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Publication numberUS20070060274 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 11/584,152
Publication dateMar 15, 2007
Filing dateOct 20, 2006
Priority dateApr 28, 2000
Also published asWO2008051765A1
Publication number11584152, 584152, US 2007/0060274 A1, US 2007/060274 A1, US 20070060274 A1, US 20070060274A1, US 2007060274 A1, US 2007060274A1, US-A1-20070060274, US-A1-2007060274, US2007/0060274A1, US2007/060274A1, US20070060274 A1, US20070060274A1, US2007060274 A1, US2007060274A1
InventorsRichard Rowe, Richard Schneider
Original AssigneeIgt
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Player loyalty across a gaming enterprise
US 20070060274 A1
Abstract
Disclosed are methods, apparatus, and systems, including computer program products, implementing and using techniques for directing future activity of players of games of chance according to defined goals of an operator. In one aspect of the present invention, a plurality of scenarios of player activity is defined. Each scenario includes one or more events to provide a prediction of future player activity. Defined outcomes are provided for each of the scenarios. The outcomes are determined in accordance with the operator goals. Information identifying a player is received. Player information associated with the identified player is retrieved. The player information includes first gaming data and second gaming data. The first gaming data relates to play of a casino style game. The second gaming data relates to play of a non-casino style game. The retrieved player information is compared with the events in the plurality of scenarios. The identified player is classified in one of the scenarios when at least a portion of the retrieved player information matches one or more of the events in the one scenario. One or more awards are issued for the identified player. The awards correspond to the defined outcomes for the one scenario.
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Claims(24)
1. A method for directing future activity of players of games of chance according to defined goals of an operator, the method comprising:
providing the operator goals;
providing a defined plurality of scenarios of player activity, each scenario including one or more events to provide a prediction of future player activity;
providing defined outcomes for each of the scenarios, the outcomes determined in accordance with the operator goals;
receiving information identifying a player;
retrieving player information associated with the identified player, the player information including first gaming data and second gaming data, the first gaming data relating to play of a casino style game, the second gaming data relating to play of a non-casino style game;
comparing the retrieved player information with the events in the plurality of scenarios;
classifying the identified player in one of the scenarios when at least a portion of the retrieved player information matches one or more of the events in the one scenario;
issuing one or more awards for the identified player, the awards corresponding to the defined outcomes for the one scenario.
2. The method of claim 1, wherein the casino style game is a wagering game selected from the group consisting of a table game, slot game, and a game of chance provided on an electronic gaming machine.
3. The method of claim 1, wherein the non-casino style game is a wagering game selected from the group consisting of a sports betting game, a race betting game, and a pari-mutuel betting game.
4. The method of claim 1, wherein the non-casino style game is a non-wagering game selected from the group consisting of a bingo game, a lottery game, a pull tab game, and a punch board game.
5. The method of claim 1, wherein the player information is gathered from a plurality of gaming areas.
6. The method of claim 5, wherein the gaming areas are located in a single gaming venue.
7. The method of claim 5, wherein the gaming areas are situated in a plurality of gaming venues.
8. The method of claim 5, wherein the gaming areas include one or more selected from the group consisting of: a gaming machine area, a table game area, a keno area, a sports betting area, a lottery ticket area, and a bingo area.
9. The method of claim 1, wherein the operator goals include one or more selected from the group consisting of: play of specified games, play of specified types of games, play in specified gaming areas, shopping at specified stores, and specified purchases.
10. The method of claim 1, wherein the retrieved player information includes one or more selected from the group consisting of: a net worth, a player profile, and historical game play information.
11. The method of claim 1, wherein the retrieved player information includes one or more transactions.
12. The method of claim 1, wherein the awards include one or more selected from the group consisting of loyalty points, promotions, tickets and coupons.
13. A data processing device in communication with a plurality of data acquisition servers in respective gaming areas over a data network and configured to direct future activity of players of games of chance according to defined goals of an operator, a plurality of scenarios of player activity defined, each scenario including one or more events to provide a prediction of future player activity, a plurality of outcomes defined for each of the scenarios, the outcomes determined in accordance with the operator goals, the data processing device comprising:
an interface coupled to receive player identification information associated with a player; and
at least one processor coupled to the interface and configured to:
i) receive information identifying a player,
ii) retrieve player information associated with the identified player, the player information including first gaming data and second gaming data, the first gaming data relating to play of a casino style game, the second gaming data relating to play of a non-casino style game,
iii) compare the retrieved player information with the events in the plurality of scenarios,
iv) classify the identified player in one of the scenarios when at least a portion of the retrieved player information matches one or more of the events in the one scenario, and
v) issue one or more awards for the identified player, the awards corresponding to the defined outcomes for the one scenario.
14. The data processing device of claim 13, wherein the casino style game is a wagering game selected from the group consisting of a table game, slot game, and a game of chance provided on an electronic gaming machine.
15. The data processing device of claim 13, wherein the non-casino style game is a wagering game selected from the group consisting of a sports betting game, a race betting game, and a pari-mutuel betting game.
16. The data processing device of claim 13, wherein the non-casino style game is a non-wagering game selected from the group consisting of a bingo game, a lottery game, a pull tab game, and a punch board game.
17. The data processing device of claim 13, wherein the player information is gathered from a plurality of gaming areas.
18. The data processing device of claim 17, wherein the gaming areas are located in a single gaming venue.
19. The data processing device of claim 17, wherein the gaming areas are situated in a plurality of gaming venues.
20. The data processing device of claim 17, wherein the gaming areas include one or more selected from the group consisting of: a gaming machine area, a table game area, a keno area, a sports betting area, a lottery ticket area, and a bingo area.
21. The data processing device of claim 13, wherein the operator goals include one or more selected from the group consisting of: play of specified games, play of specified types of games, play in specified gaming areas, shopping at specified stores, and specified purchases.
22. The data processing device of claim 13, wherein the retrieved player information includes one or more selected from the group consisting of: a net worth, a player profile, and historical game play information.
23. The data processing device of claim 13, wherein the retrieved player information includes one or more transactions.
24. The data processing device of claim 13, wherein the awards include one or more selected from the group consisting of loyalty points, promotions, tickets and coupons.
Description
REFERENCE TO EARLIER-FILED APPLICATIONS

This application is a continuation-in-part of and claims priority from co-pending and commonly assigned U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/154,833 (Attorney Docket No. IGT1P035X3/P-311CIP3), by Rowe et al., filed Jun. 15, 2005, for CASHLESS INSTRUMENT BASED TABLE GAME PROMOTIONAL SYSTEM AND METHODOLOGY, which is a continuation-in-part of and claims priority from U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/406,911 (Attorney Docket No. IGT1P035X2/P-311CIP2), by Rowe, filed Apr. 2, 2003, for CASHLESS TRANSACTION CLEARINGHOUSE, which is a continuation-in-part of and claims priority from U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/993,163, filed Nov. 16, 2001, now U.S. Pat. No. 6,866,586, granted Mar. 15, 2005, for CASHLESS TRANSACTION CLEARINGHOUSE, which is a continuation-in-part of and claims priority from U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/648,382, filed Aug. 25, 2000, now U.S. Pat. No. 6,394,907, granted May 28, 2002, for AN AWARD TICKET CLEARINGHOUSE, which claims priority under 35 U.S.C. §119(e) from U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/200,329, filed Apr. 28, 2000, for AN AWARD TICKET CLEARINGHOUSE. U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/406,911 is also a continuation-in-part of and claims priority from U.S. application Ser. No. 09/924,250, filed Aug. 7, 2001, for GAME ORIENTED PROMOTIONAL CARD. All of the above-cited applications are hereby incorporated by reference in their entirety for all purposes.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to gaming machines, such as slot machines and video poker machines, and gaming networks. More particularly, the present invention relates to methods and devices for monitoring and directing the actions players of the gaming machines.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Gaming in the United States is divided into Class I, Class II and Class III games. Class I gaming includes social games played for minimal prizes, or traditional ceremonial games. Class II gaming includes games such as bingo games, pull tab games if played in the same location as bingo games, lotto, punch boards, tip jars, instant bingo, and other games similar to bingo. Class III gaming includes any game that is not a Class I or Class II game, such as a game of chance typically offered in non-Indian, state-regulated casinos. Many games of chance that are played on gaming machines fall into the Class II and Class III categories of games.

As technology in the gaming industry progresses, the traditional mechanically driven reel slot machines are being replaced with electronic counterparts, that is, electronic gaming machines having video displays based on CRT, LCD or the like. Electronic gaming machines such as video slot machines and video poker machines are becoming increasingly popular. Part of the reason for their increased popularity is the nearly endless variety of games that can be implemented on a single gaming machine. Advancements in video/electronic gaming enable the operation of more complex games that would not otherwise be possible on mechanical-driven gaming machines or personal computers.

There are a wide variety of associated devices that can be connected to a gaming machine such as a slot machine or video poker machine. Some examples of these devices are lights, ticket printers, card readers, speakers, bill validators, ticket readers, coin acceptors, display panels, key pads, coin hoppers and button pads. Many of these devices are built into the gaming machine or components associated with the gaming machine such as a top box, which usually sits on top of the gaming machine.

Typically, utilizing a master gaming controller, the gaming machine controls various combinations of devices that allow a player to play a game on the gaming machine and also encourage game play on the gaming machine. For example, a game played on a gaming machine usually requires a player to input money or indicia of credit into the gaming machine, indicate a wager amount, and initiate a game play. These steps require the gaming machine to control input devices, including bill validators and coin acceptors, to accept money into the gaming machine and recognize user inputs from devices, including key pads and button pads, to determine the wager amount and initiate game play. After game play has been initiated, the gaming machine determines a game outcome, presents the game outcome to the player and may dispense an award of some type depending on the outcome of the game.

As technology in the gaming industry progresses, the traditional method of dispensing coins or tokens as awards for winning game outcomes is being supplemented by ticket dispensers which print ticket vouchers that may be exchanged for cash or accepted as credit of indicia in other gaming machines for additional game play. An award ticket system, which allows award ticket vouchers to be dispensed and utilized by other gaming machines, increases the operational efficiency of maintaining a gaming machine and simplifies the player pay out process. An example of an award ticket system is the EZ pay ticket system by International Game Technology of Reno, Nev. Award ticket systems and systems using other cashless mediums are referred to as cashless systems.

Cashless systems, such as the EZ pay ticket system, provide advantages to both game players and casino operators. For example, many players find it more convenient to carry an award ticket than a large number of coins. For gaming machine operators cashless systems tend to reduce gaming machine operating costs. For example, the infrastructure needed to remove and count indicia of credit (e.g. coins, tokens, bills) from the gaming machine may be eliminated or minimized when it is replaced with a cashless system, which reduces the gaming machine operating costs. Further, coin dust, which is potentially damaging to the components of the gaming machine (e.g. electronic components) may be eliminated or minimized when coin acceptors are replaced with the cashless system.

Gaming venues are including more and more disparate gaming activities into a single venue for the patron. Traditionally, casinos consist primarily of casino style games such as mechanical and electronic slot machines and tables games. In some modern gaming venues, Keno and Bingo are also included, although Keno and Bingo are Class II games are generally considered non-casino style games. With the continued expansion of casino gaming, new jurisdictions are allowing gaming in locations that provide other non-traditional casino gaming activities, that is, non-casino style games, such as racing, lottery, and scratch-off tickets. These additional gaming activities are typically treated as separate and unique gaming activities. Nonetheless, a single patron may participate in all of such activities. For a single patron to be rewarded and bonused appropriately, all gaming activities should be considered in determining the customer's total worth to the venue. To accomplish the collection of patron gaming activities, a new system for managing all of the patron's gaming transactions is needed.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Disclosed are methods, apparatus, and systems, including computer program products, implementing and using techniques for directing future activity of players of games of chance according to defined goals of an operator.

In one aspect of the present invention, a plurality of scenarios of player activity is defined. Each scenario includes one or more events to provide a prediction of future player activity. Defined outcomes are provided for each of the scenarios. The outcomes are determined in accordance with the operator goals. Information identifying a player is received. Player information associated with the identified player is retrieved. The player information includes first gaming data and second gaming data. The first gaming data relates to play of a casino style game. The second gaming data relates to play of a non-casino style game. The retrieved player information is compared with the events in the plurality of scenarios. The identified player is classified in one of the scenarios when at least a portion of the retrieved player information matches one or more of the events in the one scenario. One or more awards are issued for the identified player. The awards correspond to the defined outcomes for the one scenario.

In one implementation of the present invention, the casino style game is a wagering game such as a table game, slot game, and a game of chance provided on an electronic gaming machine. In one implementation, the non-casino style game is a wagering game such as a sports betting game, a race betting game, and a pari-mutuel betting game. The non-casino style game can also be a non-wagering game such as a bingo game, a lottery game, a pull tab game, and a punch board game.

In one implementation of the present invention, the player information is gathered from a plurality of gaming areas. The gaming areas can be located in a single gaming venue, or in a plurality of gaming venues.

All of the foregoing methods and apparatus, along with other methods and apparatus of aspects of the present invention, may be implemented in software, firmware, hardware and combinations thereof. For example, the methods of aspects of the present invention may be implemented by computer programs embodied in machine-readable media and other products.

Aspects of the invention may be implemented by networked gaming machines, game servers and other such devices. These and other features and benefits of aspects of the invention will be described in more detail below with reference to the associated drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The invention may best be understood by reference to the following description taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, which are illustrative of specific embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 1 is a diagram of a gaming machine constructed according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a block diagram of a network device that can be configured as a server or other data processing apparatus for implementing embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 3 is a block diagram depicting a network of gaming machines and other devices within a gaming establishment.

FIG. 4A is a block diagram of the components of a cashless system using the EZ pay ticket voucher system.

FIG. 4B is a block diagram of the components of a cashless system for one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 5 is a block diagram of cashless systems at multiple properties connected to a cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse server.

FIG. 6 is an interaction diagram for a cashless instrument transaction between a clearinghouse, cashless servers, and cashless generators/validators where the cashless instrument is generated at a different location from where it is validated.

FIG. 7 is a simplified block diagram of a cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse server connected to a plurality of cashless sites.

FIG. 8 is a flow chart showing a generation of cashless instrument threads in a cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse server.

FIG. 9 is a simplified block diagram of a cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse server connected to cashless systems and other account systems at multiple properties.

FIG. 10 is a flow chart of a method for providing an award using the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse.

FIGS. 11A and 11B are flow charts of a method for transferring resources using the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse.

FIG. 12 shows a block diagram of a system for directing future player activity, constructed according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 13 shows a flow diagram of a method for monitoring player activity and updating player information, performed in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 14 shows a flow diagram of a method for directing future player activity, performed in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 15 shows a conceptual diagram of defined scenarios based on various events, according to one embodiment of the present invention.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Reference will now be made in detail to some specific embodiments of the invention including the best modes contemplated by the inventors for carrying out the invention. Examples of these specific embodiments are illustrated in the accompanying drawings. While the invention is described in conjunction with these specific embodiments, it will be understood that it is not intended to limit the invention to the described embodiments. On the contrary, it is intended to cover alternatives, modifications, and equivalents as may be included within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims. Moreover, numerous specific details are set forth below in order to provide a thorough understanding of the present invention. The present invention may be practiced without some or all of these specific details. In other instances, well known process operations have not been described in detail in order not to obscure the present invention.

Embodiments of the present invention provide methods, apparatus and systems for collecting transactions for particular disparate gaming activities, including casino style gaming and non-casino style gaming. In one embodiment, the transactions are collected in native systems such as a slot system and a parimutuel betting system. These transactions are sent to a central collection system where they are combined to determine the customer's value to the venue. In one embodiment, the traditional player tracking casino system is the repository for a player definition, and it is used to collect transactions from each of the appropriate gaming systems. This then enables the venue to use the system to market to the player once the player's value has been determined and is in line with the marketing objectives of the venue.

In other embodiments, a separate database management system is used to define the players across the venue and used to collect the players' gaming transactions. Player rewards and bonuses are also envisioned and incorporated into this system. For example, a patron may enter a venue, which was a traditional racetrack. The racetrack has been modified to include a location for casino style games including slot machines and table games. The venue is trying to entice this player away from another casino in the area. In order to accomplish this, the venue may wish to provide the player with special promotions. The player wishes to play the slot machines and table games, as well as participate in other non-traditional casino gaming activities, that is, non-casino style games, such as racing and the purchasing of lottery tickets. In the preferred embodiment, the player is registered for a slot system player club, and also registered for promotions and bonuses for racing, scratch off and other non-traditional gaming activities.

Transactions are collected as the player makes bets on various races or engages in other non-casino style gaming such as scratch tickets from the venue. In one embodiment, the player has his player's club card swiped and the purchase transaction of the scratch off ticket recorded. These transactions are combined with the transactions the same player makes in the slot portion of the venue and the table game portion of the venue. This would also include bingo and keno and other activities in the same venue.

