Japan Wants To Use Facial Recognition To Fight Gambling Addiction

By Paul Gaita 03/14/19

If approved, the initiative could launch as soon as 2021.

casino worker laying out cards for gamblers

Gambling venues in Japan have been asked by government officials to implement facial recognition technology in order to restrict access to their facilities by those suffering from gambling dependency.

The move will attempt to address concerns over a potential increase in gambling addiction with the launch of a long-gestating casino resort project, which was approved in 2018.

The proposal offers a multi-pronged strategy, including increased treatment and support for those who suffer from gambling dependency, and assistance from the gambling industry itself and the National Police Agency to enforce stricter regulation of illegal gambling. The government is currently seeking public opinion on the plan—and if approved, it will launch in 2021, which will coincide with the construction of casino resorts.

As the Nikkei Asian Review reported, concerns over gambling addiction stalled legislation that would legalize casino resorts for nearly two decades.

A 2017 survey by the country's Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare suggested that gambling addiction impacted 3.6% of Japan's adult population—an estimated 3.2 million people—which is considerably higher than rates in countries like France, where it stands at 1.2%, and the United States, where statistics suggest that approximately 1% of adults meet the criteria for gambling dependency. 

But with the July 20, 2018 passage of the casino resorts legalization bill, the government has sought to allay fears through safeguards like facial recognition. These systems would be installed at racetracks and pachinko parlors across the country, and would identify people with gambling addiction whose families, or themselves, have requested that they be restricted from entering such places. The request system will reportedly be introduced in pachinko parlors by March 2020.

In addition to the facial recognition and request systems, the government has proposed additional measures for 2020, including a limit on the number of tickets that identified gambling addicts may purchase online for horse and boat racing, as well as the installation of consultation offices and treatment and support centers for gambling addiction in all major cities and prefectures.

The government has also scheduled a public survey on issues tangential to gambling addiction, including its relationship to poverty, abuse, suicide and debt.

Prior to those efforts, the government's Welfare Ministry has reached out to the gambling industry itself to develop guidelines for advertising that will not, as the Japan Times stated, "fuel people's desire to gamble." The Education Ministry will increase education in the nation's schools about gambling dependency, while the National Police Agency will instruct its regional police departments to enforce tighter restrictions on illegal gambling.

According to Gambling Insider, the government has submitted its proposal to the public, which will be able to weigh in on the strategies until March 27, 2019. If it gains public approval for its plan, the government will finalize its policy by the end of April 2019 and begin implementing facial recognition in 2021.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.