Ensuring safe, secure online gambling with biometrics

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Craig Herman, Chief Revenue Officer, Aware explores ID verification for online gambling platforms.

For years, physical casinos have relied extensively on advanced security systems to keep both their premises and their customers safe.

For example, requiring authorised entry into restricted areas. Such measures have always been considered vital, given the substantial sums of money in constant circulation within casinos.

Biometrics – or the automated recognition of individuals by means of unique physical characteristics, including iris, fingerprints, voice and facial recognition – have been gaining broader acceptance in many physical casinos’ security portfolios.

Consider the recent example of a 23 year old Las Vegas man who posed as a casino owner in order to steal $1m.

Using biometrics to validate the man’s true identity could have prevented this unfortunate occurrence. 

Biometrics are also a core component of voluntary “self-exclusion” programs often used by those who are dealing with gambling addiction.

Self-exclusion programs require participants to submit a facial image so that casinos can detect when a participant is attempting to enter the casino and can therefore deny that person entrance.

Already used extensively in Europe, these programs are now gaining traction across the US.

But, perhaps the area where biometrics can have the biggest impact is in the online realm – the increasingly popular world of online gambling (including both online casinos and online sports betting).

In fact, in 2018, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision which left each state free to chart their own course in regard to online gambling.

However, since then, some states have remained reticent about legalising it, with just six states permitting online casinos and 38 states plus the District of Columbia legalising online sports betting.

Clearly, there’s huge tax revenue to be gained from such initiatives, which raises an important question: Why is there reluctance on the part of states to embrace this potentially lucrative industry?  

Betting on identity verification

Online gambling platforms (operators) face the same pressures that their physical counterparts do to keep both their operations and their customers safe.

To a large extent, this ability depends on verifying that customers (players) are who they say they are.

Most importantly, operators must verify: Is the player of legal age in the state they’re playing in?

These platforms also need to ensure players are not attempting to open a duplicate account to fraudulently gain access to incentives/rewards that come with the first-time opening of an account.

A primary concern for US states centres on the risk of underage gambling.

Unlike physical casinos, operators in the online realm don’t have the luxury of encountering someone in person and asking them to present a government-issued ID.

Here, biometrics and document verification technologies can provide ‘age verification for the internet’.

That is, at enrolment, a user can be required to take and submit a selfie along with a photo of their government-issued ID.

The biometric technologies can compare the faces within the selfie and the ID and make sure they are in fact one in the same person.

Biometric technologies can also check watermarks and other identifying characteristics to ensure the government-issued ID is legitimate.

Gone are the days where kids can easily use someone else’s ID to get past these checks.  

Another capability that online casinos and operators can take advantage of is biometrics’ ability to combine with geofencing – allowing them to verify where players are physically located at any given moment to make sure they satisfy the age requirement of that state.  

Supporting responsible online gambling

Biometrics can also help in ensuring responsible gambling.

As noted, while European casinos have successfully implemented exclusion programs that allow at-risk individuals to voluntarily ban themselves, this principle is also applicable – if not more so – in the online realm.

This is because the constant availability of online gambling on our devices poses a risk akin to leaving an addict in a room filled with addictive substances. 

To alleviate both age and irresponsible gambling concerns while promoting wider acceptance of online gambling, operators must prioritise robust identity verification processes to confirm that gamblers are who they claim to be.

In fact, research indicates that minors are at a greater risk of developing gambling addictions than adults, with insufficient efforts by social media platforms to prevent the exposure of gambling ads to minors only contributing to the problem.  

Currently, most online casinos and operators depend on sophisticated AI and machine learning algorithms to identify and prevent potentially risky and unlawful activity.

Still, these techniques aren’t 100% foolproof, as the recent NBA ban of Toronto Raptors forward Jontay Porter demonstrated.

In addition to purposely influencing a wager by claiming illness, it was discovered that Porter had placed more than a dozen bets using an associate’s betting account.

Using biometrics, it becomes impossible for the same person to open multiple accounts (once a pre-defined limit has been set, for example) or for a person to fraudulently access and use someone else’s account to gamble with another person’s money. 

Security and speed: You can have both

In the world of online gambling, time is of the essence. Operators know they must balance superior compliance and fraud prevention with an exceptionally slick and frictionless player experience.

The current system of requiring passwords or even multifactor authentication (for example, sending a user a special code on their phone that they must enter in addition to a password) introduces additional, unnecessary friction into the process.

Biometric authentication is the only solution that satisfies both ends.

From a security perspective, it’s as foolproof as you can get – while being extremely player-friendly and easily accessible across mobile devices or any computer equipped with a camera.

It used to be that only large, established companies could offer biometrics, given the extensive upfront time and work often involved.

However, the introduction of cloud-based services has significantly simplified the integration of advanced security features, such as facial recognition, for online casinos and operators.

Today, new technological capabilities allow online casinos and operators of all sizes to activate sophisticated biometrics-based solutions in as little as three minutes, making them available to users on any mobile device or computer with a webcam.

With this ease of use and adoption, it is imperative that online gambling entities recognise the importance of embracing this technology to ensure a safer and secure process now and in the future.  

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