BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
1. Field of the Invention
The invention relates generally to games of chance such as bingo and the like. More particularly, one aspect of the invention relates to methods and apparatus for enabling bingo (and similar games of chance, referred to hereinafter collectively as “bingo”) to be played in real time at locations which are remote (geographically separated in a physical sense) from the location where the numbers (or more generally symbols) used to play a bingo type of game are being selected. Being able to play bingo in real time, at the aforementioned remote locations, is defined herein as the ability to play bingo over a “wide geographic area”. A further aspect of the invention is directed to interactive systems which support playing bingo over a wide geographic area.
2. Description of the Prior Art
In bingo and similar games of chance the basic elements of the game are a gaming board (or card) and a random number (or symbol) generating device. The gaming board can be a square array of symbols (with the term “symbol” being defined herein to include numbers), usually a 5×5 numerical array, with the centermost location being blank or termed a “free space”. The game is generally played with either 75 or 90 numbers. Each column in the array is usually limited to only one-fifth of the numbers, e.g., the first column numbers are taken from the group 1 to 15 in the event 75 numbers are used, and 1 to 18 if 90 numbers are used; the second column numbers are taken from the group 16 to 30 or 19 to 36, and so on. Further, duplicate numbers cannot appear on a gaming card.
When the game is being played, the game operator specifies a shape or pattern to be formed on the gaming card by randomly generated numbers (or other legal symbols), and then proceeds to call the symbols generated at random (such as, for example, the numbers between 1 and 75, or 1 and 90, etc.). If a symbol called coincides with one on a player's board, the player marks the symbol in some fashion on his board. The object of the game is to be the first player to have a set of randomly called symbols coincide with the marked symbols on the player's board so as to form the specified shape or pattern.
The specified shape or pattern may be an X, T, L, a diagonal line, five symbols horizontally or vertically, and so on. Several of these games, usually between twelve and eighteen, constitute a bingo program or session which is played during the course of an evening over several hours. The games are played consecutively and essentially without any major interruption except possibly for intermissions.
These games have long been played at churches, in schools, at bingo halls on Indian reservations, and at other centralized facilities, to raise money for charity or to profit the institution sponsoring the gaming session where gambling is legal.
The participants typically go to the central facility where the gaming session is to be held, pay an admission charge and purchase one or more game boards each having at least one fixed numerical array printed thereon,
In some instances it is difficult or impossible for individuals who would like to participate in a game of bingo to go to central facility where the bingo session is scheduled to be played. For example, there are instances where individuals are unable to secure transportation to the facility. In some cases, people who are confined to a hospital or nursing home cannot physically attend a bingo session. In still other situations, individuals are not able to leave their homes due to illness or other responsibilities and although they desire to participate in a bingo session, support a charitable event, engage in a participatory form of entertainment, etc., they are presently unable to do so. These problems exist because no methods and apparatus (systems) are presently known which support the playing of bingo like games over a wide geographic area.
Accordingly, it would be desirable to provide methods and apparatus for enabling bingo to be played in real time at locations which are remote from the location where the numbers (or other symbols) used to play a bingo type of game are being selected.
A further problem exists with the type of bingo games currently played at centralized facilities. These games have long been played with boards which have a fixed printed numerical array. Players select from a large number of preprinted boards and, therefore, are unable to create and play an array of their own choosing and determination.
While some games have been played with blank paper boards that are filled in with numbers (or other symbols) of the player's own choosing, the cards are limited in size and can essentially be used only once since the player marks out the numbers (or other symbols) called with an ink dauber or like, means. This type of random array selection results in an inefficiency of operation for playing consecutive games on a minimum interruption basis.
This inefficiency affects not only the game operator, who must find and check a copy of the marked paper boards which are collected to avoid an unauthorized change in the numbers (or other symbols) once the game has started, but also the player, who must prepare a new board prior to each game. These actions require time and detract from the desired even, and essentially uninterrupted, flow of a successful bingo program. It is mainly for these reasons that the blank board approach has been used only for single games and then generally only for the first game of the bingo program.
Another important consideration when playing bingo at either a central facility or from remote locations is to provide a gaming board which cannot be changed without the knowledge of the game operator, which provides an indication that it was acquired for use in the particular program being conducted, and which can be checked quickly in the event a winning combination occurs on a board.
Furthermore, during a typical bingo program, the shape of the winning array generally varies from one game to the next and players having several cards to “mark” may loose track of numbers (or other symbols) called or may not be responsive enough in their marking effort to keep up with the progress of the game. Therefore, it may be desirable for the player to be provided with an automatic indication of when a match of the pattern being played for has occurred in one of the game arrays that have been sold.
