Title:
Player communication options in a gaming machine
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A plurality of electronic gaming machines (EGMS) are connected within a network. Each gaming machine is provided with a communication system that allows the player to communicate any information to another player or to a casino representative. The player, while at the gaming machine, selects a communication option via a touch screen monitor and then enters a command or message via a keyboard or buttons. The communications network routes the player's message to a particular receiver address stored in a memory. The player may also communicate verbally using a microphone built into the gaming machine.



Inventors:
Gauselmann, Michael (Espelkamp, DE)
Application Number:
11/252429
Publication Date:
04/19/2007
Filing Date:
10/17/2005
Assignee:
Atronic International GmbH
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
463/16
International Classes:
A63F9/24
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
DEODHAR, OMKAR A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
PATENT LAW GROUP LLP (2635 NORTH FIRST STREET, SUITE 223, SAN JOSE, CA, 95134, US)
Claims:
1. 1-6. (canceled)

7. The method of claim 25 wherein the information comprises a voice communication from the first player to the second player via a microphone in the first gaming machine.

8. The method of claim 25 further comprising receiving by the first gaming machine a response from the second player entering a response into the second gaming machine.

9. A method performed by at least one of a plurality of gaming machines connected to a network comprising: displaying to a player, playing a first gaming machine, communication options for allowing the player to select one of a plurality of communication options for communicating personal information to a second person via the network, the communications options including ordering personal services, providing player comments to casino personnel about the game played on the gaming machine, and communications with another current player playing a second gaming machine; receiving, by the first gaming machine, the player's personal information to be transmitted to the second person, the personal information being entered by the player; and transmitting, by the first gaming machine, the personal information to the second person.

10. The method of claim 9 wherein the step of receiving comprises receiving via a touch screen input by the player the player's personal information to be transmitted to the second person.

11. The method of claim 10 wherein the touch screen input comprises a keyboard icon wherein the player touches keys to enter the personal information.

12. The method of claim 9 further comprising receiving from the player the identity of a particular second person to be transmitted the persona information.

13. The method of claim 11 wherein, in response to the player identifying a particular second person, an address of a second gaming machine is generated associated with that particular second person, and the first gaming machine transmits the personal information to the second gaming machine.

14. The method of claim 9 wherein the personal information is a request for a particular service.

15. The method of claim 9 wherein the particular service comprises reservations for an event.

16. The method of claim 9 wherein the personal information comprises a message for delivery to the second person.

17. The method of claim 9 wherein the personal information comprises a voice communication from the player to the second person via a microphone in the first gaming machine.

18. The method of claim 9 wherein transmitting the personal information to the second person comprises placing a telephone call to the second person.

19. The method of claim 9 further comprising paying for a communication option using credits stored in the first gaming machine.

20. The method of claim 9 further comprising receiving by the first gaming machine a response by the second person.

21. The method of claim 9 further comprising receiving by the first gaming machine a request by the player to be matched with another person.

22. The method of claim 21 further comprising automatically matching the player to another person based on criteria entered by the player.

23. The method of claim 22 wherein transmitting, by the first gaming machine, the personal information to the second person comprises transmitting personal information from the player to a person matched to the player based on criteria entered by the player.

24. A gaming machine for connection to a network comprising: a display for displaying a game of chance to a first player of a first gaming machine, wherein the first gaming machine is connected to a network; a processing system for carrying out the following method: displaying to the first player, playing the first gaming machine, communication options for allowing the first player to communicate personal information to an unknown second player via the network; receiving by the first gaming machine a request by the first player to be matched with an unknown second player; receiving by the first gaming machine personal information from the first player for being matched with personal information from the second player; automatically matching the first player to the second player based on criteria entered by the player; and identifying to the first player an identity of a gaming machine played by the second player who was matched with the first player.

25. A method performed by a gaming system including at least one of a plurality of gaming machines connected to a network comprising: displaying to a first player, playing a first gaming machine, communication options for allowing the first player to communicate personal information to an unknown second player via the network; receiving by the first gaming machine a request by the first player to be matched with an unknown second player, receiving by the first gaming machine personal information from the first player for being matched with personal information from the second player; automatically matching the first player to the second player based on criteria entered by the player; and identifying to the first player an identity of a gaming machine played by the second player who was matched with the first player.

26. The method of claim 25 wherein automatically matching the first player to the second player based on criteria entered by the player is for the purpose of dating.

27. The method of claim 25 wherein automatically matching the first player to the second player based on criteria entered by the player is for the purpose of participation in an event.

28. The method of claim 25 further comprising providing messaging between the first player and the second player after being matched.