For example, in one embodiment, the player's transactions in racing are combined with slot wagers establishing how valuable this player is to the venue. If the player spends $1000 a month on slot play and $2000 a month on racing, the venue may wish to try to increase the player's participation in slots by providing promotional credit for slot play based upon achieving certain betting goals in racing. In other words, the system determines that the player has played $2000 during a month in racing bets. The system may provide a bonus ticket or may simply notify the player that the player has received $1000 in extra credit, which can be used in a predetermined interval for slot play. If the player had an interest in table games, the player could receive a match play ticket or credit for participation in table games. For operators of such venues, which are comprised of many gaming environments operated by a single venue, a players club may include multiple properties. Promotions and bonuses may be incorporated as described above which help attract particular players to various venues across a geographical wide area.

Turning first to FIG. 1, a video gaming machine 2 constructed according to one embodiment of the present invention is shown. Machine 2 includes a main cabinet 4, which generally surrounds the machine interior (not shown) and is viewable by users. The main cabinet includes a main door 8 on the front of the machine, which opens to provide access to the interior of the machine. Attached to the main door are player-input switches or buttons 32, a coin acceptor 28, a bill validator 30, a coin tray 38, and a belly glass 40. Viewable through the main door is a video display monitor 34 and an information panel 36. The display monitor 34 will typically be a cathode ray tube, high resolution flat-panel LCD, or other conventional electronically controlled video monitor. The information panel 36 may be a back-lit, silk screened glass panel with lettering to indicate general game information including, for example, a game denomination (e.g. $0.25 or $1). The bill validator 30, player-input switches 32, video display monitor 34, and information panel are devices used to play a game on the game machine 2. The devices are controlled by circuitry (e.g. a master gaming controller) housed inside the main cabinet 4 of the machine 2.

In FIG. 1, the information panel 36 may be used as an interface to provide player tracking services and other game services to a player playing a game on the gaming machine 2. The information panel 36 may be used as an interface by a player to: 1) input player tracking identification information, 2) view account information and perform account transactions for accounts such as player tracking accounts and bank accounts, 3) receive operating instructions, 4) redeem prizes or comps including using player tracking points to redeem the prize or comp, 5) make entertainment service reservations, 6) transfer credits to cashless instruments and other player accounts, 7) participate in casino promotions, 8) select entertainment choices for output via video and audio output mechanisms, 9) play games and bonus games, 10) request gaming services such as a drink orders, 11) communicate with other players or casino service personnel and 12) register a player for a loyalty program such as a player tracking program. In addition, the information panel 36 may be used as an interface by casino service personnel to: a) access diagnostic menus, b) display player tracking unit status information and gaming machine status information, c) access gaming machine metering information and d) display player status information.

Many different types of games, including mechanical slot games, video slot games, video poker, video black jack, video pachinko and lottery, may be provided on gaming machine 2. The gaming machine 2 is operable to provide play of many different instances of games of chance. The instances may be differentiated according to themes, sounds, graphics, type of game (e.g., slot game vs. card game), denomination, number of paylines, maximum jackpot, progressive or non-progressive, bonus games, etc. The gaming machine 2 may be operable to allow a player to select a game of chance to play from a plurality of instances available on the gaming machine. For example, the gaming machine may provide a menu with a list of the instances of games that are available for play on the gaming machine and a player may be able to select from the list a first instance of a game of chance that they wish to play.

The various instances of games available for play on the gaming machine 2 may be stored as game software on a mass storage device in the gaming machine or may be generated on a remote gaming device but then displayed on the gaming machine. The gaming machine 2 may execute game software, such as but not limited to video streaming software that allows the game to be displayed on the gaming machine. When an instance is stored on the gaming machine 2, it may be loaded from the mass storage device into a RAM for execution. In some cases, after a selection of an instance, the game software that allows the selected instance to be generated may be downloaded from a remote gaming device, such as another gaming machine.

In FIG. 1, the gaming machine 2 includes a top box 6, which sits on top of the main cabinet 4. The top box 6 houses a number of devices which may be used to add features to a game being played on the gaming machine 2, including speakers 10, 12, 14, a ticket printer 18 which prints bar-coded tickets 20, a key pad 22 for entering player tracking information, a florescent display 16 for displaying player tracking information, a card reader 24 for entering a magnetic striped card containing player tracking information, and a video display screen 42. The ticket printer 18 may be used to print tickets for a cashless ticketing system. The top box 6 may house various devices. For example, the top box may contain a bonus wheel or a back-lit silk screened panel, which may be used to add bonus features to the game being played on the gaming machine. As another example, the top box may contain a display for a progressive jackpot offered on the gaming machine. During a game, these devices are controlled and powered, in part, by circuitry (e.g. a master gaming controller) housed within the main cabinet 4 of the machine 2.

Understand that gaming machine 2 is but one example from a wide range of gaming devices on which the present invention may be implemented. For example, not all suitable gaming machines have top boxes or player tracking features. Further, some gaming machines have only a single game display—mechanical or video—while others are designed for bar tables and have displays that face upwards. As another example, a game may be generated on a host computer and may be displayed on a remote terminal or a remote gaming device. The remote gaming device may be connected to the host computer via a network of some type such as a local area network, a wide area network, an intranet or the Internet, by a wired or wireless connection. The remote gaming device may be a portable gaming device such as but not limited to a cell phone, a personal digital assistant, and a wireless game player. Images rendered from 3-D gaming environments may be displayed on portable gaming devices that are used to play a game of chance. Further, a gaming machine or server may include gaming logic for commanding a remote gaming device to render an image from a virtual camera in a 3-D gaming environment stored on the remote gaming device and to display the rendered image on a display located on the remote gaming device. Thus, those of skill in the art will understand that the present invention, as described below, can be deployed on most any gaming machine now available or hereafter developed.

Some preferred IGT gaming machines are implemented with special features and/or additional circuitry that differentiates them from general-purpose computers (e.g., desktop personal computers and laptops). Gaming machines are highly regulated to ensure fairness and, in many cases, gaming machines are operable to dispense monetary awards of multiple millions of dollars. Therefore, to satisfy security and regulatory requirements in a gaming environment, hardware and software architectures may be implemented in gaming machines that differ significantly from those of general-purpose computers. A description of gaming machines relative to general-purpose computing machines and some examples of the additional (or different) components and features found in gaming machines are described below.

At first glance, one might think that adapting PC technologies to the gaming industry would be a simple proposition because both PCs and gaming machines employ microprocessors that control a variety of devices. However, because of such reasons as 1) the regulatory requirements that are placed upon gaming machines, 2) the harsh environment in which gaming machines operate, 3) security requirements, and 4) fault tolerance requirements, adapting PC technologies to a gaming machine can be quite difficult. Further, techniques and methods for solving a problem in the PC industry, such as device compatibility and connectivity issues, might not be adequate in the gaming environment. For instance, a fault or a weakness tolerated in a PC, such as security holes in software or frequent crashes, may not be tolerated in a gaming machine because in a gaming machine these faults can lead to a direct loss of funds from the gaming machine, such as stolen cash or loss of revenue when the gaming machine is not operating properly.

For the purposes of illustration, a few differences between PC systems and gaming systems will be described. A first difference between gaming machines and common PC based computers systems is that gaming machines are designed to be state-based systems. In a state-based system, the system stores and maintains its current state in a non-volatile memory, such that, in the event of a power failure or other malfunction the gaming machine will return to its current state when the power is restored. For instance, if a player was shown an award for a game of chance and, before the award could be provided to the player the power failed, the gaming machine, upon the restoration of power, would return to the state where the award is indicated. This requirement affects the software and hardware design on a gaming machine. As anyone who has used a PC knows, PCs are not state machines and a majority of data is usually lost when such a malfunction occurs.

A second important difference between gaming machines and common PC based computer systems is that for regulation purposes, the software on the gaming machine used to generate the game of chance and operate the gaming machine has been designed to be static and monolithic to prevent cheating by the operator of the gaming machine. For instance, one solution that has been employed in the gaming industry to prevent cheating and satisfy regulatory requirements has been to manufacture a gaming machine that can use a proprietary processor running instructions to generate the game of chance from an EPROM or other form of non-volatile memory. The coding instructions on the EPROM are static (non-changeable) and must be approved by a gaming regulator in a particular jurisdiction and installed in the presence of a person representing the gaming jurisdiction. Any changes to any part of the software required to generate the game of chance, such as adding a new device driver used by the master gaming controller to operate a device during generation of the game of chance can require a new EPROM to be burned, approved by the gaming jurisdiction and installed on the gaming machine in the presence of a gaming regulator. Regardless of whether the EPROM solution is used, to gain approval in most gaming jurisdictions, a gaming machine must demonstrate sufficient safeguards that prevent an operator or player of a gaming machine from manipulating hardware and software in a manner that gives them an unfair and in some cases an illegal advantage. The gaming machine should have a means to determine if the code it will execute is valid. If the code is not valid, the gaming machine must have a means to prevent the code from being executed. The code validation requirements in the gaming industry affect both hardware and software designs on gaming machines.

A third important difference between gaming machines and common PC based computer systems is that the number and kinds of peripheral devices used on a gaming machine are not as great as on PC based computer systems. Traditionally, in the gaming industry, gaming machines have been relatively simple in the sense that the number of peripheral devices and the number of functions of the gaming machine have been limited. Further, in operation, the functionality of gaming machines were relatively constant once the gaming machine was deployed, i.e., new peripherals devices and new gaming software were infrequently added to the gaming machine. This differs from a PC where users will buy different combinations of devices and software from different manufacturers and connect them to a PC to suit their needs depending on a desired application. Therefore, the types of devices connected to a PC may vary greatly from user to user depending in their individual requirements and may vary significantly over time.

Although the variety of devices available for a PC may be greater than on a gaming machine, gaming machines still have unique device requirements that differ from a PC, such as device security requirements not usually addressed by PCs. For instance, monetary devices, such as coin dispensers, bill validators, ticket printers and computing devices that are used to govern the input and output of cash to a gaming machine have security requirements that are not typically addressed in PCs. Therefore, many PC techniques and methods developed to facilitate device connectivity and device compatibility do not address the emphasis placed on security in the gaming industry.

To address some of the issues described above, a number of hardware/software components and architectures are utilized in gaming machines that are not typically found in general purpose computing devices, such as PCs. These hardware/software components and architectures, as described below in more detail, include but are not limited to watchdog timers, voltage monitoring systems, state-based software architecture and supporting hardware, specialized communication interfaces, security monitoring and trusted memory.

A watchdog timer is normally used in IGT gaming machines to provide a software failure detection mechanism. In a normally operating system, the operating software periodically accesses control registers in the watchdog timer subsystem to “re-trigger” the watchdog. Should the operating software fail to access the control registers within a preset timeframe, the watchdog timer will timeout and generate a system reset. Typical watchdog timer circuits contain a loadable timeout counter register to allow the operating software to set the timeout interval within a certain range of time. A differentiating feature of some preferred circuits is that the operating software cannot completely disable the function of the watchdog timer. In other words, the watchdog timer always functions from the time power is applied to the board.

IGT gaming computer platforms preferably use several power supply voltages to operate portions of the gaming machine circuitry. These can be generated in a central power supply or locally on the circuit board. If any of these voltages falls out of the tolerance limits of the circuitry they power, unpredictable operation of the gaming machine may result. Though most modern general-purpose computers include voltage monitoring circuitry, these types of circuits only report voltage status to the operating software. Out of tolerance voltages can cause software malfunction, creating a potential uncontrolled condition in the gaming computer. IGT gaming machines typically have power supplies with tighter voltage margins than that required by the operating circuitry. In addition, the voltage monitoring circuitry implemented in IGT gaming machines typically has two thresholds of control. The first threshold generates a software event that can be detected by the operating software and an error condition generated. This threshold is triggered when a power supply voltage falls out of the tolerance range of the power supply, but is still within the operating range of the circuitry. The second threshold is set when a power supply voltage falls out of the operating tolerance of the circuitry. In this case, the circuitry generates a reset, halting operation of the computer.

The standard method of operation for IGT slot machine game software is to use a state machine. Different functions of the game (bet, play, result, points in the graphical presentation, etc.) may be defined as a state. When a game moves from one state to another, critical data regarding the game software is stored in a custom non-volatile memory subsystem. This ensures the player's wager and credits are preserved and minimizes potential disputes in the event of a malfunction on the gaming machine.

In general, the gaming machine does not advance from a first state to a second state until critical information that allows the first state to be reconstructed is stored. This feature allows the game to recover operation to the current state of play in the event of a malfunction, loss of power, etc. that occurred just prior to the malfunction. After the state of the gaming machine is restored during the play of a game of chance, game play may resume and the game may be completed in a manner that is no different than if the malfunction had not occurred. Typically, battery backed RAM devices are used to preserve this critical data although other types of non-volatile memory devices may be employed. These memory devices are not used in typical general-purpose computers.

As described in the preceding paragraph, when a malfunction occurs during a game of chance, the gaming machine may be restored to a state in the game of chance just prior to when the malfunction occurred. The restored state may include metering information and graphical information that was displayed on the gaming machine in the state prior to the malfunction. For example, when the malfunction occurs during the play of a card game after the cards have been dealt, the gaming machine may be restored with the cards that were previously displayed as part of the card game. As another example, a bonus game may be triggered during the play of a game of chance where a player is required to make a number of selections on a video display screen. When a malfunction has occurred after the player has made one or more selections, the gaming machine may be restored to a state that shows the graphical presentation at just prior to the malfunction including an indication of selections that have already been made by the player. In general, the gaming machine may be restored to any state in a plurality of states that occur in the game of chance while the game of chance is played or to states that occur between the play of a game of chance.

Game history information regarding previous games played such as an amount wagered, the outcome of the game and so forth may also be stored in a non-volatile memory device. The information stored in the non-volatile memory may be detailed enough to reconstruct a portion of the graphical presentation that was previously presented on the gaming machine and the state of the gaming machine (e.g., credits) at the time the game of chance was played. The game history information may be utilized in the event of a dispute. For example, a player may decide that in a previous game of chance that they did not receive credit for an award that they believed they won. The game history information may be used to reconstruct the state of the gaming machine prior, during and/or after the disputed game to demonstrate whether the player was correct or not in their assertion. Further details of a state based gaming system, recovery from malfunctions and game history are described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,804,763, titled “High Performance Battery Backed RAM Interface”, U.S. Pat. No. 6,863,608, titled “Frame Capture of Actual Game Play,” U.S. application Ser. No. 10/243,104, titled, “Dynamic NV-RAM,” and U.S. application Ser. No. 10/758,828, titled, “Frame Capture of Actual Game Play,” all of which are hereby incorporated by reference for all purposes.

Another feature of gaming machines, such as IGT gaming computers, is that they often contain unique interfaces, including serial interfaces, to connect to specific subsystems internal and external to the slot machine. The serial devices may have electrical interface requirements that differ from the “standard” EIA 232 serial interfaces provided by general-purpose computers. These interfaces may include EIA 485, EIA 422, Fiber Optic Serial, optically coupled serial interfaces, current loop style serial interfaces, etc. In addition, to conserve serial interfaces internally in the slot machine, serial devices may be connected in a shared, daisy-chain fashion where multiple peripheral devices are connected to a single serial channel.

The serial interfaces may be used to transmit information using communication protocols that are unique to the gaming industry. For example, IGT's Netplex is a proprietary communication protocol used for serial communication between gaming devices. As another example, SAS is a communication protocol used to transmit information, such as metering information, from a gaming machine to a remote device. Often SAS is used in conjunction with a player tracking system.

IGT gaming machines may alternatively be treated as peripheral devices to a casino communication controller and connected in a shared daisy chain fashion to a single serial interface. In both cases, the peripheral devices are preferably assigned device addresses. If so, the serial controller circuitry must implement a method to generate or detect unique device addresses. General-purpose computer serial ports are not able to do this.

Security monitoring circuits detect intrusion into an IGT gaming machine by monitoring security switches attached to access doors in the slot machine cabinet. Preferably, access violations result in suspension of game play and can trigger additional security operations to preserve the current state of game play. These circuits also function when power is off by use of a battery backup. In power-off operation, these circuits continue to monitor the access doors of the slot machine. When power is restored, the gaming machine can determine whether any security violations occurred while power was off, e.g., via software for reading status registers. This can trigger event log entries and further data authentication operations by the slot machine software.