Recently, electronic gaming boards have been developed which permit a player to select his own numbers and to display the shape of a winning array. These boards signal the player when a winning array has been achieved on his board. An electronic gaming board of this type is more fully described in U.S. Pat. No. 4,365,810, issued to John Richardson on Dec. 28, 1982. Other advantageous electronic gaming systems and components thereof are described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,848,771, 5,007,649, and 5,043,887, all issued in the name of John Richardson; and U.S. Pat. No. 5,072,381, issued in the name of Richardson et al. These patents are all hereby expressly incorporated by reference.
U.S. Pat. No. 4,848,771, to Richardson, entitled “Gaming System With Session Master And Gaming Boards”, issued Jul. 18, 1989, describes an automatic gaming system for games of chance, employing electronic game boards in conjunction with a system base station for downloading game card arrays into the electronic game board units, and validation units.
The game card arrays are downloaded into the electronic game boards during an initialization process in which the base station creates a gaming schedule, including win pattern definitions, pay out levels, etc. The validation units are also initialized by the base station and are used to check win claims by physically coupling a validation unit to an electronic game board and checking a validation code originally downloaded to both units by the base station.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,007,649, to Richardson, entitled “Gaming System With System Base Station And Gaming Boards”, issued Apr. 16, 1991, describes an electronic gaming system that includes a base station capable of downloading game card arrays into an electronic game board. The game cards are stored in the base station as a gaming card library. The 24 numbers (or symbols) for each array, ranging from 1 to 75 (or 1 to 90), are packed into 12 bytes. In a total of 600,000 bytes, 50,000 gaming cards are stored, each 12 bytes long.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,043,887, to Richardson, entitled “Automatic Downloading Of Bingo Cards”, issued Aug. 27, 1991, describes a gaming system that employs a base station, including game card array production means, and a plurality of gaming boards designed to exchange information with the system base station (via a cable connection to a communications port physically included as part of the base station means), store game card arrays downloaded from the base station, and means for actually playing the game as numbers are selected.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,072,381, to Richardson et al., entitled “Automatic Downloading Of Bingo Cards With Algorithm For Generating Bingo Cards”, issued Dec. 10, 1991, describes an electronic gaming system including a base station which stores game card arrays in individual records as a gaming card library, and which employs an algorithm to generate cards which ensures that numerical arrays of consecutive adjacent gaming arrays in the library, differ by more than one array entry.
None of the aforementioned patents is directed to methods and apparatus which permit a bingo like game to be played over a wide geographic area. In fact, all of the aforementioned patents teach away from such a system. It should be noted, for example, that the initialization and win verification procedures described in the incorporated references require that the electronic game boards, the verification units and the system base station means, all (at different times) be physically coupled to one another via detachable cable connections made at the central facility where the bingo session is being held. This is necessary so that these units can be operated in accordance with the teachings set forth in the incorporated reference.
For example, a cable must be attached to each electronic game board and must be plugged into the system base station, for the electronic game board to accept game card arrays and instructions downloaded from the system base station; the verification units must be physically coupled via a cable to each winning electronic game board (after a win is signalled) to verify that a genuine winning array has been sold, etc.
Furthermore, the electronic bingo system contemplated by the incorporated references requires the use of expensive components, such as the electronic game boards and verification units per se, which because of their cost do not lend themselves to being safely and securely removed from the central facility. Such units would be expensive to replace if lost, stolen or damaged.
Still further, the electronic bingo system components taught in the incorporated references would be expensive for the average game participant to purchase if used in playing bingo from, for example, a participant's home, assuming the communications and security problems associated with using such equipment to play bingo over a wide geographic area could be solved. These problems include, for example, competition for communications resources when downloading information to the electronic game boards, keeping track of inputs to a centralized base station by participants as a game is being played, detecting tampering of the data in or electronics associated with a given electronic game board, physically performing the win verification functions suggested by the incorporated references over a wide geographic area, etc.
For all of the aforementioned reasons, the type of systems described in the incorporated references, although illustrating the state of the art and teaching the components of an electronic bingo system (including electronic game boards, win verification units and centralized base station means capable of sequencing through a bingo game session, creating and storing game card arrays, downloading such arrays upon request, etc.), do not teach methods or apparatus suitable for playing bingo over a wide geographic area.
The present state of the art regarding games of chance which can be played from remote locations on an interactive basis may be illustrated by U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,760,527, and 4,926,327, both to Sidley, entitled “System For Interactively Playing Poker With A Plurality Of Players” (issued Jul. 26, 1988), and “Computerized Gaming System” (issued May 15, 1990), respectively. These patents, hereby incorporated by reference, describe an electronic system for playing a card game of poker which permits interactive wagering among a plurality of players.
The system taught by Sidley exemplifies an interactive network which allows a plurality of players to compete against one another. However, only a limited number of players are allowed to compete at any one time (52 in total), and the teachings of Sidley require that all players be interconnected via a plurality of consoles (one for each player) which are all coupled to a central computer unit. The communications problems inherent in physically interconnecting a large number of players (hundreds or even thousands of players) to compete in real time, are serious; particularly if all the players compete for system resources within a short time window, such as the time interval between when numbers (or other symbols) are called during a bingo game.