29. The method of claim 25 further comprising providing voice communication between the gaming machines played by the first player and the second player after being matched.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates to gaming machines and, in particular, to a technique for allowing a player to communicate with others while at a gaming machine.

BACKGROUND

Present gaming machines do not enable the player to communicate with others via the gaming machine. If the player wants a service, such as a drink or reservations for dinner or a show, the player must leave the machine to place an order and pay for the service in a conventional manner. Although a “service” button may be incorporated in a gaming machine that simply illuminates a lamp to attract an attendant, there is still no electronic means for communicating the particular desire by the player. If the player wishes to find and communicate with another person playing at another gaming machine, such as a friend, the player must also leave the machine.

SUMMARY

Described herein is a system for interconnected electronic gaming machines (EGMs) that enables a player to communicate with various entities, such as friends, the casino services, and even entities outside the casino, without leaving the gaming machine.

Many modem electronic gaming machines (EGMs) include a communications board that communicates operational information from the gaming machine to a central server run by the casino. In this way, all the data from the gaming machines is retrievable from a central location rather than requiring a casino attendant to physically go to each of the gaming machines to obtain the information. Applicant's invention modifies the communication system to allow for personal communications by the player.

Applicant's invention enables the player, while at a gaming machine, to select a communication option via a touch screen monitor and then enter a command or message via a keyboard or buttons. Communication options may include particular requests for services or communication with a particular person playing another gaming machine. The communications network routes the player's message to a particular receiver programmed into a memory. The player may also communicate verbally using a microphone built into the gaming machine. The player may enter a name of a person (previously electronically registered) or a gaming machine number as a message recipient, and if that intended recipient is currently playing a machine, a two-way communications channel is set up between the two players, similar to e-mail. Alternatively, the two players may communicate verbally over the network using speakers and microphones built into the EGMs.

In another embodiment, the gaming machine may offer such services as matching of players with common interests, conveying other information, or transferring credits to other gaming machines. The matched players may communicate with each other via the gaming machines.

In one embodiment, the player may even pay for the service with credits from the gaming machine or using the money slot already incorporated into the machine. Additional embodiments are described.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 illustrates one type of EGM that can receive and transmit information via a communications link.

FIG. 2 is a block diagram of various functional blocks in the EGM of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a simplified block diagram of one type of network for communicating with a plurality of EGMs.

FIG. 4 is flowchart of a method to allow the player to select a communication option and enter a command or message, as well as pay for the service using credits in the machine.

FIG. 5 is a sample menu offering a selection of possible communication options.

FIG. 6 is a sample screen as a result of the player choosing the “Player-to-Player Messaging” option in FIG. 5.

FIG. 7 is a sample screen as a result of the player choosing the “Order Service” option in FIG. 5.

FIG. 8 is a sample screen as a result of the player choosing the “Order Shows, Dinner, or Other Events” option in FIG. 5.

FIGS. 9A, 9B, and 9C are sample screens used in the player-matching service.

FIG. 10 is a sample screen used for transferring credits to another gaming machine.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The invention is primarily software related, and numerous hardware implementations are possible in conjunction with the invention. One particular gaming machine platform and network will be described as an example.

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a gaming machine 10 that can be used in the present invention. Machine 10 includes a display 12 that may be a thin film transistor (TFT) display, a liquid crystal display (LCD), a cathode ray tube (CRT), or any other type of display. A second display 14 provides game data or other information in addition to display 12. Display 14 may provide static information, such as an advertisement for the game, the rules of the game, pay tables, paylines, or other information, or may even display the game itself along with display 12. Alternatively, the area for display 14 may be a display glass for conveying information about the game. Either or both of the displays may be a touch screen that allows the player to make selections by touching a virtual button on the screen.

A coin slot 22 accepts coins or tokens in one or more denominations to generate credits within machine 10 for playing games. An input slot 24 for an optical reader and printer receives machine readable printed tickets and outputs printed tickets for use in cashless gaming. A bill acceptor 26 accepts various denominations of banknotes. Bill acceptor 26 may also be programmed to accept printed tickets.

A coin tray 32 receives coins or tokens from a hopper upon a win or upon the player cashing out.

A card reader slot 34 accepts any of various types of cards, such as smart cards, magnetic strip cards, or other types of cards conveying machine readable information. The card reader reads the inserted card for player and credit information for cashless gaming. One type of card is commonly called a player tracking card, and identifies the player individually in the casino's central server and allows the casino to track the player's betting practices. The casino may even provide an account for the player so the player can deposit credits to the account and withdraw credits from the account while at the gamine machine. The card reader may also include an optical reader and printer for reading and printing coded barcodes and other information on a paper ticket.