Trusted memory devices are preferably included in an IGT gaming machine computer to ensure the authenticity of the software that may be stored on less secure memory subsystems, such as mass storage devices. Trusted memory devices and controlling circuitry are typically designed to not allow modification of the code and data stored in the memory device while the memory device is installed in the slot machine. The code and data stored in these devices may include authentication algorithms, random number generators, authentication keys, operating system kernels, etc. The purpose of these trusted memory devices is to provide gaming regulatory authorities a root trusted authority within the computing environment of the slot machine that can be tracked and verified as original. This may be accomplished via removal of the trusted memory device from the slot machine computer and verification of the secure memory device contents in a separate third party verification device. Once the trusted memory device is verified as authentic, and based on the approval of the verification algorithms contained in the trusted device, the gaming machine is allowed to verify the authenticity of additional code and data that may be located in the gaming computer assembly, such as code and data stored on hard disk drives. Some details related to trusted memory devices that may be used in the present invention are described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,685,567 from U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/925,098, filed Aug. 8, 2001 and titled “Process Verification,” which is hereby incorporated by reference in its entirety and for all purposes.

Mass storage devices used in a general purpose computer typically allow code and data to be read from and written to the mass storage device. In a gaming machine environment, modification of the gaming code stored on a mass storage device is strictly controlled and would only be allowed under specific maintenance type events with electronic and physical enablers required. Though this level of security could be provided by software, IGT gaming computers that include mass storage devices preferably include hardware level mass storage data protection circuitry that operates at the circuit level to monitor attempts to modify data on the mass storage device and will generate both software and hardware error triggers should a data modification be attempted without the proper electronic and physical enablers being present.

Returning to the example of FIG. 1, when a user wishes to play the gaming machine 2, he or she inserts cash through the coin acceptor 28 or bill validator 30. Additionally, the bill validator may accept a printed ticket voucher, which may be accepted by the bill validator 30 as indicia of credit when a cashless ticketing system is used. At the start of the game, the player may enter playing tracking information using the card reader 24, the keypad 22, and the florescent display 16. Further, other game preferences of the player playing the game may be read from a card inserted into the card reader. During the game, the player views game information using the video display 34. Other game and prize information may also be displayed in the information panel 36 and video display screen 42 located in the top box.

During the course of a game, a player may be required to make a number of decisions, which affect the outcome of the game. For example, a player may vary his or her wager on a particular game, select a prize for a particular game selected from a prize server, or make game decisions which affect the outcome of a particular game. The player may make these choices using the player-input switches 32, the video display screen 34 or using some other device which enables a player to input information into the gaming machine. In some embodiments, the player may be able to access various game services such as concierge services and entertainment content services using the video display screen 34 and one or more input devices.

During certain game events, the gaming machine 2 may display visual and auditory effects that can be perceived by the player. These effects add to the excitement of a game, which makes a player more likely to continue playing. Auditory effects include various sounds that are projected by the speakers 10, 12, 14. Visual effects include flashing lights, strobing lights or other patterns displayed from lights on the gaming machine 2 or from lights behind the belly glass 40. After the player has completed a game, the player may receive game tokens from the coin tray 38 or the ticket 20 from the printer 18, which may be used for further games or to redeem a prize. Further, the player may receive a ticket 20 for food, merchandise, or games from the printer 18.

When a gaming platform is capable of providing multiple games to a game player based upon a game selection made by the player or an operator, it may be desirable from both an operator perspective and a content provider perspective to provide capabilities for allowing more complex game licensing methods. The operator and content provider may use the licensing capabilities to enter into licensing agreements that better reflect the value of the content (e.g., game software) to each party. For instance, the licensing parties may agree to utility model based licensing schemes, such as a pay-per-use scheme. In a pay-per-use scheme, operators only pay for game software that is utilized by their patrons, protecting them from software titles that are “duds.”

Game platforms exist that provide access to multiple electronic games. On these devices, a game selection menu may be provided on a video display, which offers the patron the choice of at least two electronic games. A game player may select a game of their choice from the games available on the gaming machine. Typically, the choices of games available to the player are only those licensed for play on the gaming platform. The gaming platform may provide a manual mechanism, such as a display interface on the gaming machine, for updating and renewing licensing on the gaming machine.

In some game platforms offering multiple games, the games are stored on read-only memory devices, such as an EPROM chip set or a CD-ROM. To provide a new or a different game on a gaming platform of this type, a technician, usually accompanied by a gaming regulator, must manually install a new memory device (e.g. EPROM) and then manually update the licensing configuration on the gaming machine. The gaming regulator then places evidence tape across the EPROM. The evidence tape is used to detect tampering between visits by the gaming regulator. Since operations performed by entities other than a “trusted” 3rd party, such as a gaming regulator, have been deemed untrustworthy, automatic game downloads and automatic licensing management is not available on these platforms.

The licensing of multiple games on a gaming machine is described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,264,561, titled “Electronic Gaming Licensing Apparatus and Method,” assigned to IGT (Reno, Nev.), which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety and for all purposes.

FIG. 2 illustrates an example of a network device that may be configured as a server for implementing some methods and apparatus of the present invention. Network device 260 includes a master central processing unit (CPU) 262, interfaces 268, and a bus 267 (e.g., a PCI bus). Generally, interfaces 268 include ports 269 appropriate for communication with the appropriate media. In some embodiments, one or more of interfaces 268 includes at least one independent processor and, in some instances, volatile RAM. The independent processors may be, for example, ASICs or any other appropriate processors. According to some such embodiments, these independent processors perform at least some of the functions of the logic described herein. In some embodiments, one or more of interfaces 268 control such communications-intensive tasks as media control and management. By providing separate processors for the communications-intensive tasks, interfaces 268 allow the master microprocessor 262 efficiently to perform other functions such as routing computations, network diagnostics, security functions, etc.

The interfaces 268 are typically provided as interface cards (sometimes referred to as “linecards”). Generally, interfaces 268 control the sending and receiving of data packets over the network and sometimes support other peripherals used with the network device 260. Among the interfaces that may be provided are FC interfaces, Ethernet interfaces, frame relay interfaces, cable interfaces, DSL interfaces, token ring interfaces, and the like. In addition, various high-speed interfaces may be provided, such as fast Ethernet interfaces, Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, ATM interfaces, HSSI interfaces, POS interfaces, FDDI interfaces, ASI interfaces, DHEI interfaces and the like.

When acting under the control of appropriate software or firmware, in some implementations of the invention CPU 262 may be responsible for implementing specific functions associated with the functions of a desired network device. According to some embodiments, CPU 262 accomplishes all these functions under the control of software including an operating system and any appropriate applications software.

CPU 262 may include one or more processors 263 such as a processor from the Motorola family of microprocessors or the MIPS family of microprocessors. In an alternative embodiment, processor 263 is specially designed hardware for controlling the operations of network device 260. In a specific embodiment, a memory 261 (such as non-volatile RAM and/or ROM) also forms part of CPU 262. However, there are many different ways in which memory could be coupled to the system. Memory block 261 may be used for a variety of purposes such as, for example, caching and/or storing data, programming instructions, etc.

Regardless of the network device's configuration, it may employ one or more memories or memory modules (such as, for example, memory block 265) configured to store data, program instructions for the general-purpose network operations and/or other information relating to the functionality of the techniques described herein. The program instructions may control the operation of an operating system and/or one or more applications, for example.

Because such information and program instructions may be employed to implement the systems/methods described herein, the present invention relates to machine-readable media that include program instructions, state information, etc. for performing various operations described herein. Examples of machine-readable media include, but are not limited to, magnetic media such as hard disks, floppy disks, and magnetic tape; optical media such as CD-ROM disks; magneto-optical media; and hardware devices that are specially configured to store and perform program instructions, such as read-only memory devices (ROM) and random access memory (RAM). The invention may also be embodied in a carrier wave traveling over an appropriate medium such as airwaves, optical lines, electric lines, etc. Examples of program instructions include both machine code, such as produced by a compiler, and files containing higher-level code that may be executed by the computer using an interpreter.

Although the system shown in FIG. 2 illustrates one specific network device of the present invention, it is by no means the only network device architecture on which the present invention can be implemented. For example, an architecture having a single processor that handles communications as well as routing computations, etc. is often used. Further, other types of interfaces and media could also be used with the network device. The communication path between interfaces may be bus based (as shown in FIG. 2) or switch fabric based (such as a cross-bar).

FIG. 3 is a simplified block diagram depicting gaming machines within a gaming establishment 101. The gaming machines are connected with a dedicated communication network via a host server 128 and a data collection unit (DCU) according to one embodiment of the invention. According to some embodiments of the invention, the DCU is an enhanced DCU as described in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/187,059, entitled “Redundant Gaming Network Mediation,” which is hereby incorporated by reference in its entirety.

In FIG. 3, gaming machine 102, and the other gaming machines 130, 132, 134, and 136, include a main cabinet 106 and a top box 104. The main cabinet 106 houses the main gaming elements and can also house peripheral systems, such as those that utilize dedicated gaming networks. The top box 104 may also be used to house these peripheral systems.

The master gaming controller 108 controls the game play on the gaming machine 102 and receives or sends data to various input/output devices 111 on the gaming machine 102. The master gaming controller 108 may also communicate with a display 110.

A particular gaming entity may desire to provide network gaming services that provide some operational advantage. Thus, dedicated networks may connect gaming machines to host servers that track the performance of gaming machines under the control of the entity, such as for accounting management, electronic fund transfers (EFTs), cashless ticketing, such as EZPay™, marketing management, and data tracking, such as player tracking. Therefore, master gaming controller 108 may also communicate with EFT system 112, bonus system 114, EZPay™ system 116 (a proprietary cashless ticketing system of the present assignee), and player tracking system 120. The systems of the gaming machine 102 communicate the data onto the network 122 via a communication board 118.

In general, the dedicated communication network is not accessible to the public. Due to the sensitive nature of much of the information on the dedicated networks, for example, electronic find transfers and player tracking data, usually the manufacturer of a host system, such as a player tracking system, or group of host systems, employs a particular networking language having proprietary protocols. For instance, 10-20 different companies produce player tracking host systems where each host system may use different protocols. These proprietary protocols are usually considered highly confidential and not released publicly. Thus, whenever a new host system is introduced for use with a gaming machine, rather than trying to interpret all the different protocols utilized by different manufacturers, the new host system is typically designed as a separate network. Consequently, as more host systems are introduced, the independent network structures continue to build up in the casino. Examples of protocol mediation to address these issues may be found, for example, in U.S. Pat. No. 6,682,423, “Open Architecture Communications in a Gaming Network,” which is hereby incorporated by reference in its entirety.

Further, in the gaming industry, many different manufacturers make gaming machines. The communication protocols on the gaming machine are typically hard-coded into the gaming machine software, and each gaming machine manufacturer may utilize a different proprietary communication protocol. A gaming machine manufacturer may also produce host systems, in which case their gaming machines are compatible with their own host systems. However, in a heterogeneous gaming environment, such as a casino, gaming machines from many different manufacturers, each with their own communication protocol, may be connected to host systems from many different manufacturers, each with their own communication protocol. Therefore, communication compatibility issues regarding the protocols used by the gaming machines in the system and protocols used by the host systems must be considered. In one embodiment, part or all of the dedicated communications network is implemented as a single open standards network that serves multiple functions.

In the present illustration, the gaming machines, 102, 130, 132, 134, and 136 are connected to a dedicated gaming network 122. In general, the DCU 124 functions as an intermediary between the different gaming machines on the network 122 and the host server 128. In general, the DCU 124 receives data transmitted from the gaming machines and sends the data to the host server 128 over a transmission path 126. In some instances, when the hardware interface used by the gaming machine is not compatible with the host server 128, a translator 125 may be used to convert serial data from the DCU 124 to a format accepted by the host server 128. The translator may provide this conversion service to a plurality of DCUs, such as 124, 140 and 141.

Further, in some dedicated gaming networks, the DCU 124 can receive data transmitted from the host server 128 for communication to the gaming machines on the gaming network. The received data may be communicated synchronously to the gaming machines on the gaming network. Within a gaming establishment, the gaming machines 102, 130, 132, 134 and 136 are located on the gaming floor for player access while the host server 128 is usually located in another part of gaming establishment 101 (e.g. the backroom), or at another location.

In a gaming network, gaming machines, such as 102, 130, 132, 134 and 136, may be connected through multiple communication paths to a number of gaming devices that provide gaming services. For example, gaming machine 102 is connected to four communication paths, 122, 148, 149 and 150. As described above, communication path 122 allows the gaming machine 102 to send information to host server 128. Via communication path 148, the gaming machine 102 is connected to a clerk validation terminal 142. The clerk validation terminal 142 is connected to a translator 143 and a cashless system server 144 that are used to provide cashless gaming services to the gaming machine 102. Gaming machines 130, 132, 134 and 136 may also be connected to the clerk validation terminal 142 and may also receive cashless system services.

Via communication path 149, the gaming machine 102 is connected to a wide area progressive (WAP) device 146. The WAP is connected to a progressive system server 147 that may be used to provide progressive gaming services to the gaming machines. The progressive game services enabled by the progressive game network increase the game playing capabilities of a particular gaming machine by enabling a larger jackpot than would be possible if the gaming machine was operating in a “stand alone” mode. Playing a game on a participating gaming machine gives a player a chance to win the progressive jackpot. The potential size of the jackpot increases as the number of gaming machines connected in the progressive network is increased. The size of the jackpot tends to increase game play on gaming machines offering a progressive jackpot.

Gaming machines 130, 132, 134 and 136 are connected to WAP device 146 and progressive system server 147. Other gaming machines may also be connected to WAP device 146 and/or progressive system server 147, as will be described below with reference to FIG. 4A. Via communication path 150, the gaming machine 102 may be connected with additional gaming devices (not shown) that provide other gaming services.

In some embodiments of the present invention, gaming machines and other devices in the gaming establishment depicted in FIG. 3 are connected to a central system and/or other gaming establishments via one or more networks, which may be public or private networks. For example, host server 128 and/or progressive system server 147 may be connected to an outside network. In other embodiments, a bingo server, a switch, or another type of network device may be part of an interface with an outside network. A network device that links a gaming establishment with another gaming establishment and/or a central system will sometimes be referred to herein as a “site controller.”

FIG. 4A is a block diagram of the components of a cashless system using the EZ pay ticket voucher system for one embodiment of the present invention. A cashless system is the hardware components and software components needed to generate and validate cashless instruments. Components of an cashless system may include 1) data acquisition hardware, 2) data storage hardware, 3) cashless instrument generation and validation hardware (e.g. printers, card readers, ticket acceptors, validation terminals, etc.), 3) auditing software, 4) cashless instrument validation software and 5) database software. Many types of cashless systems are possible and are not limited to the components listed above or embodiments such as the EZ pay ticket voucher system. Typically, a cashless system is installed at each property utilizing cashless instruments. To allow multi-site validations of cashless instruments, the cashless systems at each property are linked to a cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse. The relation of multiple cashless systems connected to a cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse are described with reference to FIG. 5. The details of a cashless system at one property are described below with reference to FIGS. 4A and 4B.

Returning to FIG. 4A, a first group of gaming machines, 465, 466, 467, 468, and 469 is shown connected to a first clerk validation terminal (CVT) 460 and a second group of gaming machines, 475, 476, 477, 478 and 479 is shown connected to a second CVT 470. These gaming machines and their associated cashless hardware are referred to as the block, gaming machines 480 in the figure. All of the gaming machines print ticket vouchers which may be exchanged for cash or accepted as credit of indicia in other gaming machine located within a property 5. In this example, the ticket voucher serves as a cashless instrument. In addition, the gaming machines may accept ticket vouchers issued at a different property from property 5 where the different property utilizes the same or a different cashless system as compared to property 5.

When the CVTs are not connected to one another, a ticket voucher printed from one gaming machine may be only be used as indicia of credit in another gaming machine which is in a group of gaming machines connected to the same clerk validation terminal. For example, a ticket voucher printed from gaming machine 465 might be used as credit of indicia in gaming machines 466, 467, 468 and 469, which are each connected to the CVT 460, but not in gaming machines 475, 476, 477, 478, and 479, which are each connected to the CVT 470. In an analogous manner, when the cashless systems from one property are not connected together then a ticket vouchers generated from gaming machine 466 may be not be used at property different from property 5.

The CVTs, 460 and 470, store cashless instrument transaction information corresponding to the outstanding cashless instrument, including ticket vouchers, smart cards and debit cards, that are waiting for redemption. In this embodiment, the CVTs are separate from the gaming machine. However, the cashless instrument information may be also be stored within each gaming machine or one gaming machine may functionally act as a CVT for a group of gaming machines eliminating the separate CVT hardware. In addition, cashless instrument transaction information may be stored in a cashless server including the EZ pay server 410. The cashless instrument transaction information may be used when the tickets are validated and cashed out or redeemed in some other manner. The CVTs 460 and 470 may store the information for the ticket vouchers printed by the gaming machines connected to the CVT. For example, CVT 460 stores ticket voucher information for ticket vouchers printed by gaming machines 465, 466, 467, 468, and 469. When a ticket is printed out, ticket information is sent to the CVT using a communication protocol of some type from the gaming machine. For example, the gaming machine may send transaction information to the CVT which is part of the cashless system using the slot data system manufactured by Bally's Gaming Systems (Alliance Gaming Corporation, Las Vegas, Nev.) or the slot acquisition system manufacture by IGT, Reno, Nev.