Furthermore, the interactive systems taught in the Sidley references do not support the playing of a bingo like game per se.
For these reasons, although Sidley describes an interactive gaming system, the system is not suitable for supporting the playing of bingo over a wide geographic area on either a passive or interactive basis.
Finally, it should be noted that commercially available point of sale units for selling games of chance from remote locations presently exist, such as those manufactured by General Instrument Corporation, and are suitable for engaging in on-line communications with a centralized computing system that maintains records of a game of chance, in particular lottery games.
Using such on-line point of sale terminals, lottery tickets are commonly sold for playing “numbers” type games, such as picking a 3 digit number out of the 1,000 possible combinations of three digits, picking 6 out of 40 numbers, etc. The various combinations and permutations of selected numbers chosen by lottery players constitute bets which result in both either fixed or computed pay out levels usually determined by the number tickets sold.
While such remote terminals are well known for procuring lottery tickets and offering such tickets to participants in a lottery drawing on either a “quick pick” basis (i.e., where the computer to which the terminal is coupled randomly generates the sequence of numbers to appear on the lottery ticket), and a “purchaser choice” basis (i.e., where the purchaser specifies the set of numbers that he or she is interested in playing); there is no known use of such a point of sale terminal to sell a bingo type game over a wide geographic area.
Accordingly, in addition to the other desirable aspects of methods and apparatus for playing bingo type games as set forth hereinabove, it would be desirable to provide a system (including methods and apparatus to perform the desired functions of such a system) that supports the playing of bingo type games, over a wide geographic area, which combines techniques and equipment for generating bingo game card arrays in response to a player's request for one or more game cards, with techniques and equipment used for the on-line generation of gaming tickets at a plurality of locations.
Furthermore, it would be desirable to provide a system that combines the aforementioned techniques and equipment for generating game card arrays in response to user requests, with techniques and equipment for keeping track of all arrays sold; and to further combine in such a system, methods and apparatus for sequencing through a bingo schedule (playing a set of bingo games), and for communicating the random symbols generated for each game in progress over a wide geographic area. Such a combined system would enable the participation in bingo games of people situated at locations other than the actual location where the symbols are being generated.
Still further, it would be desirable to provide at least one version of a system for supporting the playing of bingo over a wide geographic area, which is an “interactive” system. Such a system would contemplate user inputs while a bingo session is in progress. Furthermore, an interactive system would enhance the users overall entertainment from and participation in a game of bingo being played, particularly when compared to other passive types of games of chance, such as a lottery.
Further yet, it would be desirable to provide a system for playing bingo over a wide geographic area that enables players to play by subscription, i.e., where advance orders for game card arrays could be easily accommodated, along with sales from the aforementioned on-line point of sale terminals.
Yet another desirable aspect of a system that supports playing bingo over a wide geographic area would be a feature that allows an electronic version of the game to be played. That is, a system that utilizes the aforementioned electronic game boards, home computer terminals or cable television “boxes”, and the like, for allowing game card array purchases to be made from remote locations and/or for playing bingo at such locations without having to utilize printed game cards. such a system, combined with the aforementioned interactive type of system contemplated by one embodiment of the invention, could even be designed to facilitate the exchange of game card arrays during the progress of a game.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Accordingly, it is a primary object of the invention to provide methods and apparatus for enabling bingo to be played in real time at locations which are remote from the location where the numbers (or other symbols) used to play a bingo type of game are being selected (i.e., over a “wide geographic area” as defined herein).
It is a further object of the invention to provide methods and apparatus for enabling bingo to be played in real time over a wide geographic area which can optionally provide a player at a remote site with an automatic indication of when a match of the pattern being played for has occurred on a valid game card array.
It is a still a further object of the invention to provide methods and apparatus for enabling bingo to be played in real time over a wide geographic area which optionally allows players to create and play arrays of their own choosing and determination.
Yet another object of the invention is to provide methods and apparatus for enabling bingo to be played in real time over a wide geographic area which combines techniques and equipment for generating bingo game card arrays in response to a player's request for one or more game cards, with techniques and equipment used for the remote on-line point of sale generation of gaming tickets.
A still further object of the invention is to provide a system that combines the aforementioned techniques and equipment for generating game card arrays in response to user requests, with techniques and equipment for keeping track of all arrays sold; and to further combine in such a system, methods and apparatus for sequencing through a bingo schedule (playing a set of bingo games), and for communicating each game in progress over a wide geographic area.
Further yet, it is an object of the invention to provide at least one version of a system for supporting the playing of bingo over a wide geographic area, which is an “interactive” system, i.e., a system that contemplates and responds to preselected user inputs while a game of bingo is in progress and/or before or after a game is completed.