A keypad 36 accepts player input, such as a personal identification number (PIN) or any other player information. A display 38 above keypad 36 displays a menu for instructions and other information and provides visual feedback of the keys pressed.

Player control buttons 40 include any buttons needed for the play of the particular game or games offered by machine 10 including, for example, a bet button, a repeat bet button, a play two-ways button, a spin reels button, a deal button, hold cards buttons, a draw button, a maximum bet button, a cashout button, a display paylines button, a display payout tables button, and any other suitable button. Buttons 40 may be replaced by a touch screen with virtual buttons.

Speakers and/or microphones 42 are used for game sounds and for player communications.

FIG. 2 illustrates basic circuit blocks in a suitable gaming machine 10. The gaming device 10 may use conventional hardware. A communications board 45 may contain conventional circuitry for coupling the gaming machine 10 to a local area network (LAN) or other type of network using Ethernet or any other protocol. The communications board 45 transmits using a wireless transmitter, or it may be directly connected to a network running throughout the casino floor. The communications board 45 basically sets up a communication link with a network server and buffers data between the network and the game controller board 46.

The communications board 45, in one embodiment, also allows communications between gaming machines. In such a case, the gaming machines may communicate with each other directly or use the casino's central server (or other server) as an intermediary.

The game controller board 46 contains memory and a processor for carrying out programs stored in the memory and for providing the information requested by the network. The game controller board 46 carries out the game routine, including carrying out any command from the network to generate a jackpot outcome, which will be discussed in detail below.

Peripheral devices/boards communicate with the game controller board 46 via a bus 47 using, for example, an RS-232 interface. Such peripherals may include a bill validator 48, a coin detector 49, a smart card reader or other type of credit card reader 50, and player control inputs 51 (such as the various buttons 40 shown in FIG. 1 or a touch screen). An audio board 52 converts coded signals into analog signals for driving speakers 42 in FIG. 1, and converts analog signal from microphone 42 in FIG. 1 to digital signals for transmission. A display controller 53, which typically requires a high data transfer rate, converts coded signals to pixel signals for the displays 12 and 14. Display controller 53 and audio board 52 may be directly connected to parallel ports on the game controller board 46.

The electronics on the various boards may be combined onto a single board.

FIG. 3 is a simplified block diagram of one type of network for communicating with a plurality of EGMs 10A, 10B, and 10C. Of course, there will be many more EGMs connected to the network. The communication board in each of the EGMs is connected to a network 56. Network 56 may be wireless or use cabling. Floor servers 58 and 59 facilitate communication between the EGMs and other components in the network. The number of floor servers (or their necessity) is determined by the number of EGMs and the amount of daily communication required. Floor servers 58/59 also may perform automatic accounting and other data collection on a periodic basis during normal operation of the EGMs.

The floor servers 58/59 communicate with EGMs identified by a connection engine 60, which sets up a data link to any designated EGM. The connection engine 60 is essentially a router that routes data to the proper floor server.

Each EGM is has a unique ID code that is used to address the EGM and identify transmissions from a particular EGM. The ID code may be permanently stored in an ID chip in the EGM. The connection engine 60 uses a data base of all of these IDs when communicating with the EGMs. Alternatively, a software routine may be performed to assign a unique ID to each of the EGMs, and the ID is then stored in both the EGM memory and an external memory. If a player uses a player tracking card, or enters her name into the EGM using a keyboard option, the player's name may be temporarily associated with the EGM address to allow the player to communicate with other players or to casino services, described below.

Operator interface terminals 61 and 62 (computer workstations) are provided to enable an operator to control various communications to and from specific ones of the EGMs when, for example, configuring the machines.

A configuration server 64 stores the various configurations of all the EGMs so as to be able to download a particular configuration of one EGM to any other EGM.

An Internet modem 65 sets up communications between the EGM and the public Internet or a private internet.

In one embodiment, all communications between the EGMs and the network is encrypted. XML (extensible Markup Language) may be used as a data exchange format. The particular implementation of the network is not significant for this invention, and various other types of systems would also be adequate.

Once the EGMs are connected to the network and have all been assigned unique ID codes, the EGMs are configured with various parameters determined by casino or jurisdictional requirements.

It is assumed that all the EGM are programmed to play any type of standard casino game, such as video or motorized spinning reels, video poker, video blackjack, or any other game. The EGMs are also programmed to perform the below communications techniques.

FIG. 4 is a flowchart illustrating the general steps to allow a player at an EGM to communicate with other players or obtain services.