In this embodiment, when a player wishes to cash out a ticket, the player may redeem vouchers printed from a particular gaming machine at the CVT associated with the gaming machine or any other CVT which is part of the cashless system associated with the CVT. For example, since CVT 460 and CVT 470 are connected as part of a single cashless system to the EZ pay server 410, a player may redeem vouchers or utilize vouchers at the gaming machines, the CVTs (460 or 470), the cashiers (425, 430, 435, and 440) or the wireless cashiers 458. The CVTs, cashiers, wireless cashiers and gaming machines may be referred to as “cashless validation sites.” To cash out the ticket voucher, the ticket voucher is validated by comparing information obtained from the ticket with information stored within the CVT. After a ticket voucher has been cashed out, the CVT marks the ticket paid in a database to prevent a ticket voucher with similar information from being cashed multiple times.

Not all cashless systems may utilize CVTs, many of the functions of the CVT may be transferred to the cashless server, including the EZ pay server 410, eliminating the function within the CVT. For instance, the cashless instrument transaction information may be stored in the cashless server instead of the CVT. Thus, the need to store cashless instrument transaction information within the CVT may be eliminated.

In this embodiment using the EZ pay system, multiple groups of gaming machines connected to CVTs are connected together in a cross validation network 445. The cross validation network is typically comprised of one or more concentrators 455 which accepts inputs from two or more CVTs and enables communications to and from the two or more CVTs using one communication line. The concentrator is connected to a front end controller 450 which may poll the CVTs for ticket voucher information. The front end controller is connected to an EZ pay server 410 which may provide a variety of information services for the award ticket system including accounting 420 and administration 415.

In this invention, one hardware and software platform allowing cashless instruments to be utilized at all of the cashless validation sites (e.g. cashier stations, gaming machines, wireless cashiers and CVTs) within a single property and across multiple properties is referred to as a “cashless server”. In this embodiment, the EZ pay server 410 may function as the cashless server. Usually, the cashless server is a communication nexus in the cross validation network. For instance, the EZ pay server 410 is connected to the cashiers, wireless devices, remote cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse, CVTs and the gaming machines via the CVTs.

The cross validation network allows ticket vouchers generated by any gaming machine connected to the cross validation to be accepted by other gaming machines in the cross validation network 445. Additionally, the cross validation network allows a cashier at a cashier station 425, 430, and 435 to validate any ticket voucher generated from a gaming machine within the cross validation network 445. To cash out a ticket voucher, a player may present a ticket voucher at one of the cashier stations 425, 430, and 435 or to a game service representative carrying a wireless gaming device for validating ticket vouchers. A more complete discussion of the details of the wireless gaming device 458, including hardware and utilization, are described in co-pending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/544,844 entitled a WIRELESS GAME ENVIRONMENT filed Apr. 7, 2000 by Rowe the entire specification of which is incorporated herein by reference. Information obtained from the ticket voucher is used to validate the ticket by comparing information on the ticket with information stored on one of the CVTs connected to the cross validation network. In addition, when the ticket voucher was issued at another property, the information on the ticket may be stored at the other property. Thus, to validate the ticket voucher, the EZ pay server may have to communicate with the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse via the remote connection 411 to obtain the information necessary to validate the ticket voucher.

As tickets are validated, this information may be sent to audit services computer 440 providing audit services, the accounting computer 420 providing accounting services or the administration computer 415 providing administration services. In another embodiment, all of these services may be provided by the cashless server including the EZ pay server 410. Examples of auditing services, which may be provided by cashless system software residing on the auditing computer 40 include 1) session reconciliation reports, 2) soft count reports, 3) soft count verification reports, 4) soft count exception reports, 5) machine ticket status reports and 5) security access report. Examples of accounting services, which may be provided by cashless system software residing on the accounting computer 20 include 1) ticket issuance reports, 2) ticket liability reports, expired ticket reports, 3) expired ticket paid reports and 4) ticket redemption reports. Examples of administration services, which may be provided by cashless system software residing on the administration computer 15 include 1) manual ticket receipt, 2) manual ticket report, 3) ticket validation report, 4) interim validation report, 5) validation window closer report, 6) voided ticket receipt and 7) voided ticket report.

FIG. 4B is a block diagram of the components of cashless system for one embodiment of the present invention. The cashless system includes a cashless server 495, such as the EZpay server 410 described with respect to FIG. 4A. In this embodiment, the cashless server 495 is connected to gaming machines 480 (described with respect to FIG. 4A), table games (e.g., 481 and 482), a keno server 489, a sports book server 488, a bingo server (not shown) and a casino kiosk 490. The table games may be one of any table games found in a casino, such as but not limited to, poker, black jack, craps, roulette, baccarat, pai-gow poker and dice games.

Many different cashless system architectures are possible with the present invention and the system is not limited to the example in FIG. 4B. For instance, cashless server 495 may be connected to just the keno server 489 and the gaming machines 480 and not the sports book server 488 and the table games. As another example, the cashless server 495 may be connected to additional gaming devices and servers not shown in the figure.

The keno server 489 may provide keno games and keno tickets as part of keno system. The keno server 489 may be connected to a plurality of gaming devices used to issue and redeem keno tickets. The bingo server may provide bingo games as part of a bingo system and may be connected to a plurality of gaming devices that provide bingo games. The sports book may be used to provide sports wagering as part of a sports wagering system. The sports book may be connected to a plurality of gaming devices used to issue and redeem sports wager tickets. In the past, the keno system, the bingo system and the sports wagering system have been operated as independent systems. Further, these systems typically only take cash only and casino chips may not be used to make sports wagers or for keno game play.

Traditionally, the keno system, the sports wagering system, the bingo system, the table games have not been operated with a cashless system as has been described in regards to the gaming machines 480 in FIG. 4A. In one embodiment of the present invention, all of these systems are connected to a cashless system, such as via the cashless server 495. Thus, cashless instruments with a cash value or a promotional credits (non-restricted or restricted) may be generated and validated for game play at the game machines, table games (i.e., table games and associated hardware), the keno system (keno server and associated hardware), the sports wagering system (sports book server and associated hardware) and the bingo system (bingo server and associated hardware) and used interchangeably between these venues.

As an example of interchangeability between the venues, a player may cashout at one of the gaming machine in the gaming machines 480 and receive a cashless instrument with the cash value. The player may then present the cashless instrument with the cash value at one of the table games 481 and 482. Using one of the cashless interface devices 483 and 484, the cashless instrument may be validated at the cashless server 495. For instance, the cashless server may contact the CVT connected to a gaming machine described in FIG. 4A where the cashless instrument was generated to validate the cashless instrument.

After validation of the cashless instrument, the cash value on the cashless instrument or a portion of the cash value may be applied to game play. For example, at a black jack game, a roulette game or a craps game, the portion of the cash value used for game play may be exchanged for casino chips or another type of indicia of credit used to play the game. After a player has completed a table game, the player may cash out and a second cashless instrument with a cash value, such as printed ticket voucher, may be generated by one of the cashless interface devices, 483 or 484. Further, when the player cashes out, an additional cashless instrument, with restricted or non-restricted promotional credits that may be used for game play, may be generated by one of the cashless interface devices 483 or 484.

An advantage of this approach is that the player may find carrying a single cashless instrument more desirable then carrying a handful of casino chips. Further, as will be described below, the cashless instrument may have more utility in that it can be used in more locations and for more activities then the casino chips, which may be desirable to the player. In addition, a handful of casino chips may be more easily lost and harder to keep track of then a cashless instrument, which may make cashless instruments more desirable to the player.

With a cashless system as described, it is easier track where player resources are being utilized and accounting procedures may be simplified which is a benefit to gaming operators such as casinos. In one embodiment, the casino chips may be primarily used for game play at the gaming tables and players will be encouraged to leave their chips at the table and leave only with a cashless instrument. To encourage this type of behavior, random promotions at cash out of the chips for a cashless instrument may be offered, such as promotional credits. This approach may be desirable for casinos because it may reduce the overhead associated with 1) auditing procedures that they are required to implement by law in regards to the use of casino chips, 2) restocking tables with casino chips, 3) cashing out casino chips and 4) the acceptance of competitors casino chips. These processes require a lot of manual labor and provide many theft opportunities. With a cashless system, many of the processes can be automated and many theft opportunities eliminated which is desirable to casinos.

For example, when a cashless instrument generated at a first casino is presented at a second casino for the play of a table game at the second casino, an cashless transaction clearinghouse may be used (see description below) to validate the cashless instrument and automatically send an electronic fund transfer to the first casino. In contrast, to use a casino chip from a first casino at the second casino, many manual processing tasks are required. For instance, the chip is stored in a container at the table game, taken to a back room. In the back room, the chip is identified and then a request for a reimbursement is manually generated and then sent from the first casino to the second casino.

The cashless interface devices 483 and 484 may comprise components used to generate and to redeem cashless instruments at a gaming machine. For example, the cashless interface devices may comprise one or more of the following gaming devices, a bill validator that may be used to read tickets, a bar-code scanner, a card reader for reading magnetic striped cards or smart cards, a key pad, a touch screen interface, a printer, a storage tray for blank tickets, a logic device (e.g., a microprocessor or microcontroller), a power supply, an RFID tag reader, a storage tray for validated tickets and a wired or wireless communication interface for communicating with devices such as a concentrator 485, communicating directly with the cashless server 495 or communicating with a player tracking/accounting server. The one or more gaming devices in the cashless interface devices 483 and 484 may be mounted in a housing.

Returning to FIG. 4B, after the second cashless instrument is generated by one of the cashless interface devices at the table games, the player may take the cashless instrument to a keno station connected to the keno server 489 and use the cash value on the instrument or a portion of the cash value to play a keno game. For example, if the cash value on the second instrument is $100 dollars, after the cashless instrument is validated, a player may purchase $50 worth of keno tickets and receive $50 cash payout for the remaining value of the ticket. In one embodiment, a casino service person carrying a hand-held wireless device may validate the second cashless instrument with the hand-held device and exchange it for keno tickets and cash for any remaining cash value on the instrument. Details of using a hand-held wireless device for redeeming cashless instruments are described in co-pending U.S. application Ser. No. 09/544,884 previously incorporated herein. The hand-held wireless device may also communicate with the keno server 489 to indicate that keno tickets have been issued to the player.

In another embodiment, the player may purchase keno tickets at a keno station connected to the keno server 489. The player may present the second cashless instrument at the station. Information stored on the second cashless instrument may be read into the keno system and sent to the keno server 489. The keno server 489 tracks all of the money going into and out of the keno system. Therefore, when a cashless instrument is validated to play keno, information regarding the portion of the cash value used for keno may be processed and stored by the keno server 489.

The keno server 489 may also receive validation information stored on the cashless instrument. The keno server 489 may send the cashless server 495 a validation request message requesting the validation of the second cashless instrument. The validation request message may include validation information from the second cashless instrument needed by the cashless server 495 to validate the second cashless instrument. Further, the validation request message may include any additional information required for the keno server 489 and the cashless server to communicate in a secure manner 495. Details of secure communication are described in more detail in co-pending U.S. application Ser. No. 09/993,163 previously incorporated herein.

In response to the validation request message, the cashless server 495 attempts to validate the second cashless instrument and may generate a reply message indicating an approval or rejection of the validation of the second cashless instrument. When the validation of the second cashless instrument has been approved, the keno server 495 may send a message to the keno station indicating the validation of the second cashless instrument has been approved. After the second cashless instrument has been exchanged for keno game play and for cash (if there is any remaining cash value not used for keno game play), the keno station may send a message to the keno server indicating the cashless transaction has been completed. The keno server 489 may store a record of the transaction and send a message to the cashless server 495 indicating the transaction has been completed.

After keno game play, the player may have a number of winning tickets from the keno game. In one embodiment, these tickets may be taken to a keno station and cashed out. The keno server 489 may be contacted to determine the winning keno tickets and validate the winning keno tickets. When the tickets are cashed out, a third cashless instrument may be generated with a cash value won from the keno game play. The keno server 489 may generate a message and send it to the cashless server to indicate a new cashless instrument has been generated. The message may include validation information that is stored on the cashless server and the newly generated cashless instrument. The validation information is compared with information read from the newly generated cashless instrument when it is later presented for validation at a validation site.

In one embodiment, prior to generation of the cashless instrument, a generation request message may be sent the cashless server 495 by the keno server to request a generation of a new cashless instrument. When a request is received by the cashless server 495 to generate a new cashless instrument from the keno server 489, the cashless server 495 may generate a reply message including validation information that may be stored on the cashless instrument that is to be generated, such as a unique serial number. The unique serial number may be stored on the new cashless instrument and stored on the cashless server 495. When a validation request for the newly generated cashless instrument is later received by the cashless server 495, the validation information, such as the unique serial number generated and stored on the cashless server 495, may be used for validation purposes.

A third cashless instrument generated as a result of a win at keno play may be taken by the player and presented at a sports book station connected to the sports book server 488. A portion or all of the cash value stored on the third cashless instrument may be used to make a sports wager. The sports book server 488 may process the third cashless instrument like the keno server 489, i.e., sending a validation request message to the cashless server, etc. If the sports wager is a win, a fourth cashless instrument may be generated and processed by the sports book server 488 like the keno server 488. The fourth cashless instrument, as well as the first, second and third cashless instruments previously described, may also be used to make sports wagers, play table games, play gaming machines, play bingo, play keno and any other games that are offered at a casino and the present invention is not limited to the sequence of game play described in the example above.

The cashless server 495 may include a keno interface 487 for communicating with the keno server 489 and a sports book interface 486 for communicating with the sports book. Additional interfaces may be provided for any other independent gaming systems, such as bingo, that communicate with the cashless server 495. The keno server 489 and sports book server 488 may also include a cashless system interface (not shown) that allows them to communicate with their corresponding interface on the cashless server 495. The interfaces may be defined by application program interfaces (API's). The API's may describe information, information formats and commands that may be exchanged by the servers.

In some embodiments of the present invention, it may be advantageous to provide a casino kiosk 490 where cashless instruments may be validated and utilized. The casino kiosk may be an automated menu driven system like an automatic teller machine. For example, in one embodiment at a casino kiosk, a player may be able to validate a cashless instrument and obtain keno tickets or a make a wager. The casino kiosk may be connected to the keno server 489, the sports book server 488 and the cashless server 495 to facilitate these transactions.

In another embodiment, the player may wish to partially cash a cashless instrument or transfer a portion of the cashless instrument to a remote account. In this case, the cashless instrument may be validated, the player may specify a cash amount they wish to receive and may receive cash for the specified amount (or transfer it an account) and receive a new cashless instrument with the remaining amount not cashed. In yet another embodiment, a player may wish to add cash to a cashless instrument. In this case, the player may input a cashless instrument into the casino kiosk 490 and input additional funds, such as cash or a transfer from another account, then a new cashless instrument with the added funds may be generated and issued to the player. In a further embodiment, a player may wish to combine a plurality of cashless instrument into a single cashless instrument. In this embodiment, the player may present a plurality of cashless instrument to the kiosk 490. The value of the cashless instrument may be added together and a single cashless instrument with the combined value may be generated and presented to the player.

In a particular embodiment, at the casino kiosk 490, a player may be provided transaction opportunities that allow a non-restricted cashless instrument to be converted to a restricted cashless instrument. A non-restricted cashless instrument is non-restricted in that the cash value stored on the cashless instrument may be redeemed for cash or used for game play in an unrestricted manner. For a restricted cashless instrument, the use of a cash value stored on the cashless instrument is restricted in some manner. For example, for a restricted cashless instrument, the cash value may only be spent during certain time periods (e.g., period during the day, the week, holiday periods, etc.), at certain locations (e.g., a particular gaming property or groups of gaming property), on certain games (e.g., a particular game of chance implemented on a gaming machine), for certain activities (e.g., keno, a type of table game). Of course combinations of restrictions may be used and the restrictions are not limited to only these examples, which are provided for illustrative purposes only.

The gaming operator may provide incentives to entice players to convert a non-restricted cashless instrument to a restricted cashless instrument or to purchase a restricted cashless instrument. As an example, the casino may offer to add value to a non-restricted cashless instrument to convert it to a restricted cashless instrument. To illustrate, the casino may offer to add two dollars to the cash value of a non-restricted cashless instrument with a six dollar value if it is converted to a restricted cashless instrument that may be used for game play only (for the game play only restriction, the credits may no longer be redeemed for cash but may only be used to play games). Alternately, a player may be able to purchase cashless instrument with an eight dollar value that is restricted to game play only for six dollars.

