Casinos enlist ‘Big Brother’
to track players

Apr 6, 2004 6:28 AM

Casinos understand that providing freebies or "comps" to players is a good way to keep them happily gambling.

Conversely, clever players have learned how to milk the system by making themselves look like high rollers to reap the most rewards with the least investment.

But this kind of cat-and-mouse game may soon be obsolete as casinos implement Big Brother-like tracking systems that can count every chip a player wagers and remember every card dealt, thus enabling operators to mete out comps more equitably.

One such futuristic system is the MindPlay MP21, currently being tested at the Las Vegas Hilton, where a dozen blackjack tables have been outfitted with special shufflers, video equipment and other devices embedded in the tables.

Specifically, the MP21 uses an array of 14 concealed cameras as part of an advanced optical system that automatically recognizes chips and playing cards.

Each player’s statistics — time played, actual amount wagered, won/loss amounts — are recorded through a casino-issued identity card that a dealer swipes at the table.

The detailed information provides accurate data for rating and evaluating players to determine the appropriate comp levels.

The technology can also spot card counters, prompting the system to alert casino bosses.

"MindPlay is a powerful suite of advanced vision-based hardware and software technologies that bring material changes to our industry," said Richard Soltys, CEO and president of MindPlay LLC, a Washington-based company that was recently acquired by Alliance Gaming Corp. "Under the protection of a number of patents, we envision a series of new table game products that will redefine the market with advances of automation and powerful new gaming features to attract and retain players."

In most casinos today, managers track and rate players by hand, using cards, pens and clipboards. But that may soon change.

Last month, the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut announced it would install 150 of the MindPlay systems, becoming the first casino outside of Nevada to use the advanced technology.

"We are very pleased that a casino resort the stature of Mohegan Sun recognizes the operational improvements and enhanced player benefits this advanced technology will bring to its table game operation," Soltys said.

MindPlay isn’t the only system designed to automatically track players’ wagers. TableLink, a system made by Mikohn Gaming, uses chips containing radio-frequency tags that record each wager.

Unlike the MP21, the TableLink technology does not keep track of the cards dealt to each player, which limits its ability to evaluate skill levels.

But Mikohn said a card-reading shuffler is on the drawing board and may soon be added to the TableLink sytem.