Hi-tech casino chips will track gamblers

Technology that has been used to monitor the shopping habits of supermarket customers is about to be introduced to casinos.

Technology that has been used to monitor the shopping habits of supermarket customers is about to be introduced to casinos.

An American company is making playing chips that will beam an identification code to sensors in gaming houses. Although they will be more expensive than other chips, they should allow casino owners to reduce counterfeiting and theft and to monitor gamblers more closely. Known as "RFID", Radio Frequency Identification, the technology has already been used in the UK by supermarkets, including Tesco and Marks & Spencer, for tracking items such asrazor blades and men's suits from the warehouse to the store.

But its use has been controversial, with some privacy advocates saying that it could reveal too much data about people who are unaware their habits are being tracked.

That seems to be part of the intent of the new RFID-tagged chips, according to a report in New Scientist magazine today. Casino owners in the US already use cameras and floorwalkers to monitor gamblers, with the intention of spotting cheats and identifying "high rollers", the big spenders who lose their money and providecasinos with big profits. But gamblers who are too successful might now also be asked to leave. The new generation of chips is being made by Chipco International in Raymond, Maine. The RFID system adds about 20p to the price of each chip. But that cost could pale in comparison with the potential savings of playing chips worth thousands of dollars.

RFID would make it far more difficult to forge chips, which can happen if a player or staff member takes one from the casino. When passed through a special reader the RFID chip would produce a radio signal, enabling casinos to spot people smuggling chips out of the building.

The tagged chips could also be a forerunner of new banknotes being considered by the European Central Bank, which wants to use RFID technology for high-denominationnotes to reduce counterfeiting. This would be more difficult than tagging chips because of the rough handling paper notes receive.

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