In another example, the casino may offer to increase the player tracking points accumulated using a cashless instrument when it is converted from a non-restricted cashless instrument to a restricted cashless instrument. In one embodiment, these types of incentives may be awarded as a “comp” in a loyalty program, such as a player tracking program. The embodiments described in regards to the casino kiosk 490 are not limited to the casino kiosk. For instance, opportunities to convert a non-restricted cashless instrument to a restricted cashless instrument may be provided at a gaming machine, at the cashless interface devices or other devices in the cashless system.

The ability to use cashless instruments at a plurality of different locations within a gaming establishment at a casino, such as at the table games, gaming machines, sports book and keno parlor, using a common cashless system may be extended to a plurality of gaming properties. For instance, a cashless instrument issued at a gaming machine at first gaming establishment may be used to play keno at a second gaming establishment. Details of a cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse that allow these transactions between multiple properties is described as follows.

FIG. 5 is a block diagram of cashless systems at multiple gaming properties connected to a cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse server. At property 5 (described with reference to FIGS. 4A and 4B), property 504 and property 518, three different embodiments of cashless systems are shown. At property 504, gaming machines 575, 576, 577, 578, 579 send information to the clerk validation terminal 570. The CVT 570 sends information to the cashless server and data acquisition system 500. In this embodiment, the functions of the controller 450 and concentrator 455, as described with reference to FIG. 4, are combined into the cashless server and data acquisition 500. The cashless instrument used on property 504 may be smart cards, magnetic cards, ticket vouchers, combinations of the three or other cashless mediums.

The cashless server 500 contains a communication interface used to send information on cashless instruments generated on property 504 to the clearinghouse server 536 or request information on cashless instruments issued at other properties, including property 5 and property 518, that are being validated at property 504 from the clearinghouse server 536. The cashless instrument transaction information sent to the cashless server 500 from the clearinghouse server 536 and received by the clearinghouse server from the cashless server 500 is transmitted via the network connection 502.

At property 518, gaming machines 512, 513, 514, 515 and 516 are connected to the cashless server and data acquisition system 510 via the local network 511. The local network 511 may be a wireless or wired connection system including fiber, copper or wireless cellular, combinations of all three or other connection systems. A separate CVT is not shown in this embodiment. The functions of the CVT including storage of ticket information may be built into one or more the gaming machines including 512, 513, 514, 515 and 516 or may be built into the cashless server 510. The information sent to the cashless server 500 from the clearinghouse server 536 and received by the clearinghouse server 536 from the cashless server 500 is transmitted via the network connection 502.

In one embodiment, the clearinghouse server resides on property 538 separate from the other properties, including property 5, property 518 and property 504, containing the cashless servers including 410, 500 and 500. In other embodiments, the clearinghouse server 536 may reside at the same property as one of the cashless servers. Communication between the clearinghouse server 536 and the two or more cashless servers, including cashless servers 410, 500, 510, may be performed via the network connections 520 and the network interface 534 residing within the clearinghouse server 534. The connections between the cashless servers and the clearinghouse server 536 including 411, 502, 517 and 520, may comprise a dedicated communication network.

Components of the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse server 536 may include 1) a memory storage unit for storing cashless instrument transaction information in a transaction database 530, 2) a functional router 532 enabling communication between the clearinghouse server and different properties, 3) a CPU 531, 4) a memory 533 containing software for implementing the clearinghouse functions and 5) the network interface. The transaction database 530 may contain on-going and past cashless instrument transactions processed using the clearinghouse server 536. The transaction database 530 may be implemented using Microsoft NT (Microsoft, Redmond, Wash.) and SQL (server query language). The cashless servers, including 410, 500 and 510, may also utilize this database technology.

Cashless instrument transaction information for two or more gaming properties may be stored in the clearinghouse server transaction database 530. The properties may be owned by the same or different entities. The transaction database 530 may be accessed remotely by the properties, including 5, 504, and 518, utilizing the clearinghouse server 536. Further, the transaction database 530 may be used with analysis software to analyze transactions routed through the clearinghouse server 536.

The transaction database 530 may be partitioned to according to properties or ownership of properties to limit access to the database 530. For example, when property 5, property 504 and property 518 are each owned by different entities, each property may only analyze cashless instrument transactions relating to cashless instruments generated and validated at their own property stored at the clearinghouse server 536. Thus, the owners of property 5 may access information relating to cashless instruments generated at property 5 and validated at properties 504 and 518 using the clearinghouse server 536 and the owners of property 5 may access information relating to cashless instruments generated at properties 504 and 518 validated at property 5. However, the owners of property 5 would not be able to access information in the database regarding cashless instruments generated at property 518 and validated at property 504. When more than one property is owned by a single entity, the single entity may be able to access cashless instrument transaction information relating to ownership of all of the properties owned by the single entity. For instance, when the single entity owns properties 5 and 504, the single entity may access the transaction database 530 for transactions relating to cashless instruments generated at properties 5 and 504 and validated at any of the properties using the clearinghouse server 536. Additionally, the single entity may access the transaction database 530 for transactions relating to cashless instruments generated at any of the properties and validated at properties 5 and 504.

The router 532 may contain routing information that allows the clearinghouse server 536 to determine where a cashless instrument was generated. The routing information is used when a cashless instrument is validated at a property different from the property where it was generated. For example, routing information is needed when a cashless instrument is generated at property 5 but the cashless instrument is validated at property 504. Each cashless instrument may be generated with a unique property identifier stored within the cashless instrument. When a validation request for the cashless instrument is received by the clearinghouse server, a property routing table stored within the router may be used by the server to determine where the cashless instrument was generated and communication information allowing the clearinghouse server 536 to communicate with the cashless server where the cashless instrument was generated.

The requirements associated with accounting and reporting of the cashless instrument information are dependent on the regulations within the jurisdiction. That being the case, the system is adaptable to those particular regulations. In general, a cashless instrument with an award amount may be considered to be analogous to a personal check written by the property where it was generated. When the cashless instrument is validated, it is essentially cashed. This implies that the property where the cashless instrument was generated must maintain a database of data related to those cashless instruments that were created on its property. This is analogous to maintaining a bank account whose sole purpose is to cover the cashless instruments that were generated at the property. This property is usually responsible for maintaining its cashless instrument database and validating cashless instruments. When a request to validate a cashless instrument is received by the cashless system at a particular gaming property, the property has the option of validating or rejecting the request. Once the property validates the cashless instrument, it is typically the responsibility of that property to insure its own cashless instrument transaction database is updated. At that time, the property which generated the cashless instrument, now must transfer the funds to the property requesting the validation. The fund transfers may occur with each transaction or could be compiled in a batch to cover multiple ticket validation transactions on a periodic basis, e.g. once a night. The cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse facilitates all associated electronic fund transfers (EFTs) and acts as a third party between the parties.

FIG. 6 is an interaction diagram for a cashless instrument transaction between a clearinghouse, cashless servers, and cashless generators/validators where the cashless instrument is generated at a different location from where it is validated. In 604, a player payout (e.g. award) is generated on a cashless instrument at a cashless instrument generation site 602 at property 504. The cashless instrument generation site may include a gaming machine, a clerk validation terminal, a wireless validation terminal and a cashier station. The cashless instrument may include a printed ticket voucher (e.g. EZ pay ticket), a smart card, a debit card and other cashless mediums. In 606, when the cashless instrument is generated, cashless instrument transaction information, including 1) a value, 2) an issue date, 3) an issue time, 4) a transaction number unique to the transaction, 5) a machine ID that generated the cashless instrument, 6) an issue location and 7) an owner, may be transmitted to the cashless server 500. The cashless instrument transaction information is also stored on the cashless instrument when the cashless instrument is generated in 604. In 608, the cashless server may store the cashless instrument transaction information in a database. The transaction information stored in the database is used when the cashless instrument is validated. The validation process may be invoked when the cashless instrument is redeemed for cash or when the cashless instrument is used in a gaming machine or other device that accepts the cashless instrument. The validation process involves comparing the cashless instrument transaction information stored on the cashless instrument with the cashless instrument transaction information stored in the cashless server database.

In 610, a game player takes the cashless instrument generated at property 504 to property 5. In 612, the game player presents the cashless instrument for a cashless payout at a cashless transaction validation site 600 at property 5. The cashless transaction validation site may include a gaming machine, a cashier station, a clerk validation terminal, a wireless validation device and any other devices which accept cashless instruments. For instance, when a debit card is used as the cashless instrument, the game player may be able to directly deposit the award on the debit card into a bank account accessible to the game player. In 614, a validation request is sent from the cashless transaction validation site 600 to the cashless server 410. The validation request may be an information packet containing the transaction information stored on the cashless instrument in 604 and stored in the cashless server database in 608.

In 616, the cashless server may check the local cashless instrument transaction database on the cashless server to determine if the cashless instrument was generated at property 5. The cashless server may check the local cashless instrument transaction database in a number of ways to determine whether a transaction record for the cashless instrument resides in the database. The database search technique may depend on what information is stored in the local database and what information is stored on the cashless instrument. When the cashless instrument was generated at a property using a different cashless system than the property where the cashless instrument is validated, the type and amount of cashless instrument transaction information stored on the cashless instrument may differ from the type and amount of cashless instrument transaction information stored on the local cashless instrument transaction instrument database. Thus, the search technique may depend on determining a common set of transaction information stored on the cashless instrument being validated and stored in the cashless instrument transaction database. For instance, when the cashless instrument contains a machine ID and the cashless instrument transaction database stores a list of all of the local machine IDs, the cashless server 410 may search the local cashless instrument transaction database to determine whether the cashless instrument was generated on one of the local machines at the property 5. As another example, when the cashless instrument contains transaction information on the property where the cashless instrument was generated or the owner of the cashless instrument (e.g. the owner of the property), the cashless server 410 may quickly determine whether the cashless instrument was generated at the local property 5.

In 618, when the cashless instrument was not generated locally, the cashless server may mark the validation request pending in a local database and send a request for validation to the central clearinghouse in 620. The request for validation from the cashless server 410 to the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse 536 may contain all or some subset of the information stored on the cashless instrument being validated. In addition, the request for validation may contain information about the cashless transaction validation site. For example, the identification information about the cashless transaction validation site 600, the property 5 where the cashless transaction validation site is being validated and the owner of the property may be included in the request for validation message.

As in 614, the request for validation in 620 may be an information packet of some type sent using a pre-determined communication protocol between the cashless server 410 and the central clearinghouse 536. The communication protocol used to transmit transaction information between the cashless transaction validation site 600 and the cashless server 410 in 614 may be the same or different than the communication protocol used to transmit the transaction information between the cashless server 410 and the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse 536 in 620.

In 622, the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse determines the owner of the cashless instrument (e.g. the property where the cashless instrument was generated). The clearinghouse 536 determines the owner based upon information received in the validation request in 620 and based upon information stored in the clearinghouse 536. In 624, using routing information stored within the clearinghouse 536, a request for validation is sent from the clearinghouse 536 to the property where the cashless instrument was generated (i.e. property 504 in this embodiment). The request for validation is an information packet in a communication protocol of some type. The transaction information contained within the information packet is sufficient to allow the cashless server 500 at the cashless generation site 602 at property 504 to validate the cashless instrument. The communication protocol used to transmit the transaction information between the cashless server 410 and the clearinghouse 536 in 620 may be the same or different than the communication protocol used to transmit the transaction information between the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse 536 and the cashless server 500 in 624. For example, the communication protocols may be different when the cashless system used at property 5 is different from the cashless system used at property 504.

In 626, the cashless server 500 checks the local cashless instrument transaction database to confirm the request for validation received in 624 is valid. When the transaction is valid (e.g. the cashless instrument was generated at property 504 and has not been previously validated), in 631, an approval message may be sent from the cashless server 500 to the clearinghouse 536, in 632, the clearinghouse may forward or generate the approval message to the cashless sever 510, in 634, the cashless server 410 may forward or generate the approval message to the cashless transaction validation site 600. In 628, the cashless server may cover the debit by allocating or transferring funds to an account used to cover debits. In 630, the cashless server 500 may send an Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) to cover the debit to the clearinghouse 536. The EFT may be sent after each transfer or may be sent as a batch at the end of some time period, e.g. at the end of each day.

In 636, the validation site 600 at property 5, performs an appropriate operation when the validation is approved. For example, when the validation site 600 is a gaming machine, credits may be posted on the gaming machine. As another example, when the validation site 600 is a cashier station, the player may receive a cash amount according to the value of the cashless instrument.

One advantage of using a cashless system with EFT is that nothing physical has to be exchanged between the properties. When a token is issued as a credit of indicia at one property and then used at a second property, the second property may allow the token to be used as credit of indicia at the second property. However, the tokens must be counted at the second property and then shipped back to the first property and counted so that the second property may receive the amount of money associated with the token. For many properties accepting tokens from many different properties, the infrastructure associated with the counting, sorting and shipping of tokens from one property to another may be quite large. This type of infrastructure may be reduced or eliminated using the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse with EFT between various properties connected to the clearinghouse.

Besides cashless instrument validations for payout, in another embodiment, the cashless validation processes described above using the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse may be used to run promotions or complimentary promotions across multiple properties. For example, a promotion could be targeted for a specific type of gaming machine or game theme whereby the player would receive a cashless instrument such as a bar coded ticket from the gaming machine during game play. This bar coded ticket could be redeemed at any of the participating properties linked by the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse. The bar coded ticket may be redeemed for merchandise or game play credit—whichever is defined as the promotion and printed on the ticket. Further, the ticket may be generated by the gaming machine to entice the player to redeem the ticket at a specific property connected to the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse. As described above, ticket validation is performed at the gaming property to verify that the ticket is a valid promotional or complimentary ticket. Rather then being limited to a single property, the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse manages the promotions across the properties and maintains a centralized database containing the promotion theme parameters and the statistics once the game has begun.

In another embodiment, the cashless validation processes described above using the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse may be used to run multiple progressive games associated with the generation or validation cashless instruments at the gaming machine, each of which is managed and controlled by cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse. These new types of progressive games are associated with either the redemption/validation of a cashless instrument or the generation of a cashless instrument upon cashout. At the time a cashless instrument is inserted into a gaming machine for validation by the system, an event gets transmitted to the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse whereby the player validating the ticket or other cashless instrument has a chance to win a jackpot. A player may also win a jackpot when a cashless instrument is generated.

Similar to a lotto game where a sequence of numbers is used to match a central sequence of numbers in an attempt to win the lotto grand prize, the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse randomly selects a sequence of numbers which is compared to the transaction validation number stored on the cashless instrument. When these two sequence of numbers match, the player wins the central jackpot and is notified of the win at the gaming machine or the cashless transaction validation site where the cashless instrument is being redeemed. Notification to the player may be made in a number of ways including 1) on the gaming machine's video screen 2) by generating a ticket or other cashless instrument at the gaming machine or other cashless transaction validation site indicating the player has won the jackpot.

The jackpot can be funded in many different ways including, but not limited to: 1) a small percentage of each ticket is held by cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse, e.g. 5 cents of each ticket inserted or cashed out is paid to the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse for a chance to win the progressive jackpot, 2) each property connected to the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse pays a small amount (cents) into the progressive jackpot each time the player cashes out or redeems a ticket. In addition, the player may have the option at the gaming machine to play for the progressive jackpot upon cashless instrument generation and cashless instrument validation. Thus, the player may chose to commit a small percentage of the cashless instrument towards winning the jackpot which finds the jackpot.

In general, there may be more then one such progressive jackpot managed by the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse. With multiple progressive jackpots managed by the clearinghouse, each property may have a small progressive for matching a few numbers in addition to a larger progressive across all properties when all numbers on the ticket are matched. The multiple progressive jackpots may provide more chances for a player to win a jackpot. In addition progressive jackpots may encourage the use of cashless instruments by the game player which as mentioned above many operational advantages to the properties using cashless systems.

FIG. 7 is a simplified block diagram of a cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse server 536 connected to a plurality of cashless sites. In FIG. 7, methods and apparatus for providing 1) promotions based upon the properties of a plurality of cashless transactions, 2) accounts, account information, resource access and resources transfers at a cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse are described. For illustrative purposes only, as the present invention is not limited to the architecture shown in FIG. 7, five cashless sites are shown connected to a clearinghouse server 536.

The cashless sites 751, 752, 753, 754 and 760 are connected via network infrastructure 750 to the clearinghouse server 536. The network infrastructure may include local area networks, such as those located within a casino and wide area networks used to connect remote gaming properties to the clearinghouse server. Some examples of possible network architectures that may be used in the present invention are described with respect to FIGS. 4 and 5. The cashless sites, 751, 752, 753, 754 and 760 may be gaming devices, such as gaming machines, that validate or generate cashless instruments as described with respect to FIG. 6. The cashless sites, 751, 752, 754 and 760 may be located one of more different gaming properties. For instance, each of the cashless sites may be located at a different gaming property or as another example, cashless sites 751 and 752, may be located at a first gaming property, cashless site, 753 and 754, may be located at a second gaming property and cashless site 760 may be located at a third gaming property. The gaming properties may have the same or different owners.

