaker’s idea gains steam with casino regulators.

A budget bill amendment sponsored by Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., would authorize facial recognition technology at Ohio’s four casinos, racinos and Internet cafe sweepstakes parlors. Images would be collected when patrons cash out and stored in a database for at least five years to be used to detect money launderers.

“Whether they go to the casino in Cincinnati or the tracks in Lebanon or Dayton, it’s all going to be observed and it’s all going to be cross checked,” Coley said.

Coley said the extra monitoring differs from health or phone records and there is no expectation of privacy in a casino, which operates thousands of surveillance cameras.

“Anybody who’s seen Oceans 11 or walked into a casino understands everything is being recorded,” Coley said.

The provision specifies that cameras would need to be installed at every piece of equipment where any chips, tokens, tickets, electronic cards or similar objects may be redeemed for cash. Coley said he doesn’t know of any other jurisdiction with similar guidelines.

Facial recognition technology works by measuring points between facial features and translating that data into code.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is concerned about the idea. Associate director Gary Daniels said the measure creates a slippery slope for the technology to be used in schools, state agencies and other areas of government. Daniels said facial recognition is not a solid technology and can be inaccurate due to changes in weight, facial hair and other features.

“If you look at the precedent that’s being set, it’s the state government telling private entities they must install and use this type of recognition software,” Daniels said. “If they can demand casinos use it, where does it end?”

It could be a while before Big Brother stares you down as you collect your winnings. The provision, added to the bill containing the state’s two-year budget, does not require the technology but allows the Ohio Casino Control Commission, Ohio Lottery Commission and Ohio Attorney General to write rules requiring it for casinos, race tracks with slots and sweepstakes cafes.

Matt Schuler, executive director of the Casino Control Commission, said the commission has plenty of homework to do before investing in facial recognition equipment.

“We would have to do our due diligence on this technology and the goals of the legislation and work through that and determine whether this is appropriately used in a casino environment or not,” Schuler said.

FBI agent Robert Warfel told lawmakers last month that about $5 billion from illegal drug sales nationally are subject to money laundering schemes every year. Warfel said casino slot machines are a popular scheme: Criminals will exchange cash for chips, play a few games and cash out with new bills.

“Money laundering is a huge problem and you cannot move cash without it,” Coley said. “We want to combat that all the time. There’s some high tech ways to do it.”

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