China expands use of facial recognition ATMs to combat gambling crime


China believes there is an intrinsic correlation between gambling and crime, one that cannot be separated. It has already begun a crackdown on anyone who would promote gambling, domestic or otherwise, from within its borders and is going to step up its game. New ATMs with facial recognition technology are now in place in the country, with the latest being installed in the city of Zhuhai, just across the border from Macau. GGRAsia explains that many are now found in the city’s Gongbei district, described as one of the busiest land checkpoints between Zhuhai and Macau. 

ATM machines

Part of the reason for the installation of the new cash machines is presumably to monitor who is consistently making withdrawals. Reports of “excessive” ATM withdrawals have made China’s leaders nervous, with the leading theory being that criminals are emptying the machines for cross-border gambling, fraud and other activity. Facial recognition will allegedly help authorities reduce crime, as well as prevent individuals from allowing non-cardholders to use their cards to transfer potentially illicit funds. 

This isn’t the first time that the area has seen ATMs with facial recognition capabilities, but marks a major advance for China. Macau has had similar cash machines installed at various points around the city for the past four years; however, the technology was reportedly meant to be used just to verify the identity of the person withdrawing funds through cards issued by China’s UnionPay bank. Despite those claims, the general consensus has been that the technology was actually being used to monitor cross-border cash activity between the city and mainland China. 

Facial recognition technology has been a touchy subject over the years. Attempts at using it in other parts of the world, in particular by casinos, have led to lawsuits and substantial backlash. However, China feels compelled to do whatever it takes to ensure its laws and policies are followed at all times, even if it means deploying questionable solutions. 

The fact that the new ATMs have been installed in Zhuhai is not necessarily a direct action against Macau’s de facto autonomy. However, it will undoubtedly impact the city’s gambling scene. The tellers will now make it more difficult for those with nefarious intentions from having an easy route to access funds, which will ultimately, according to China, reduce gambling crimes, fraud and other illegal activity. It’s also likely to force some criminals to become more creative in how they manage their assets and their entrepreneurial endeavors.