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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Chips within chips

14 February 2005

Dear Mark,
Gaming chips are now being developed that can track players' habits from the moment they sit down at a table until they cash in their winnings. The chips are embedded with radio frequency identification (RFID) microchips that carry uniquely identifiable serial numbers. Will the casino eventually be allowed to track your habits? Do you want them to know your betting and decision strategy? Matthijs R.

Ah, Matthijs, the casino already tracks your betting habits, and they know your wagering strategies. At present it's at the slot machines, but soon, as your question implies, it will be with RFID chips at the gaming tables. Casino slots today have a fully automated player tracking system. With the swipe of your slot club card, onboard software knows your name, address, interests, denomination of play, favorite machines, how much you have invested, and your winnings at any given hour. Now betting chips, usually made of fired clay or plastic, are getting some new innards, silicon, and they could be coming to a casino near you.

Presently, you can play at any table game with anonymity, but with RFID microchips, that protection may well be a thing of the past. These RFID chips act as transponders and work by listening for a radio signal sent by transceivers, or RFID readers. Because these RFID chips are so tiny, they can be embedded in almost anything and give it a unique ID code. From blue jeans to razor blades, the possibilities for embedding these chips into virtually anything are endless. As RFID chips prices continually drop, it will become cost-efficient to put RFID tags in almost anything that costs more than a buck, including casino chips. Heck, even my wandering dog, Maggie, has an RFID ID tag.

These days, the monitoring of your play at the table games is done via an educated guess from a pit boss, but his/her guesstimate is not always reliable. Chip tracking will dramatically improve their accuracy. The never-ending squabble of getting your fair share of comps for legitimate play can be identified down to your last dime bet, since your wagering is tracked both accurately and automatically. Once these individually serialized chips are scanned at gaming tables and matched up with each gambler's player card, Casino operators will be able to keep tabs on the fortunes of every gambler on their property, recording the stakes placed by each player, along with their wins and losses. A high roller fleeing the tables with his spoils can be tracked throughout the casino, even if he's hiding in a toilet stall counting his winnings. Also, an RFID chip will make it even easier than the eye-in-the-sky to nab a blackjack dealer with sticky fingers. Management will even know which cocktail waitresses are making what, and from whom.

So, the question remains, am I for this shade of 1984 technology? Nah. Color me skeptical, but even if I'm not counting down the deck, I have no interest in someone electronically monitoring my play when I move from nickel to quarter chips on a blackjack table, or if I'm bellied up at the bar or making a pit stop. I still prefer playing anonymously, with an occasional bone (comp) tossed my way based on a floorperson's best guess of my play. Besides, I have never had to use a microchip to find my nomadic dog. I just yell out "treat" and she comes.

Gambling quote of the week: "Winning is a mental state of mind. Conquer yourself and you have a chance to conquer the casino." —Avery Cardoza, gaming author

Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.