Scanner Grabs Identity Data From Driver's License

By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 10-27-2005

A high roller walks into the casino, ever so mindful of the constant surveillance cameras. Wanting to avoid sales pitches and other unwanted attention, he pays cash at each table and anonymously moves around frequently to discourage people who are trying to track his movements.

After a few hours of losses, he goes to the cashier and asks for a cash advance off of his credit card. The card tells the casino his name, but not much else. As is required by card issuers, the cashier asks for some other identification, such as a driver's license.

That license offers the casino a ton of CRM identification goodies, but the cashier is only supposed to glance at the picture and the name to verify identity and hand the license--and its info treasure trove--back to the gambler.

Not any more, at least if a Minneapolis company called Cash Systems Inc. has anything to say about it. The firm was recently awarded a U.S. patent for a device that can grab all of the data of almost any U.S. driver's license in seconds and instantly dump it into a casino's CRM system.

"The casinos spend millions of dollars in player-tracking cards so they know who their top players are in the casino," said Chris Larson, Cash Systems' COO. "The people taking out cash don't want to be tracked, don't want to be given promotions. They're not there for free buffets or anything like that."

The data to be initially captured includes name, address and the amount of money withdrawn and data to be initially excluded will be age and driver's license number. The new high-security licenses that states are starting to adopt could have far more information in them.

Larson, whose company has sold these systems to about 160 casinos in the U.S., painted the change as a convenience for gamblers who might not want to wait in line for a loyalty card.

Katherine Albrecht, a well-known privacy advocate whose new book Spychips details privacy issues surrounding RFID, said the ability to identify gamblers merged with the casinos' tracking systems could be a bad combo.

"If casinos could find a way to force you to I.D. yourself, they could keep people out. The problem for the rest of us is that's not all they plan to do with the information," she said. "They can use that information to follow individual gaming patterns over time. If they know you're the type of person who drinks when you gamble, they could have a waitress come by with free drinks. Or if you're the type of person who plays Blackjack and wins but loses at Craps, they'd know that."

Larson, whose company does not yet have casinos using this system in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, said that he believes this system would be of strong value to a large chain such as Harrah's because "we think there is a lot of data that they don't have an awareness of."

Tim Stanley, the CIO for $10 billion casino empire Harrah's Entertainment, disagrees.

"Fully 80 percent of our revenues are tracked," Stanley said. "These individuals generally do need and want to be known."

In Stanley's experience, he said, most customers will simply play on casino credit rather than go for credit card advances requiring driver's licenses.

But what about the customer who truly want to remain hidden? The Harrah's CIO said he didn't see that being a sufficiently large group to care about.

"If somebody is trying that hard to be anonymous," Stanley said, his voice trailing. "I just think they're chasing a pretty small number of people."

Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com.

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