Casinos take a punt on RFID

Gambling chips could get their own embedded wireless chips under a new plan to help casinos keep tabs on customers' wins and losses

Another growth area has been identified for deployment of the controversial radiofrequency identification (RFID) technology -- the casino.

According to a report in this week's New Scientist, an American firm that manufactures gambling chips has begun including RFID tags in its products. Chipco's idea is to help casinos prevent fake chips being smuggled into their premises -- previously, more low-tech techniques such as infra-red ink were used to distinguish authentic chips.

More controversially, though, these RFID tags are designed to allow a casino to monitor exactly how much money each player wins and loses. This would help casinos catch cheaters, as well as allowing them to single out big spenders for preferential treatment.

This scenario could mirror the controversy that was stirred up last year after it was reported that Japanese electronics-maker Hitachi was in talks with the European Central Bank to embed  RFID tags within euro notes.

This rumoured tie-up was never confirmed but it led to considerable alarm that it could violate civil rights and privacy, by opening up the possibility that an individual's spending habits could be discovered.

Despite such worries, RFID is heading for the mainstream, with many large companies keen to use the tagging technology to improve their supply-chain management and keep closer tabs on their stock. Analyst group IDC predicted earlier this week that spending on RFID by US retailers would grow from $91.5m (£50m) in 2003 to nearly $1.3bn in 2008.