Still further, it is an object of the invention to provide a system for playing bingo over a wide geographic area that enables players to subscribe to a series of bingo sessions by making advance purchases of game card arrays.
Finally, it is yet another object of the invention to provide a system for playing bingo over a wide geographic area using an “electronic” version of the game, defined as a system that utilizes the aforementioned electronic game boards, home computer terminals or cable television “boxes”, and the like, for making game card array purchases from remote locations and/or for playing bingo at such locations without having to utilize printed game cards.
In accordance with one aspect of the invention, a system for enabling bingo to be played over a wide geographic area is described, comprising: (a) means for issuing game card arrays in response to purchase requests; (b) means for keeping track of all game card arrays issued in response to said purchase requests; (c) means for sequencing through each bingo game in a scheduled bingo session; and (d) means for communicating over a wide geographic area the sequence of random symbols being generated during a particular bingo game to thereby enable players over the wide geographic area to participate in the bingo session.
According to a specific illustrative embodiment of the invention, methods and apparatus are set forth which facilitate the purchase of bingo “cards” from at least one game card array on-line point of sale outlet. Such outlets may be set up at convenient locations, such as grocery stores, in liquor stores, and the like, to enable purchasers to easily obtain game cards for a scheduled game session.
Furthermore, according to this illustrative embodiment of the invention, each point of sale outlet is coupled to a central game station (also referred to herein as a system base station means) which, for example, may be coupled to the point of sale outlet by telephone lines. The central game station, in addition to other functions to be described hereinafter, may be used to keep track of the game array appearing on each card that is sold.
The central game station, in accordance with the aforementioned illustrative embodiment of the invention, also includes means for sequencing through a predefined gaming schedule, means for playing each scheduled game and means for terminating a given game upon determining that at least one game card array from the set of all cards sold is a winning game card array.
Still further, according to this first aspect of the invention, game participants, once purchasing a desired number of game card arrays, may participate in each game by viewing or listening to the game in progress from their homes or other remote locations (remote with respect to the point of sale outlet and the physical location of the central game station), by, for example, tuning in a preselected standard television channel, cable television channel, radio station or other means of communicating the progress of a game being played over a wide geographic area.
Any one or more of the aforementioned means of communicating the progress of a game over a wide geographic area may be included within or be coupled to the central game station, depending on the particular design of a given gaming system.
Participants in a given gaming session may then, by following the progress of a given game, mark their “cards” as each game is played, “covering” each symbol generated that appears on a given card. A winning card can be recognized by the participant when a predetermined shape or pattern, which is the object of the game, is reproduced on a card as a result of covering the symbols that have been generated.
As indicated hereinbefore, in one embodiment of the invention the central game station keeps track of all game card arrays, identifies the first game card (or set of game cards) on which the shape or pattern appears that is the object of the game appears, and signals that a winning card (or cards) has been sold, terminating the game.
According to this embodiment of the invention, a winner might not be required to participate in the game as it is being played in order to have a valid winning game card; in alternate embodiments of the invention, the winner may be required to register a winning card over an interactive data link (for example, a phone line coupled to the central computing system), and claim a prize within a pre-specified time limit (for example, before the next number or other legal symbol is generated), or else forfeit the prize with the game continuing.
According to a further alternate embodiment of the invention, an interactive network on which to play bingo is contemplated, wherein the network includes means for purchasing game card arrays from a remote location, and means for engaging in two way communications with the central game system to record selected symbols, to signal a winning game card array and/or to validate a winning game card array as being genuine. Still further alternate embodiments of the invention contemplate the use of electronic gaming systems, including electronic game boards and the like, for playing bingo like games over either a passive or interactive network.
In addition to the aforementioned systems and apparatus, the invention encompasses methods for playing bingo over a wide geographic area, such as a method comprising the steps of: (a) issuing game card arrays in response to purchase requests; (b) keeping track of all game card arrays issued in response to said purchase requests; (c) sequencing through each bingo game in a scheduled bingo session; and (d) communicating over a wide geographic area the sequence of random symbols being generated during a particular bingo game to thereby enable players over the wide geographic area to participate in the bingo session.
The invention features methods and apparatus for enabling bingo to be played in real time at locations which are remote from the physical location where the numbers (or other symbols) used to play a bingo type of game are being selected.
Furthermore, the invention features systems that allow bingo to be played on either a passive or interactive basis over a wide geographic area.
Still further, the invention features methods and apparatus which enable bingo to be played in real time over a wide geographic area and optionally allow players to create and play arrays of their own choosing and determination.
These and other objects, embodiments and features of the present invention and the manner of obtaining them will become apparent to those skilled in the art, and the invention itself will be best understood by reference to the following detailed description read in conjunction with the accompanying Drawing.