The EGM may be equipped with a physical button for initiating the communication option, or there may by a virtual button on the screen on which the main game is played, or there may be a dedicated display screen for the communication option so it is always active. In step 68, the communication option is initiated, assuming a button is pressed.

In step 70, the EGM determines if the criteria, if any, for the communication feature has been met. The criteria may be a certain number of credits in the EGM or play of the EGM within a certain period of time.

In step 72, a menu of options is displayed on any display screen in the EGM. A sample menu 73 is shown in FIG. 5. The options in the example of FIG. 5 are: 1) player-to-player messaging; 2) order service; 3) player comments; 4) transfer credits; 5) telephone request; 5) participate in special games; 6) order shows, dinners, or other events; 7) player matching service; or 8) play the main game. There may be many more communication options.

In step 74 of FIG. 4, the player touches one of the option buttons shown in FIG. 5.

FIG. 6 is a sample screen 76 that appears if the player presses the Player-to-Player Messaging button in FIG. 5. Other screens will appear that are appropriate for the various other options. In FIG. 6, the machine prompts the player to type in information via the touch screen qwerty keyboard display. In the “To” block, the player types in the name of another player, and types the message in the message block (step 76). If that other player is logged into the network by, for example, using a player tracking card in another machine or typing in the player's name or a code name using a keyboard on another gaming machine similar to FIG. 6, the network will have stored in a memory the address of the gaming machine being played by the intended recipient. The sender may also just type in a gaming machine number, where each gaming machine has its number conspicuously located on the machine itself. After the player types in a message and presses the “Send” button, the network will route the message to the appropriate gaming machine (step 78). The recipient will receive a notice, such as a mail icon, on her game display and touch an icon to reveal the message. That player may then respond to the e-mail.

If, in FIG. 5, the player presses the “Order Services” or “Order Shows, Dinner, or Other Events” button, a menu of available options will appear, such as shown in FIGS. 7 and 8, respectively. The player may then proceed through menus to place an order using buttons or the keyboard. The routing address of the appropriate receiver may be previously stored in the machine or network. The address may be the bar, the restaurant, or other area. The player may then pay for the order (step 80) or any other service or communication by pressing touch screen buttons in a “pay menu” so as to pay using available credits in the machine, or by depositing money into the machine, or by charging the fee to the player's account.

If appropriate, a receipt of the purchase or reservation is printed by the machine (step 82).

If the player selected the “Telephone Request” option, the player may enter a telephone number or otherwise obtain through the network or by other means the telephone address of a gaming machine being played by a certain player using a player tracking card. The player may, for example, enter a gaming machine number to talk to the person playing that gaming machine. The telephone connection may be to a phone outside the casino, and the player can pay for the call with credits. The number may be entered using a keypad or other touch screen device. Upon the connection being made, the two players or the player and a service representative may communicate via speakers and microphone built into the gaming machine. The voice communication may be achieved using voice over IP (VOIP) or any other protocol.

The player may also enter comments via the gaming machine, and these comments will be read by casino personnel.

One of the service offered may be a player matching service. Such player matching may be for dating, for participation in another event, or for any other purpose. FIGS. 9A-9C illustrate sample screens that may be employed for the player matching service. The screen of FIG. 9A is presented when the player touches the “Player Matching Service” button in FIG. 5. The player may register by touching the “Register” button. The screen of FIG. 9B allows the player to enter the player's personal information about him/herself and the information about the desired matched person. The system will cross-reference the data to find a match for the player. This matched person/player is identified in the screen of FIG. 9C. The designation of the matched player may be by gaming machine number, assuming the matched player has been electronically associated with the machine such as by entering his/her name or other identification into the gaming machine. Other forms of designation are also suitable.

The casino may also offer promotional prizes, such as a dinner or show, for using the service. The player may then communicate with the matched player by the messaging screen of FIG. 6 or by the telephone feature.

The player may also transfer credits from one machine to the other. Upon touching the “Transfer Credits” button in FIG. 5, the screen of FIG. 10 appears to allow the player to enter the particular gaming machine to receive the credits.

The player may also request Internet services, which entails using the Internet modem 65 in FIG. 3.

To play the main game, the player presses the “Play Game” button.

Implementation of this system requires only relatively simple software and hardware changes to the existing art, such as the additional of an analog-to-digital converter for verbal communications. Information about the players or the gaming machines may be entered any number of ways, such as using a keyboard, using a playing tracking card, or by other means.

While particular embodiments of the present invention have been shown and described, it will be obvious to those skilled in the art that changes and modifications may be made without departing from this invention in its broader aspects and, therefore, the appended claims are to encompass within their scope all such changes and modifications as fall within the true spirit and scope of this invention.