A plurality of cashless transactions may be related by information generated during the cashless transactions. A group of related cashless transactions is referred to as a cashless transaction thread. Cashless transaction threads may be generated by the clearinghouse server 536 as it processes various cashless transactions.

In addition, remote servers and gaming devices that process cashless transactions may communicate cashless transaction information to the server 536 for incorporation in cashless transaction threads generated by the server. This information may be sent to the clearinghouse even when the clearinghouse is not needed for validation of the cashless transaction. For instance, when a cashless transaction is validated locally, such as for a validation of a cashless instrument that is generated and redeemed at the same gaming property, information regarding the cashless transaction may be sent to the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse server 536 for use in generating cashless transaction threads even though the clearinghouse server 536 may not be required to validate the cashless transaction. Thus, the cashless instrument transactions comprising the cashless instrument thread may be one of i) cashless instrument transactions validated at the clearinghouse 536, ii) cashless instrument transactions validated at one or more gaming properties in communication with the clearinghouse and iii) combinations thereof.

Once a cashless instrument thread is generated, the clearinghouse server 536 may be designed to generate a promotion in response to properties of the cashless transaction thread matching one or more promotion theme parameters. For instance, a property of the cashless instrument thread, such as 759 and 764, may be a total amount spent on game play for the cashless instrument transactions comprising the cashless instrument thread and a promotional theme parameter may be a threshold amount spent on game play. Thus, once the total amount spent on game play in the cashless transaction thread exceeds the threshold amount spent on game play, the clearinghouse may generate a promotion. The promotion may include but is not limited an offer of: i) promotional credits for game play, ii) a discount coupon for merchandise and/or services, iii) a prize (i.e., comp), such as, food, drink, merchandise or a service, iv) a cash award and v) combinations thereof. The promotional credits may be non-cashable credits for game play on a gaming machine.

Next, the generation of cashless transaction threads are described in more detail. A relationship used to generate a cashless transaction thread is referred to as cashless thread criteria. One or more thread criteria may be used to generate a cashless transaction thread. Some examples thread criteria used to relate cashless transactions to generate a cashless transaction thread are as follows: a) a property where the cashless instrument transaction is generated, c) a time when the cashless instrument transaction is generated, d) a value of the cashless instrument transaction, f) a characteristic of a gaming device used in the cashless instrument transaction, g) a type of game played on a gaming machine where the gaming machine is used in the cashless instrument transaction, i) an individual user, j) a group of individual users, k) a group of properties where the cashless instrument transactions are generated, 1) a cashless instrument used in the cashless instrument transaction, m) a group of cashless instruments used in the cashless instrument transaction and n) combinations thereof.

For illustrative purposes, two cashless transaction threads, 759 and 764, are shown in FIG. 7. Further details of cashless transaction thread generation are also described with respect to FIG. 8. The cashless transaction thread 759 comprises four cashless transactions, 755, 756, 757 and 758 performed at cashless sites, 751, 752, 753 and 754, respectively. Cashless transaction thread 764 comprises three cashless transactions, 761, 762 and 763 performed at cashless sites 753, 754 and 760 respectively.

A few examples of thread criterion that could be used to relate cashless transactions in threads 759 and 764 are now described. However, the present invention is not limited to these examples. In one embodiment, the cashless transactions, 751, 752, 753 and 754 in the thread 759 can be related by identification information corresponding to a single user. Thus, when cashless sites, 751, 752, 753 and 754 are gaming machines, a single user may use a cashless instrument to participate in game play at each of the gaming machines over time, 751, 752, 753 and 754. Therefore, for instance, the user may first play a game at gaming machine 751 where credits are deposited on the gaming machine and/or redeemed using a cashless instrument where the cashless transaction is validated by the clearinghouse 536. Then, the user may successively proceed to gaming machines 752, 753 and 754 and engage in additional cashless transactions at each of these sites where the cashless transactions are validated by the clearinghouse 536. Thus, the cashless transaction thread may start with a single transaction 755 and then grow to two, three and four transactions over time as the single user continues to play. In general, the properties of cashless transaction threads may change over time.

When the cashless transaction thread is first generated and each time a new cashless transaction is added to the thread or the properties of the thread change, the clearinghouse server 536 may compare the properties of the cashless transaction thread 759 against one or more promotional theme parameters to see if a promotion has been triggered. The promotional theme parameters may change with time and a change in promotional theme parameters may also trigger a comparison between the cashless thread properties and the promotional theme parameters. After the promotional theme parameters have changed, a comparison may be made to the thread properties even if a new transaction has not been added to the thread.

As an example, after each cashless transaction 755, 756, 757 and 758, the properties of the cashless transaction thread 759, such as the total amount spent on game play, may change as a function of time as more cashless transactions are added to the thread. Thus, the server 536, may determine the properties of the thread after each cashless transaction and compare the properties with the promotional theme parameters, such as the threshold amount spent on game play, to determine if a promotion may be awarded. In one embodiment, a promotion may be awarded after a single transaction, such as when the transaction thread 759 comprises only a single cashless transaction 755, if an award is indicated when a property of the transaction thread after the single cashless transaction is compared to a promotion theme parameter.

In specific embodiments, identification information of the single user, which is used to relate the cashless transactions, 751, 752, 753 and 754, in the cashless transaction thread 759, may be obtained from the cashless instrument employed by the user. For instance, the cashless instrument, such as a smart card, a debit card, a personal digital assistant, a cell phone, a printed ticket with encoded information such as 1-D and 2-D bar-codes, a magnetic striped card, a wireless RFID tag with read and write capabilities and combinations of these devices (e.g., RFID tag embedded in a magnetic striped card), may be used to store user identification information that can be read from the cashless instrument and associated with the cashless transactions in the cashless transaction thread 759. Details of using RFID tags and 1-D/2-D bar-codes are described in co-pending U.S. application Ser. No. 10/214,936, filed on Aug. 8, 2002, and entitled, “Flexible Loyalty Points Programs,” which is incorporated herein in its entirety and for all purposes.

In another embodiment, the identification information of the single user may be obtained from a player tracking account. For example, the user may initiate a player tracking session prior to initiating the cashless transaction 755 and player tracking information may be included in the cashless transaction information that is used for the cashless transaction 755. In another example, the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse may provide individual user accounts that may be accessed by an account number that is stored on a cashless instrument. When the single user uses a cashless instrument with their account number for a cashless transaction, such as 751, 752, 753 or 754, the account number can be used to identify the user from account information stored at the clearinghouse. In yet other embodiment, the single user may be provided with the option of supplying identification information at the cashless site, which may be used to associate the cashless transaction with a particular user.

Multiple cashless instruments may be used for the cashless transactions in a cashless transaction thread. For instance, in the previous example, a series of printed tickets with identification information may be used as cashless instruments for the cashless transactions, 755-758, in cashless transaction thread 759 where a new printed ticket is issued after each transaction. In another example, a magnetic striped card may be used to generate cashless transactions 755 and 756 and printed tickets may be used for cashless transactions 757 and 758 in thread 759. In yet another example, a cashless instrument with a 2-D bar-code may be used for a transactions 755 and 756 and a cell phone may be used for cashless transactions 757 and 758 in thread 759.

The cashless transactions in a cashless transaction thread are not necessarily limited to transactions by a single user. For example, the cashless transactions, 761, 762 and 763, in cashless transaction thread 764 may be related according to a time period during which they occur. For instance, the cashless transaction thread criteria for thread 764 may be all of the cashless transaction that are performed on Thursday. Therefore, in this example, three cashless transactions, 761, 762 and 763, may be performed by three different users at the cashless sites 753, 754 and 760 during the time period specified by the cashless thread criteria and the cashless transactions may be grouped into the cashless transaction thread 764. As described above, based upon the properties of the cashless transaction thread 764 and promotion theme parameters applied by clearinghouse server 536, a promotion may be awarded to an individual that has used a cashless instrument to perform a cashless transaction.

In the example described, above the use of identification information was used in awarding a promotion to a user. The present invention is not so limited. A promotion may be awarded to an individual anonymously without requiring identification information from the individual.

The cashless sites, 751, 752, 753, 754 and 760, are not limited to gaming machines. A cashless instrument validation request may be received at the clearinghouse to validate and indicia of credit value stored on the cashless instrument to enable i) a wager on a table game, ii) a play of a keno game, iii) a play of a bingo game, iv) a wager on a sporting event, v) a wager on a game of chance played on a gaming device located in a hotel room, vi) a wager on a game of chance on a gaming machine, vii) a food purchase, viii) a service purchase, ix) a merchandise purchase, x) an entertainment event purchase, xi) a rental purchase and xii) combinations thereof. Thus, the cashless site may be a gaming device appropriate to the venue from where the validation request is being made. In addition, the clearinghouse may store records of the transactions involving wagers, plays of games of chance, food, service, merchandise, rental and entertainment purchases. When information is made available to the clearinghouse regarding these transactions, the information may be utilized in cashless transaction threads generated at the clearinghouse.

When the comparison of the promotion theme parameters and the cashless transaction thread properties indicate that a promotion is to be awarded, the promotion may be generated at the clearinghouse server 536 and transferred to a player. The generation of the promotion at the clearinghouse may comprise one of initiating i) a download of promotional credits, ii) an issuance of a comp, iii) an issuance of a discount coupon, iv) an issuance of a cash award and v) combinations thereof. The promotional credits may be non-cashable credits.

The non-cashable credits are an example of restricted promotional credits that may be utilized in the present invention. Restricted promotional credits are credits that are limited in their use. For example, a restricted promotional credit may be limited for only game play use. Thus, a player may provide a cashless instrument with a number of promotional credits at a location where the restricted promotional credits may be used to play a game, such as but not limited to a gaming machine, a table game, a sports book, a bingo parlor and a keno parlor. If the player utilizes a portion of their restricted promotional credits for game play and in addition wins at the game they have played, then, at cashout, the player may be issued two cashless instruments, such as a two tickets. The first ticket may store the remaining restricted promotional credits while the second ticket may store a cash value representing the amount of their winning. The first ticket may be used for additional game play only while the first ticket may be redeemed for its cash value. In one embodiment, a single cashless instrument, such as a single ticket, may store both restricted promotional credits and a separate cash value.

Restricted promotional credits may be limited in many different ways. For instance, restricted promotional credits may be limited to a time period (e.g., certain times of day, certain a days of the week, a holiday period), a particular game (e.g., table games, sports book, keno, bingo, gaming machines, or a particular type of gaming machine), a particular location, or a combination of locations. Promotional credits may be also unrestricted. In this case, a cashless instrument may be issued storing promotional credits that may be redeemed for cash or for game play.

The transfer to the player may include sending information and commands to a remote gaming device that allows the promotion to be generated at the remote gaming device and awarded to a player. For example, the clearinghouse server 536 may direct a remote gaming device, such as a gaming machine at cashless site 751, to generate a cashless instrument, such as printed ticket, that may be redeemed for promotional credits on a gaming machine. In particular embodiments, promotional credits, comps, discount coupons, and cash awards may be stored on a cashless instrument generated at a cashless instrument generation site, such as cashless sites 751, 752, 753, 754 and 760 that are in communication with the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse server 536.

In another embodiment, a promotion may be stored in an account. For instance, promotional credits may be available on an account accessible to a particular user. In another yet another embodiment, a promotion may be e-mailed to a user. For instance, an electronic file containing a cashless instrument that may be printed out by a user may be sent to an e-mail address of a user. When the cashless instrument is printed out, it may be redeemed for a promotion indicated by the cashless instrument. In a further embodiment, when a mail address is available, a promotion on a cashless instrument may be mailed to a user.

The clearinghouse 536 may be capable of receiving cashless instrument validation requests for a validation of promotional credits, comps, discount coupons and cash awards stored on cashless instruments or stored in user accounts. The promotional credits, the comp, the discount coupon and the cash awards that may be stored on cashless instruments or may be stored in user accounts may be redeemable at a plurality of gaming properties in communication with the clearinghouse 536. The cashless instrument with the stored promotion may be issued at a first gaming property and redeemed at a second gaming property.

In yet another embodiment, the processor may be capable of regulating access to the promotional credits stored on the first cashless instrument or stored in the user account. The promotional credits may be regulated to limit one or more of more of the following: i) a total amount used over a period of time, ii) a total amount used at a particular gaming property, iii) a total amount used at a group of gaming properties, iv) a use of the promotional credits on particular type of gaming machine, v) a use to a particular group of gaming machines, vi) a use of promotional credits only during certain time periods and vii) combinations thereof. The user account used for storing the promotional credits may be maintained at the clearinghouse, on a remote server in communication with the clearinghouse or combinations thereof.

The cashless transaction information and cashless thread information, such as thread properties, may be stored in a transaction database 530 at the clearinghouse. The organization of the database is not limited to structure shown in FIG. 7, which is provided for illustrative purposes only. In the database, an account 771 is shown. The account may be associated with a single user or a group of users. The account 771 is associated with two cashless instruments, 772 and 773. In general, a plurality of cashless instrument may be associated with the account 771. The cashless instruments, 772 and 773, may be utilized by a single user or multiple users. Therefore, an account 771 may be associated with one or more persons.

In FIG. 7, instrument 772, has been used for cashless transactions 761, 762 and 763. These cashless transactions have been related as a cashless thread 763 and associated with the instrument 772. Instrument 773 has been used for cashless transactions 755-758. These cashless transactions have been related as a cashless thread 759. Cashless thread information regarding the threads, 759 and 763, is stored in the database 530 under account 771.

The cashless instruments 772 and 773, may be used to store various instrument resources, 774 and 775, such as but not limited to promotional credits, cashable credits, cash, loyalty/player tracking points and other promotions. The instrument resources, 774 and 775, may be tracked by the clearinghouse server 536. The use of the instrument resources, 774 and 775, may be validated by the clearinghouse server 536.

Account resources 776 may also be associated with the account 771. The account resources 776, like the instrument resources 774, may be promotional credits, cashable credits, cash, loyalty/player tracking points and other promotions. The clearinghouse server may also validate the use of the account resources 776. For instance, the clearinghouse server may receive requests for account resources from the cashless sites, 751-754 and 760. When the requested resources are available and the cashless transaction has been approved, the resources may be transferred to a remote gaming device. Details of resource transfer and validation are described in more detail with respect to FIGS. 11A and 11B.

In one embodiment of the present invention, the clearinghouse server 536 may regulate the use of instrument resources, 774 and 775, stored on a cashless instrument and/or account resources 776 stored in the account 771 according to various criteria. One example of instrument or account resources is promotional credits. A few examples of regulation criteria for instrument or account resources that may be employed with present invention are: i) a total amount used over a period of time, ii) a total amount used at a particular gaming property, iii) a total amount used at a group of gaming properties, iv) a use of the resource on only particular type of gaming machine, v) a use only on a particular group of gaming machines, vi) a use of resources only during certain time periods and vii) combinations thereof.

In addition to validating the use of resources and regulating the use of resources at accounts maintained at the clearinghouse 536, the clearinghouse may validate and regulate the use of resources maintained as accounts on remote gaming device in communication with the clearinghouse 536. For instance, the clearinghouse may be used to validate the withdrawal of resources from a remote account. Further, the clearinghouse may be used to validate the transfer of resources between two accounts. For instance, the clearinghouse may validate/regulate a transfer of resources from an account maintained at the clearinghouse 536 to an account maintained on a remote gaming device. As another example, the clearinghouse may validate/regulate the transfer of resources between two remote accounts. In yet another example, the clearinghouse may be used to validate/regulate the transfer of resources from a first cashless instrument to a second cashless instrument. The validation and regulation processes may include the approval or rejection of a requested resource transfer.

FIG. 8 is a flow chart showing a generation of cashless instrument threads in a cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse server. The figure is used to illustrate the generation of cashless instrument threads at a cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse by applying three different combinations of thread criteria 795. The examples in FIG. 8 are provided for illustrative purposes only and the present invention is not limited to combinations of thread criterion described in the figure.

In FIG. 8, 13 cashless transactions, 755-758, 761, 763, 780-786, are generated at three gaming properties, A, B, C over a 12 day time period. The cashless transactions generated at property A are enclosed with a rectangular and include 755, 758, 761 and 763. The cashless transactions generated at property B are enclosed in an oval and include 756, 761, 763 and 786. The cashless s generated at property C are enclosed in a triangle and include transactions 757, 784 and 785. In one embodiment, these cashless transaction may be generated by a single player although the present invention is not limited to this scenario.

Three different groups of thread criterion 795 are used to generate cashless threads. The first group 796 includes transaction at all properties during time periods, t1 and t2. Time period, t1, comprises a three-day period from Tuesday to Thursday. Time period, t2, comprises 9 day time period from Thursday to a Friday of the next week and overlaps time period t1 by one day. The second group 797 of thread criterion includes cashless transaction generated at property B at all times. The third group 798 of thread criterion include cashless transaction generated at properties A and C during time period t1.

