In an attempt to tighten security, Macau plans to launch facial scans and ID card verification for cash withdrawals using China’s main payment network. Macau is the world’s largest gambling hub and has been suspected to be a prime target for capital flight and money laundering. On Sunday night, the government announced that in the future, users of UnionPay would be required to insert their identity cards into ATMs in order to verify their identity by facial recognition software to withdraw cash.
Macau is roughly an hour ferry ride from Hong Kong, and is the only place in China where casino gambling is legal. UnionPay is the main payment network in China, rivalling even Vis and MasterCard. The purpose of this new security measure would be to target mainland visitors who may be acting as a middleman and dodging withdrawal limits by using multiple ATM cards registered to different customers.
Most recently Macau has fallen under a corruption crackdown led by President Xi Jinping. Since he first came to power in 2012, the President has sought to limit capital outflows from the mainland, these new ATM security measures seek to do the same. The announcement of this decision came just in time for a visit from Zhang Dejian, the head of China’s parliament and its third-most powerful leader. Zhang is visiting the former Portuguese colony from May 8-10 and is doing so during a “significant phase in its development.”
In recent months, Macau has seen a lot of success in its gaming industry. Gross Gaming revenue has been increasing on an annual basis since August and jumped 16 percent year-on-year in April. For the past nine months Macau has documented an increase in gaming revenue, following a two-year slump. The casinos within the city have already brought in $10.4 billion this year.
Although Macau has found an immense amount of success, concerns still linger for the Chinese government. In 2014, an investigation conducted by Reuters shed light on many mainland Chinese residents use UnionPay cards to manipulate cash withdrawal limits of 20,000 yuan, or Chinese currency. Once these residents withdrawal the additional money they are using it to either gamble or transfer it abroad. At the end of the 2016 the Chinese government put capital controls in place, making it harder for individuals and companies to move money out of China.
The Chinese government hopes that the implementation of facial recognition ATMs will help strengthen the current regulations to prevent money laundering. There is no time frame in which these new machines are expected to launch but the project is expected to take a few years at least. This will be the first time this type of software is put in place on a such a large scale.