Ohio legislation to allow facial-recognition cameras, targets money laundering at casinos


COLUMBUS — A digital facial image of everyone who cashes out chips or credits at an Ohio casino, racetrack slots parlor, or “sweepstakes” café could be stored in a database for at least five years under an amendment recently added to the proposed state budget.

The move is one of a number of efforts by lawmakers to address law enforcement’s concern that casinos are being used by third parties to launder drug or other illegally obtained cash.

“When you have ill-gotten gains, you have to find some way to launder that money,” said Sen. Bill Coley (R., Cincinnati), who requested the amendment. “You can’t just go deposit it into your bank account. One of the well-known ways to do that is to go to a casino.”

The amendment was added to the two-year, $61.7 billion budget passed last week by the Senate. It allows the Ohio Casino Control Commission to require facial recognition cameras at cashier counters and automated redemption machines where chips, tickets, or credits are converted to cash.

The amendment would do the same for the Ohio Lottery Commission when it comes to racetrack slots parlors it licenses, and for hundreds of “sweepstakes” terminals at cafés that lawmakers are trying to put out of business.

The facial equipment would be installed at the casinos’ expense. Hollywood Casino Toledo and Ohio’s other casinos in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus use digital video monitoring to routinely catch cheaters and enhance security, but is not the equipment necessary to capture close-up facial images that could later be reliably used for digital comparison.

“We do not believe the technology exists that would allow something this extensive for this kind of purpose,” said Bob Tenenbaum, spokesman for Penn National Gaming, Inc., owner of the Toledo and Columbus casinos.

It remains to be seen whether the language will survive a joint conference committee that will begin its work today to hammer out a compromise.

Seth Powless, an information systems professor at the University of Toledo’s College of Business, said the technology exists but is not foolproof.

“At best, it’s a 50 percent medium,” he said. “There are so many ways around it. Once you’ve trained staff, which is very expensive, and purchase the system, install it, and then — assuming the staff stays because turnover is high in casinos — the challenge is who manages it. How does the data get from A to B?”

He said the technology can also be fooled by something as simple as making a face or yawning.

“People who come into a casino to commit crimes are well-versed on this stuff,” Mr. Powless said.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.