A cashless thread 790 is initially created for the first group 796 of thread criterion when cashless transaction 758 is performed during time period, t1. When the thread is created, the properties of the cashless thread 790 may be compared against promotion theme parameters selected for the thread 790 to determine if an award has been triggered. Some examples of thread properties include but are not limited to i) a total amount spent on game play for the cashless instrument transactions comprising the cashless instrument thread, ii) a total amount spent on food purchases for the cashless instrument transactions comprising the cashless instrument thread, iii) a total amount spent on merchandise purchases for the cashless instrument transactions comprising the cashless instrument thread, iv) a total amount on spent service purchases for the cashless instrument transactions comprising the cashless instrument thread, v) a total amount spent on rental purchases for the cashless instrument transactions comprising the cashless instrument thread and vi) combinations thereof. Some examples of promotion theme parameters may include but are not limited to i) a threshold amount spent on game play, ii) a threshold amount spent on food purchases, iii) a threshold amount spent on merchandise purchases, iv) a threshold amount spent on service purchases, v) a threshold amount spent on rental purchases, vi) a random selection of the cashless instrument thread, vii) a time, viii) a gaming property location, and ix) combinations thereof.

After the cashless thread 790 is created, additional cashless transactions including 761, 763 and 780-786 are related to thread 790 over time using the first group 796 of thread criterion 795. After each cashless transaction is related to the cashless thread 790 using the criterion 796, the properties of the cashless thread may be updated and compared with the promotion theme parameters associated with the cashless thread 790 to determine whether an award has been triggered. In this embodiment, the time periods for thread 790 expire before an award is made based upon the thread properties and the thread 790 is closed. A record of the thread may be stored at the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse.

A cashless thread 791 is initially created for the second group 797 of thread criterion 795 when cashless transaction 756 is generated. After the cashless thread 791 is created, additional cashless transactions including 781, 782 and 783 are related to thread 791 over time using the second group 797 of thread criterion 795. After cashless transaction 783, the properties of the thread 791 are compared with the promotion theme parameters for the thread and an award 796 is indicated. In one embodiment, the thread 791 is closed and no additional awards are made from the thread 791. In another embodiment, the thread 791 may be kept open and additional awards made by made as the properties of the thread 791 change. For instance, the promotional theme parameters may provide for a number of award thresholds that provide for additional awards as the properties of the cashless thread surpass the award thresholds, such as a first award after a first amount of game play has been surpassed and a second award after a second amount of game play has been surpassed where the amount of game play is cumulative.

In yet another embodiment, the cashless transactions used in a thread to generate thread properties may expire. For example, older cashless transactions may be removed from a cashless thread after a period of time has expired. Thus, although the cashless thread remains open, the properties of the thread may change as the older cashless transactions comprising the thread are removed from the thread.

Returning to FIG. 8, after an award 796 is made for thread 791, the thread 791 is closed. When a new cashless transaction, 786, is generated that satisfies the thread criterion 797, a cashless thread 794 is created. A subsequent award for this thread may be made when the properties of the thread 794 satisfy the promotion theme parameters associated with the thread. The promotion theme parameters associated with the thread criterion 795 may change with time. For instance, for the second group 797 of criterion, the promotion theme parameter may be a first threshold amount spent on game play for cashless thread 791 while the promotion theme parameter for the thread 794 may be a second threshold amount spent on game play. In another embodiment, the thread criterion for a cashless thread may change with time. Thus, for instance, for thread 790 after the time periods, t1 and t2, expire, rather than closing the thread 790, a new time period may be specified and the thread may remain open.

A cashless thread 793 is initially created for the third group 798 of thread criterion 795 when cashless transaction 758 is generated. As described with respect to FIG. 7, a single cashless transaction may be included in multiple cashless threads. Thus, in the examples in FIG. 8, cashless transaction 758 satisfies the criterion for the first group 796 and the second group 798 and its generation spawns two threads, 790 and 793. After the cashless thread 793 is created, additional cashless transactions including 761, 763 and 780 are related to thread 793 over time using the third group 798 of thread criterion 795. The thread 793 is closed prior to an award being made.

FIG. 9 is a simplified block diagram of a cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse server 536 connected to cashless systems and other account systems at multiple properties. Two gaming properties, A and B, are shown connected to the clearinghouse server 536 via a network infrastructure 750. The network infrastructure 750 is connected to a local area network (LAN) 904 in gaming property A and local area network 905 in gaming property B. Two gaming machines 903 and 909 are connected to LAN 904 and LAN 905 respectively. Each gaming machine includes a player tracking unit 870 with card reader 824, a network interface 853, a display 834 for displaying at least a game of chance, a printer 818, a bill validator 830, a master gaming controller 834 and a biometric interface 871.

The clearinghouse server 536 may be used to approve or reject a transfer of resources stored on a cashless instrument or in an account to another cashless instrument, a gaming device or another account. The resources may include any item of value stored on the cashless instrument, the gaming device or account. Examples of resources may include but are not limited to an indicia of credit, promotional credits, coupons and comps. In addition, the clearinghouse server 536 may be used to approve or reject the transfer of information regarding resources stored in an account or on a cashless instrument, such as but not limited an account status or cashless instrument status or balance. For the purposes of illustrations, a few examples of this aspect of the clearinghouse are described as follows. Further details are provided with respect to FIGS. 11A and 11B.

In one embodiment, the clearinghouse may be used to validate requests for the transfer resources i) stored on a cashless instrument or a gaming device, such as gaming machines, 903 and 909, to a local account, a remote account or a clearinghouse account maintained at the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse (See FIG. 7), ii) stored in a local account, a remote account or a clearinghouse account to a gaming device or a cashless instrument or iii) between accounts. In particular embodiments, a transfer of a resource that is stored in an account or on a cashless instrument that is validated by the clearinghouse server may be used to enable i) a wager on a table game, ii) a play of a keno game, iii) a play of a bingo game, iv) a wager on a sporting event, v) a wager on a game of chance played on a gaming device located in a hotel room, vi) a wager on a game of chance on a gaming machine, vii) a food purchase, viii) a service purchase, ix) a merchandise purchase, x) an entertainment event purchase, xi) a rental purchase and xii) combinations thereof.

One scenario where a validation of a resource transfer request may occur is after game play on a gaming machine. During game play, the gaming machine may have awarded credits, promotional credits, comps/prizes, loyalty programs points. A player entitled to the accumulated credits, promotional credits prizes, loyalty program points may wish to transfer them to an account accessible to the player. Some examples of accounts which may be accessible to the player include but are not limited a bank account, a credit card account, a debit card account, a casino account, a loyalty program account and a clearinghouse account. The player may provide information at the gaming device, such as a gaming machines, 903 and 909, to verify their identity and verify their account access or at a kiosk. For instance, the player may provide an account number and user identification information, such as PIN number, password or biometric information to verify their identity and/or account access. Also, some of this information, such as an account number or biometric information, may be stored on a cashless instrument utilized by the player. Then, a transfer validation request may be sent from the gaming device to the clearinghouse server 536 requesting an approval or rejection of the transfer of resources from the gaming device to the account.

Account and user information required by the server 536 may be sent in transfer validation request. The server 536 then may send a reply that approves the transfer with information needed to complete the transfer or may send a reply with a rejection of the transfer. For instance, the server may supply security information needed to complete the transaction. Details of security methods that may be used with the present invention are provided in co-pending U.S. application Ser. No. 09/993,163 entitled “AN AWARD TICKET CLEARINGHOUSE”, filed Nov. 16, 2001, which is incorporated herein in its entirety and for all purposes.

The approval of the transfer may enable a peer-to-peer transfer of the resource. For instance, the gaming machine 903 or 909 may be able to communicate with a remote device hosted the target account and perform the transfer transaction. In another embodiment, the clearinghouse server 536 may serve as intermediary in the transaction. First, the resources may be sent from the gaming device to the clearinghouse server 536 and then the clearinghouse server may arrange the transfer of resources from the server 536 to the target account. For example, promotional credits awarded on gaming machine 903 may be first transferred to the clearinghouse 536 and then may be transferred to a remote account 900. The router 532 in the clearinghouse server 536 or another memory device accessible to the server may contain routing information that allows the server to contact a gaming device hosting the target account, such as a gaming device located at a remote gaming property.

In another embodiment, the clearinghouse server 536 may be used to approve or reject a transfer of resources from a local or remote account to a gaming device or a cashless instrument. For example, a player playing the gaming machine 903 may desire to transfer credits from a local account on account server 907 at gaming property B to gaming machine 903 or from an account at the clearinghouse to the gaming machine. A validation request to clearinghouse server 536 may be used to approve or reject this cashless transaction. In the present invention, cashless transactions may include the validation of cashless instruments as well as the validation of resource transfers.

In yet another embodiment, the clearinghouse may be designed or configured to accept or reject cashless transactions based upon resource regulation criterion. The resource may be an instrument resource stored on a cashless instrument or an account resource stored in an account. Access to a resource stored in an account or a cashless instrument may be regulated according to: i) a total amount of the resource used over a period of time, ii) a total amount of the resource used at a particular gaming property, iii) a total amount of the resource used at a group of gaming properties, and iv) combinations thereof. The clearinghouse server may or may not distinguish between account and instrument resources. For instance, a total amount of the resource used over time may include resources from cashless instrument and accounts, such as a total cash amount spent from these sources or it may include a total amount of the resource spent from a regulated account.

In FIG. 7, it was described that the information used to generate a cashless thread may be obtained from many sources such as a player tracking server. For example, in 903, after a cashless instrument is validated by the clearinghouse server 536, a player may begin a game play session on gaming machine 903. Prior to beginning the game play session, a player may also initiate a player tracking session at the gaming machine. In one embodiment, information obtained from the player tracking session, such as but not limited to an amount spent on game play and/or identification information for the user may be sent to the clearinghouse server by the gaming machine 903, the player tracking unit 870 or the play tracking server 901. This information may be associated with the cashless transaction validated by the clearinghouse server 536 or a player account maintained by the clearinghouse server. The information may be used to generate cashless threads.

In one embodiment, after a cashless instrument is validated on a gaming machine, such as 903 or 909, the clearinghouse server 536 may be able to contact a player tracking account server, such as 901 or 906, to request additional information about the player if an approved cashless instrument validation request has been in the context of a player tracking session on the gaming machine. In response to the request, the player tracking server may send additional information to the clearinghouse such as what portion of credits deposited to a gaming machine from a cashless instrument were used for game play.

The clearinghouse server 536 may also be able to communicate with other devices that record transactions made by a player. For instance, the clearinghouse server(or servers) 536 may be able to communicate with a hotel registration system that contains transaction information regarding lodging or food purchases made by a player. The clearinghouse server 536 may initiate contact with the remote device such as a hotel registration system or the remote device may initiate contact with the clearinghouse server 536.

FIG. 10 is a flow chart of a method for providing a promotion using the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse for one embodiment of the present invention. In 1000, the transaction clearinghouse receives a request for a transaction validation. The transaction validation request may be for a cashless instrument previously generated at a gaming property in communication with the award clearinghouse. In 1025, the award clearinghouse may parse the validation request for transactional information that may be used to relate cashless transaction to other cashless transactions stored at the clearinghouse. Examples of transactional information include but are not limited to a gaming property location, a time and user identification information.

In 1029, the clearinghouse may compare the transactional information with thread criterion. In 1031, when none of conditions defined by the checked thread criterion are satisfied, the processor may continue to process the transaction. In 1031, when one or more conditions of a thread criterion are satisfied, then in 1033, the processor may check to determine if a cashless thread corresponding to the criterion has previously been generated. In 1035, when a cashless thread satisfying the thread criterion does not exist, then the processor may generate a cashless transaction thread, generate its initial properties and store the thread. The storage process may involve generating a file that points to transaction in the transaction database.

In 1033, when a cashless thread that satisfies the criterion has been previously created and is still active, then in 1039, the existing cashless thread may be updated with the transaction information from the cashless transaction. The update process may include but is not limited to generating updating properties for the cashless thread and updating a file that points to transactions stored in the transaction database that are related by the cashless thread. The file may also be used to store the cashless thread properties. The updated file may be stored in a memory device used by the server. As described with respect to FIGS. 7 and 8, a single cashless transaction may be used in multiple cashless threads if thread criterion for the threads overlap. Thus, steps 1031, 1033, 1035 and 1039 may be repeated multiple times as the processor compares the transaction information to a plurality of different thread criterion.

In 1037, the promotion theme parameters for the cashless thread are compared with the thread properties. The thread properties and promotion theme parameters may vary from thread to thread and as a function of time. In 1041, in one embodiment, when the theme parameters are satisfied, promotion information may be appended to a transaction approval. The promotion information may be utilized to generate a cashless instrument storing the promotion. The promotion may be one of promotional credits, normal credits, a comp, a discount coupon, merchandise, a service, a cash award and combinations thereof. In another embodiment, when user information is available, the promotion information may be transferred to a user account and the player may receive a message notifying them of their promotion. The message may be sent to a player's e-mail account, mailing address, cell phone or to the gaming device where a cashless transaction is being generated. In yet another embodiment, the promotion may be credited to a gaming device where the cashless transaction is being carried out. For instance, when a validation is taking place at a cashier station, the cashier station may be notified of the promotion and the cashier may be able to issue a cashless instrument with the promotion.

As another example, when the cashless transaction is being carried out at a gaming machine, the gaming machine may be directly credited with promotional or normal credits that a user may use for game play. The gaming machine may display a message indicating that the player has won the promotional credits. If the player does not wish to use the promotional credits or normal credits, the gaming machine may be able to generate a cashless instrument storing the promotional or normal game play credits. Using the clearinghouse, the promotional credits or normal credits may be validated at a plurality of different gaming properties, only at certain properties or only at certain groups of properties.

In 1043, the processor may determine whether the thread is still valid, the thread may be no longer valid because an award was made or conditions described in the thread criterion such as a time period may no longer be valid. In 1047, when the thread is no longer valid, in one embodiment, the thread may be removed. The thread may be removed if an award was made for the thread but this action is optional. In another embodiment, the thread may be marked as inactive. The thread may later be activated if the thread criteria are changed for the thread. In 1049, the processor may check for additional thread criterion, if additional thread criteria are present, the method returns to 1029. Thus, in some cases, multiple promotions may be triggered by a single cashless transaction.

FIGS. 11A and 11B are flow charts of a method for transferring and regulating resources using the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse. In 1150, a cashless transaction involving one or more accounts is received by the clearinghouse. In 1152, access authority for the account is confirmed. The access authority may be checked by the clearinghouse or at a gaming device. For instance, a user may enter a PIN number that grants access to an account at a gaming device. The gaming device may then send confirmation to the clearinghouse that PIN number associated with the account is correct. In another embodiment, the PIN number and account information may be sent to the clearinghouse which then performs the validation. In 1153, access to one or more accounts may be approved or may be rejected. An access to multiple accounts may be required when an account to account transfer is requested.

In 1153, when access to the one or more accounts is approved, the clearinghouse may determine if one the accounts are local accounts maintained at the clearinghouse. In 1155, when the account is a local account, the clearinghouse may locate the account record. In 1156, the clearinghouse may check whether the request is for information. In 1157, when the request is for information, the clearinghouse may parse the account record for the requested information. In 1162, the clearinghouse may determine whether the requested information is available. In 1163, when the information is available, the clearinghouse may generate a reply message with the requested information and send the reply to the requestor of the information. When the information is not available, in 1151, a non-acknowledgement (NACK) message may be generated indicating the information is not available.

In 1169, when the account transaction is not an information request, the clearinghouse may check if the transaction is a resource request. When, the transaction is not a resource request, the clearinghouse may send a NACK message indicating the request can't be processed. In this example, the clearinghouse handles transactions involving information requests and resource requests, other requests such as resource transfers may also be requested. Thus, in general, the clearinghouse may determine what type of transaction is being requested and if it is not one of the transactions available at the clearinghouse it may be rejected.

When a resource is requested, in 1158, the resource availability may be checked as well as account limits for resource access. For instance, the request may be for an amount of cash that is greater than what is stored in the account. In 1160, when the resource is not available or a resource limit has been exceeded, a NACK message may be sent in 1151.

In 1164, when the resource is available and account limits or other regulation requirements have not been exceeded, a reply message may be generated approving the transaction and the transaction may be marked pending. The clearinghouse may then wait for the transaction to be acknowledged. When the transaction is not acknowledged in 1165, in 1167 an incomplete a record of the incomplete transaction may be generated and stored at the clearinghouse. When the transaction is acknowledged, the transaction may be marked complete, the account may be updated to reflect the transfer of resources and a transaction record may be stored.

Turning to FIG. 11B, in 1154, when the account in the transaction is remote to the clearinghouse, in 1168, the clearinghouse may determine the location of the foreign account. Then, the clearinghouse may generate and send a message indicating what is requested (e.g., information, a transfer of resource to or from the remote account) to the foreign account owner. Then, the clearinghouse may wait for a reply from the foreign account owner. When a reply is not received in 1169, a NACK message may be sent to requestor of the transaction rejecting the transaction.

