FILE PHOTO - Chinese visitors walk past a sign for China UnionPay outside a pawnshop in Macau
Chinese visitors walk past a sign for China UnionPay outside a pawnshop in Macau, in this picture taken Nov. 20, 2013.  REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File

The World’s Biggest Gambling Hub Is Adding Facial Recognition to Its ATMs

May 08, 2017

Macau plans to add security features to ATMs to monitor withdrawals, authorities in the world's largest gambling hub said as the Chinese territory seeks to further tighten restrictions on cash flows out of the mainland. Macau is a special administrative region of China and the announcement of the plans coincides with a visit by Zhang Dejiang, the head of China's parliament and its third-most powerful leader.

Users of China's UnionPay bank card will have to scan their identity card at ATMs, which will use facial recognition technology to verify the user, the government said in a statement.

The statement did not say when the changes would be implemented, but specifically mentioned ATMs around casinos.

Zhang is visiting Macau from May 8-10, and over the past nine months, Macau's gambling revenues have rebounded as more mainlanders take advantage of an easing of President Xi Jinping's campaign against shows of wealth by public officials.

In a bid to support the yuan, China's government has since late-2016 put in place capital controls that make it harder for individuals and companies to move money out of China.

A 2014 Reuters investigation found that many mainland Chinese use state-backed UnionPay cards to circumvent cash withdrawal limits of 20,000 yuan or $3,200 a day, and either use that money to gamble or transfer it abroad.

Customers open multiple bank accounts, and then withdraw cash from each, or use pawn shops in Macau to make fake purchases, the investigation found.

The planned ATM measures come as Macau is proposing changes to its anti-money laundering laws which will strengthen current regulations. The gaming authority is also conducting additional audits on the lucrative VIP gambling sector and more vetting of individual junket operators.

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