FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates generally to an electro-mechanical gaming machine, and more particularly to a combination slot machine and pachenko game machine which has drop zones created by zone deflectors and scoring positions which vary from game to game.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Slot machines have been a dominant part of the gaming industry world wide for over 50 years. While pachenko machines have seen a great deal of popularity in Asia, they are not as well suited for gaming as the traditional slot machine.
Slot machines have changed very little over the years. Whether mechanical or electronic, they still have reels spinning and coming to stop on a potential jackpot. It appears that a large part of the appeal of slot machines is the “mechanical” nature of the spinning reels which induces a belief in players that they are witnessing a truly random event and that the “big” jackpot is always just around the corner. While the big jackpot may or may not be just around the corner, slot machines maintain a very accurate payout percentage, usually between 92 and 99 percent with the house retaining the rest as profit.
The public perception of the “mechanical” nature of a slot machine is a critical part of their acceptance of the fairness of the machine. When slot machines with video displays showing simulated reels were introduced, the public rejected them in favor of the older slot machines with mechanical reels. Even though the new machines simulated the mechanical slots in every way and used the same random number generating circuit and yielded the same percentages as the mechanical slot machines, they were less attractive to the gaming public.
The biggest problem with the mechanical or electronic slot machines that have mechanical reels is that they have higher mechanical maintenance costs than machines with video displays in place of spinning reels. While prior art machines that replaced the spinning reels with video displays had lower mechanical maintenance costs they were also less attractive to gamers.
Another problem with traditional slot machines is their size, due to the space requirements of the mechanical reels. Traditional slot machines take up a great deal of floor space and are generally not well suited to being wall mounted. Smaller machines would allow the machines' owners to generate more revenue per square foot. The option of wall mounting a machine is attractive because this allows greater flexibility in the placement of machines.
Yet another problem with traditional slot machines is the limited number of possible combinations of symbols limits the size of a jackpot that can be offered. In order to provide larger jackpots, gaming establishments link multiple machines together in order to offer a progressive jackpot.
Finally, the very randomness which makes slot machines attractive also deters some people from playing them because they do not perceive there to be any skill involved in playing the game. Additionally, some people are looking for a more interactive experience than is provided by traditional slot machines. Too much interactivity, such as that involved with video and pinball games, would slow down the cycle rate of the machines to an unacceptable level.
There is a demand for a gaming machine that is as attractive to gamers as slot machines but at lower mechanical maintenance costs. There is a further demand for a gaming machine which would allow for the chance at a large jackpot with a small investment without having to link together multiple machines. There is yet a further demand for a gaming machine which creates a perception of skill while maintaining an accurate payout percentage and a fast cycle rate.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The present invention is a drop slot game machine that utilizes falling balls which drop from the upper part of the playing field, which is divided into user or randomly selectable drop zones, and into exit positions at the bottom of the playing field. The balls encounter deflector pegs which randomly change the path of the balls during their fall. As each passes through an exit position it is detected by sensor (photoelectric, infra-red, etc). Each exit position has a corresponding symbol which is represented on a liquid crystal display, the exit position symbol display, which lights up when a ball passes through that position. A small LED above each symbol reflects how many balls fell into a particular position (providing some did) so there can be no doubt to the player to which position and to how many balls passed through the associated exit position. A larger LCD payline display, simulating the payline of a traditional slot machine, shows the series of symbols selected by the balls passing through the exit positions.
If, for example, three balls are dropped, then the symbols representing the three exit positions which the balls pass through are displayed on the larger payline display. The symbols used in traditional slot machines as well as new symbols can be displayed on the exit position symbol display and the payline display. If all three balls fall into a single exit position, then the same symbol will be represented three times on the payline.
Payout in the present invention is controlled by electrical circuits similar to the those controlling payout in traditional slot machines, thereby ensuring the same payout percentages.
After passing through the exit positions, the balls recirculate by rolling into a launching position where they will be ejected back to the top of the game machine to drop through the playing field. It is likely that the balls will be launched by electrical solenoid or pneumatic ejector system.
A microprocessor/random number generator determines which symbols appear on which exit positions at the time of each pull. More than three balls can be used and more than three symbols can be represented on the payline (such as a four or greater reel machine). Furthermore, multiple paylines can be used using the appropriate number of balls (i.e. three paylines, three symbols per payline, nine balls would drop). In general, it is possible to simulate almost all current slot machine pay variations.
An additional feature of the machine is to have drop zones so that the balls may be deflected into one specific zone at the upper starting position. These zones may be either randomly selected by the machine itself, or selected by the player just prior to the symbols being shown on the LCD.
Other features may include bonus payouts such as: symbols designated by the LCD as “double”, “triple” etc. if balls fall in those individual or group of holes. Another bonus may be available if all the balls fall through the same hole. Yet another bonus may be available based upon what is displayed on the exit position display in combination with the payline display.
From a players standpoint, there is an element of anticipation not present in traditional slot machines. A player can see a jackpot developing and “wish” balls into the jackpot positions. The present invention also creates a perception of “true” randomness not found in traditional slot machines. The player sees balls freely dropping through the playing field as opposed to reels jerkily moving symbols in or out of the payline.
The present invention also creates a perception of skill, by being able to select drop zones, a player can exert a distinct influence on the outcome (not at all present in current slot machines). In reality, the percentages will run the same, but there is little doubt that the perception of skill on the player's behalf will exist.
Another aspect that is unique to the present invention is what may be called the “if only I had” aspect which is evident in other gambling sport/games, i.e. horse racing “if only I had bet on the number two horse”, roulette “if only I had bet the red or seven”, craps, etc. In the case of the present invention, “if only I had selected number two drop zone”.
Yet another advantage to the player is their ability to experience the excitement of a “high probability of win” round when they look down and see many symbols which may be “high” jackpot oriented. In these cases, the player will actually be at an advantage to win during that round, and he/she will know it. This situation never exists on a traditional slot machine.
The machine of the present invention also allows for a greater number of symbols to be displayed than a traditional, reel based, slot machine. The reel based machines are limited to displaying the number of symbols that can be fit on the reel. In a three(3) reel machine with eleven(11) symbols per reel there are 1331 possible combinations that can ever be displayed on the payline. In the present invention it is easy to store many symbols for electronic display. In a machine with eight(8) exit positions and 25 possible symbols per exit position there are over 150 billion combinations for display on the exit position display. This larger number of possible combinations makes it possible for the present invention to payout over a larger range of combinations and would allow a single machine to have the potential to payout a very large jackpot.
The present invention should have a very wide appeal to the gaming establishments as it has an overtly visible “mechanical” element, balls launching and freely dropping through the playing field, yet very low maintenance. The maintenance is low because other than simple mechanical switches and a ball ejecting system, the machine is dependent on non-mechanical hardware and software for most of its operation.
These and other features of the present invention will be more fully appreciated when considered in light of the following detailed description and drawings.