When a reply is received, in 1170, the reply message is parsed to determine whether the requested information, resources or type of transaction is available. When the transaction can't be completed a NACK may be sent in 1151. In 1171, the clearinghouse may determine if the transaction is an information request. When the request is an information request, in 1172, the clearinghouse may generate and send a reply message to the requestor with the requested information. For instance, when the requested information was an account balance, this information may be sent in a reply to the requester.

When the request is a resource request, in 1173, the clearinghouse may check for related transactions. For example, if an identity of a user is associated with the account, the clearinghouse may check for other transaction by the user over some time period. In 1174, the clearinghouse may check transaction limits that may be regulated by the clearinghouse. For instance, in one embodiment, a user may have access limited to a certain amount of funds over a period of time from one or more accounts available to the user, such as a limit of $1000 dollars per day.

When the transaction limits are exceed in 1175, then a NACK may be sent in 1151 for the transaction and the transaction may not be completed. When the transaction limits are not exceeded in 1175, in 1176, a reply message may be generated approving the transaction and a record of the transaction may be generated with the transaction marked pending. In 1177, when the transaction is acknowledge, the clearinghouse may mark the transaction complete, store a transaction record and arrange for an EFT to account for the resource transferred from the foreign account to the requestor. In another embodiment, the clearinghouse may send a message to the foreign account owner to acknowledge that the resources have been transferred and the foreign account owner may update the account. In 1178, when the transaction is not acknowledged, a NACK to the foreign account owner may be sent to indicate that the transaction was not completed.

FIG. 12 shows a system for directing future player activity, constructed according to one embodiment of the present invention. FIG. 12 shows several components described above, including a clearinghouse server 536, a first gaming venue located at a property 5, and a second gaming venue, such as a casino, located at property 504, all in communication with the clearinghouse server 536 over a gaming network 520 or other suitable data network.

FIG. 12 shows that the clearinghouse server 536 can be in communication with various cashless servers and other data processing apparatus in various areas or venues. For instance, in addition to the hotel or airport at property 5, and the casino at property 504, the clearinghouse server 536 is in communication with data processing apparatus at a sports betting area 1205, data processing apparatus at a lottery venue 1210, and further data processing apparatus at a bingo area or venue 1215. While areas or venues 1205, 1210 and 1215 are illustrated in FIG. 12 as separate locations, these betting areas 1205-1215 can be in various locations. For instance, in one embodiment, one or more of betting areas 1205-1215 are situated at a single gaming facility, such as a casino. In another embodiment, the betting areas 1205-1215 are located at remote gaming facilities, with respect to one another. Regardless of the particular geographical locations and proximities of betting areas 1205-1215 to one another, clearinghouse server 536 is operatively coupled to data processing apparatus within the various betting areas 5, 504, 1205, 1210, and 1215 by virtue of gaming network 520.

In FIG. 12, the system 1200 further includes a storage medium 1220 such as a database in which defined scenarios for player gaming activity can be stored. These defined scenarios are explained in further detail below with reference to FIGS. 14 and 15.

In FIG. 12, sports betting area 1205 includes a cashless server and data acquisition system 1225 which is similar in construction and operation to cashless server and data acquisition systems 500 and 510, as described above with reference to FIG. 5. However, in sports betting area 1205, cashless server 1225 is specifically configured to gather and relay sports betting information. To this end, cashless server 1225 is coupled to a parimutuel betting server 1230 which manages and stores parimutuel betting information at sports betting area 1205. In one embodiment, for instance, an agent 1235 interacts with parimutuel betting server 1230 to process sports bets received from patrons at sports betting area 1205. Also, parimutuel betting server 1230 can be coupled to an electronic betting terminal machine 1240 configured to receive and place electronic bets directly from patrons. Cashless server and data acquisition system 1225 is capable of retrieving various information from the sports betting patrons at sports betting area 1205, including player identification information, player loyalty information, betting information such as amounts wagered and outcomes of sports events, and other information. Cashless server and data acquisition system 1225 is operatively coupled to provide such information to clearinghouse server 536 over data network 520.

In FIG. 12, clearinghouse server 536 can be situated in various locations. For instance, in one embodiment, the clearinghouse server 536 is located in a back office of a hotel or casino, or other suitable gaming venue. In this embodiment, one or more of gaming areas, 5,504, 1205, 1210 and 1215 may be located in the same gaming venue as clearinghouse server 536. In another embodiment, clearinghouse server 136 is remotely located with respect to one or more of gaming areas 5, 504, 1205, 1210, and 1215, for instance, in an office of a separate gaming facility.

In FIG. 12, lottery area 1210 is provided to distribute lottery tickets to patrons at the lottery area 1210. A lottery server 1245 is provided to implement lottery ticket distribution and information gathering from patrons. As with the other gaming areas 5, 504, and 1205, lottery area 1210 includes a cashless server and data acquisition system 1250 configured to gather lottery information such as the distributed lottery tickets, and other player information such as player identification information, from lottery server 1245. In lottery area 1210, cashless server and data acquisition system 1255 is operatively coupled to clearinghouse server 536 over data network 520.

In FIG. 12, the various gaming areas or venues further include a bingo area 1215 enabling players to play bingo or pull-tab games. To this end, a pull-tab and bingo server 1260 is configured to implement bingo and pull-tab games for players in bingo area 1215. Similarly, bingo area 1215 includes a cashless server and data acquisition system 1265 coupled between pull-tab and bingo server 1260 and clearinghouse server 536. Cashless server and data acquisition system 1265 provides similar function to systems 1225 and 1255, described above.

FIG. 13 shows a flow diagram of a method 1300 for monitoring player activity and updating player information, performed in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention. As described herein, the clearinghouse server 536 operates by monitoring player activity at any and all of the various gaming areas 5, 504, 1205, 1210 and 1215, as shown in FIG. 12. As players make wagers at the various betting areas, information identifying the player and the particular wager activity is gathered at the various cashless server and data acquisition systems, and provided to clearinghouse server 536. In one preferred embodiment, such information is gathered on a transaction-by-transaction basis. That is, as each wager is made, an outcome is received. In another embodiment, a set of wagers and outcomes defines a transaction. This transaction information, when complete, is communicated to the clearinghouse server 536 and associated with the player identification information identifying that particular player. Thus, as such data is gathered over time, the data can be used by the gaming venue to achieve business objectives, described below.

In FIG. 13, the method begins in step 1305 in which player data is gathered from the various venues. As mentioned above, such player data includes player identification information, for instance, gathered from the player at the gaming area when the player inserts or swipes a player tracking card. In addition, such player data includes betting information, including amounts wagered, outcomes generated and received by the player, lottery tickets, pull-tabs, bingo game plays, sports bets, slot play, table game play, and other information.

In FIG. 13, in one embodiment, as the individual transactions representing player activity are gathered from the various gaming areas, this information is gathered and combined at clearinghouse server 536, in step 1305. In one embodiment, combining the various transactions and other gaming information for a particular player includes applying weights to game play information according to the particular gaming areas from which the information is received, in step 1310. In this way, for example, gaming areas in which the activity is more important to the gaming venue operator can be given higher priority in later calculations for making business judgments and decisions for future marketing and other activity.

In FIG. 13, the weighted gaming data is then combined in step 1315 according to a business calculation determined by the casino operator. For instance, such a business calculation can be structured to monitor a particular player's activity in one or more venues, and reward that player based on that activity. As explained in greater detail below, the particular awards can be defined and structured to influence future activity on the part of that player, according to business goals of the gaming venue operator.

In FIG. 13, in step 1320, when the various gaming data received from the various gaming areas is weighted and combined according to some business logic, player information can then be calculated for the particular player with which the gaming data is associated. Such player information can be stored by the clearinghouse server 536 for reference in processing and determining awards for that player. The usage of player information calculated in step 1320 is further described with respect to FIGS. 14 and 15 below.

In FIG. 13, those skilled in the art should appreciate that the method 1300 generally operates independent of other methods described herein. That is, method 1300 is performed periodically or as desired by a casino operator to gather gaming information for a particular player as such information is received. The combination of that data and calculations based on the gaming data can be performed on a transaction by transaction basis or, alternatively, responsive to some external event, or periodically as desired by the casino operator. Those skilled in the art will appreciate that such implementations are all within the spirit and scope of the present invention.

FIG. 14 shows a method 1400 of directing future player activity, performed in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention. The method 1400 begins in step 1405 in which the casino operator defines business objectives, i.e. goals, and preferences for future player activity. Such casino goals can be defined at a global level, for instance, when the casino determines that certain games or betting areas have more player activity. In another example, the casino operator may decide that certain gaming areas are already showing popularity with the casino patrons and, therefore, the casino may desire to encourage other players to play games at those areas. The casino goals can be defined at various sub-levels, including for example, according to demographics of the players. At an even more refined level, casino goals can be defined for individual players.

There are limitless examples to illustrate casino goals. For instance, at a demographics level, the casino may identify 20 to 40 year old males as a group that particularly enjoys sports betting. Thus, the casino can structure awards and promotions to encourage future sports betting by individual players who fit in the 20-40 year male age group. In another example, at the player level, the casino can identify an individual player as one who spends a certain proportion of wagers on a theme-based game, such as jewelry. In this implementation, the casino operator is associated with a jewelry store owner, and therefore, structures an award or reward program to encourage that player to shop at the jewelry store.

Casinos goals can be of a wide variety, including, encouraging the play of particular slot or table games, particular types of slot or table games, individual games such as little green men, particular themes of games such as jewelry, movies, sports themes, and other popular themes of games in casinos. In addition, goals can include future game play at particular gaming areas, such as those shown in FIG. 12, and activity at particular gaming venues at which future player participation is desired. In addition, casino goals can be non-gaming related. For instance, the casino may be jointly owned with a shopping store or center, a theme park, a hotel, and other businesses. The casino goals can include encouraging future player spending and participation in these other business ventures. Thus, in one example, coupons or other promotions redeemable by such other businesses can be provided to players responsive to certain game transactions.

In FIG. 14, following step 1405, the method 1400 proceeds to step 1410 in which gaming activity scenarios and outcomes for those scenarios are defined based on the casino goals. In one embodiment, scenarios are defined at the level desired for the casino operator, that is, at a global level, within certain demographics, within other various groupings of players, or for particular players. For instance, a scenario may include the occurrence of one or more events associated with a particular player. That is, if events A, B, and C occur with respect to a player, then the player can be categorized in that scenario. In this way, the method 1400 has a predictive capability for not only identifying the past activity of a player, but also predicting future actions or desired actions for that player based on the defined scenario.

In FIG. 15, a conceptual diagram 1500 of defined scenarios based on various events, is shown, according to one embodiment of the present invention. Those skilled in the art should appreciate that the various events can be structured and grouped as desired according to the casino goals and preferences determined in step 1405 of FIG. 14. In the conceptual diagram 1500 of FIG. 15, in one example, a scenario, “Scenario 1” is defined as including events A, B, D, and E. As shown, “Scenario 2” is defined to include events B, C, E and F. “Scenario 3” is defined to include only events B and E.

In FIG. 15, the events can be structured and defined in any of various ways, as desired by the casino operator. For instance, a particular event can include the categorization of a particular player in a certain demographic, the location of the player at a particular gaming area or venue, particular games played, wagers placed, outcomes of games played, comparative game play information between gaming areas and venues, and even non-gaming events such as past receipt and redemption of coupons, promotions, and other activities identifiable for a particular player. Thus, for example, in Scenario 1, a combination of events A, B, D and E trigger a business judgment or decision that it is desirable for a player categorized in that scenario to engage in a certain activity. For instance, event A indicates that a player falls in the age group of 20-80 year old women. Event B indicates that the player has waged above a certain threshold of wagers on sports betting. Event D indicates that the player has played jewelry-themed slot machines, and event E indicates that the player frequently stays a particular hotel. In this case, rewards and awards can be structured as desired by the casino operator to encourage the player to take some further action, for instance, shop at a jewelry store located in a particular airport adjacent to a sports-themed store. In another example, the events are defined with particular respect to game play activity and milestones occurring over time at one or more gaming areas, as shown in FIG. 12.

In FIG. 15, the casino operator can define the various events at his or her discretion, as well as the particular scenarios encompassing one or more of those events. In determining which events are to be monitored and grouped into the defined scenarios, the casino operator can derive such information from player profiles, historical data associated with various players, player “net worth,” and other unrelated player information determined according to specific business objectives of the casino operator. For example, one instance in which player activity patterns are the basis for defining events and scenarios, in FIG. 15, player activity patterns at the various gaming venues or at other areas can be studied and developed over time to define the scenarios. That is, certain events which are identified as key to player decisions and activity can be identified as events to monitor. In addition, the past effect of rewards, described in greater detail below, can also form a basis for the monitoring of particular events A-F. By monitoring such information, the casino operator is able to extrapolate events and scenarios to apply to other players for future reference.

In FIG. 15, by defining various scenarios, the casino operator is able to predict the probabilities of player actions in the future in view of past collected information and data. In this way, the casino can structure its award program to achieve and maximize its goals, defined in step 1405.

Returning to FIG. 14, in step 1415, when a player engages in some activity at one or more of the areas, for example, as shown in system 1200, the player is identified and information is gathered for that player. For instance, when the player inserts a player tracking card into a card reader at any of the various gaming areas shown in FIG. 12, or otherwise identifies the player, the player I.D. information is gathered and provided to clearinghouse server 536. In addition, other related information that is available is desirably retrieved. Such related player information can include player profile information, for instance, stored at a storage medium accessible by clearinghouse server 536, historical data for that player including identification of particular gaming areas frequented by that player, particular games played, wagers placed, outcomes of game play, and even individual transactions including a history of particular wagers and rewards placed at the various gaming areas. From such information, the casino can also calculate or maintain over time a player “net worth” which quantifies a summary of the value of that player to the casino operator in terms of past gaming activity. That is, the player net worth indicates to the casino the amount of money spent on the various gaming activities, and can be used to predict the future value of that player to the casino according to the past activity.

In FIG. 14, following step 1415, the method 1400 proceeds to step 1420, in which the player information identified and retrieved in step 1415 is compared with the scenarios defined in step 1410, as illustrated in FIG. 15. That is, it can be determined, based on the identified and retrieved player information, which particular events have occurred for that player. Accordingly, the player can then be classified in one or more of the scenarios accordingly. In certain instances, in which the player's activity can not be classified in any of the scenarios, the method stops until the player engages in a later activity-triggering step 1415, at which point, the player information has likely been updated, and may at that later time be classifiable in one or more of the predefined scenarios. In one embodiment, scenarios are developed and modified in real time as players engage in certain activities.

In FIG. 14, in step 1420, when one or more of the scenarios are identified, the method proceeds to step 1430, in which specific awards are issued to the player according to the defined scenarios. That is, in one embodiment, the outcome of a particular scenario is the identification of particular awards to be issued to the player to direct the player to engage in certain activity based on that scenario into which the player is classified. The awards provided and issued in step 1430 can be of various form, including loyalty points, promotions, and any other input, for instance, marketing-related actions provided on behalf of the casino operator. Promotions can include free game play, coupons at casinos, hotels, airports, vendors, and any other business affiliated with the casino operator, and even coupons mailed or electronically mailed to the player at a later date. Such awards, as mentioned above, are desirably structured to direct future activity of the player according to the scenario into which the player was classified in step 1420. When implemented, as mentioned above, the casino operator desirably monitors not only the issuance of such promotions but also the redemption of such promotions to monitor the effectiveness of those awards in directing future player activity. In this way, over time, the awards can be modified and restructured, as desired, in addition to the restructuring of the scenarios and events, as mentioned above, so as to maximize the effectiveness and profitability of the methods described herein.

While the invention has been particularly shown and described with reference to specific embodiments thereof, it will be understood by those skilled in the art that changes in the form and details of the disclosed embodiments may be made without departing from the spirit or scope of the invention. For instance, the gaming network may be connected to other devices including other servers or gaming devices over the Internet or through other wired and wireless systems. Moreover, embodiments of the present invention may be employed with a variety of network protocols and architectures. Thus, the examples described herein are not intended to be limiting of the present invention. It is therefore intended that the appended claims will be interpreted to include all variations, equivalents, changes and modifications that fall within the true spirit and scope of the present invention.

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Classifications
U.S. Classification463/16
International ClassificationA63F9/24
Cooperative ClassificationG07F17/3237, G07F17/32, G07F17/3255
European ClassificationG07F17/32E6D, G07F17/32K10, G07F17/32
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Oct 20, 2006ASAssignment
Owner name: IGT, NEVADA
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:ROWE, RICHARD;SCHNEIDER, RICHARD J.;REEL/FRAME:018452/0011;SIGNING DATES FROM 20060929 TO 20061013