Title:
SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR CONTROLLING THE OPERATION OF AN ENTERTAINMENT UNIT
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A system and method for controlling game play at a pay-for-play entertainment system. The entertainment system may include an entertainment unit, a remote activation unit, and at least one game play light source. The remote activation unit may be configured to have the game play light source be in an on condition during purchased game play and in an off condition when purchased game play time or credits have expired. The present invention may also include a game play detection apparatus that may detect game play activity. The detection of game play may be communicated to the remote activation unit to determine if the detected game play activity is associated with purchased game play. If the detected game play activity is unauthorized, i.e. the game play has not been purchased, the remote activation unit may communicate an “on” signal to an auxiliary light and/or speaker.



Inventors:
Martin, John R. (Rockford, IL, US)
Rice, Patrick G. (Loves Park, IL, US)
Application Number:
11/965306
Publication Date:
07/02/2009
Filing Date:
12/27/2007
Assignee:
ARACHNID INC. (Rockford, IL, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63F9/24
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
THOMAS, ERIC M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MCANDREWS HELD & MALLOY, LTD (500 WEST MADISON STREET SUITE 3400, CHICAGO, IL, 60661, US)
Claims:
1. A pay-for-play entertainment system that controls game play comprising: an entertainment unit; at least one game play light source, the at least one game play light source configured to illuminate at least a portion of the entertainment unit; and a remote activation unit, the remote activation unit including a currency acceptor, the remote activation unit configured to control the illumination of the at least one game play light source, the at least one illumination source being in an on condition after sufficient payment for the purchase of authorized game play activity at the entertainment unit has been received by the currency acceptor, the at least one game play light source being in an off condition for at least a portion of the time after the authorized game play activity has ended.

2. The system of claim 1 wherein the entertainment unit is a pool table.

3. The system of claim 2 wherein the remote activation unit communicates signals directing the at least one game play light source be in an on or off condition through the use of an X10 protocol.

4. The system of claim 2 wherein the remote activation unit includes a central processor unit and a communicator, and the at least one game play light source is operably connected to a receiver, the receiver configured to receive commands from a central processing unit that are transmitted by the communicator.

5. The system of claim 1 wherein the entertainment unit is operably connected to a play detection apparatus, the play detection apparatus including at least one sensor and a transmitter, the at least one sensor positioned to detect game play activity, the transmitter configured to communicate a signal corresponding to the detected game play activity to the remote activation unit.

6. The system of claim 5 further including an auxiliary light source, the auxiliary light source being operably connected to the remote activation unit, the remote activation unit turning the illumination of the light of the auxiliary light source on after unauthorized game play activity is detected.

7. The system of claim 5 further including a speaker, the speaker being operably connected to the remote activation unit, the remote activation unit controlling the sound to be emitted from the speaker after unauthorized game play activity is detected.

8. The system of claim 2 wherein the remote activation unit includes a display and at least one player interface.

9. The system of claim 2 wherein the currency acceptor is a coin acceptor.

10. The system of claim 2 wherein the currency acceptor is a bill acceptor.

11. A pay-for-play entertainment system that controls game play comprising: an entertainment unit; a game play detection apparatus operably connected to the entertainment unit, the play detection apparatus including a sensor and a transmitter, the sensor positioned to detect the presence of game play activity; at least one game play light source, the at least one game play light source configured to illuminate at least a portion of the entertainment unit; a remote activation unit, the remote activation unit including a currency acceptor and a communicator, the remote activation unit configured to control the illumination of the at least one game play light source, the at least one illumination source being in an on condition after sufficient payment for the purchase of authorized game play activity at the entertainment unit has been received by the currency acceptor, the at least one game play light source being in an off condition for at least a portion of the time after the authorized game play activity has ended; and an auxiliary light source, the auxiliary light source being operably connected to the remote activation unit, the remote activation unit turning the illumination of the light of the auxiliary light source on after unauthorized game play activity is detected.

12. The system of claim 11 wherein the entertainment unit is a pool table.

13. The system of claim 11 wherein the remote activation unit communicates signals directing the at least one game play light source to be in an on or off condition through the use of an X10 protocol.

14. The system of claim 11 wherein the at least one game play light source is operably connected to a receiver, the receiver configured to receive commands from the remote activation unit indicating that the illumination of the at least one game play light source is to be in an on or off condition.

15. The system of claim 11 further including a speaker, the speaker being operably connected to the remote activation unit, the remote activation unit controlling the sound to be emitted from the speaker after unauthorized game play activity is detected.

16. A method for controlling the operation of a pay-for-play entertainment system, the method comprising: inserting sufficient payment for authorized game play into a currency acceptor of a remote activation unit; communicating a first signal to at least one game play light source, the first signal indicating that the illumination of the at least one game play light source is to be in an on condition, the illuminated game play light source providing light to at least a portion of an entertainment unit; turning the illumination of the game play light source to an on condition; communicating a second signal to the at least one game play light source, the second signal indicating that the illumination of the at least one game play light source is to be in an off condition; and turning the illumination of the game play light source to an off condition.

17. The method of claim 16 further including the step of recognizing that the authorized game play activity at the entertainment unit has ended.

18. The method of claim 16 including the step of detecting game play activity at the entertainment unit.

19. The method of claim 18 including the step of communicating the detection of game play activity at the entertainment unit to the remote activation unit.

20. The method of claim 19 including the step of determining whether the detected game is unauthorized.

21. The method of claim 20 including the step of communicating an signal to illuminate an auxiliary light source after the detected game play is determined to be unauthorized.

22. The method of claim 20 including the step of emitting sound from a speaker after the detected game play is determined to be unauthorized.

23. A method for controlling the operation of a pay-for-play pool table, the method comprising: inserting payment for authorized game play into a currency acceptor of a remote activation unit; communicating a first signal to at least one game play light source, the first signal indicating that the illumination of the at least one game play light source is to be in an on condition, the illuminated game play light source providing light to at least a portion of a pool table; turning the illumination of the game play light source to an on condition; recognizing that the authorized game play activity at the entertainment unit has ended; communicating a second signal to the at least one game play light source, the second signal indicating that the illumination of the at least one game play light source is to be in an off condition; turning the illumination of the game play light source to an off condition; detecting unauthorized game play activity at the pool table; and determining whether payment has been received by the remote activation unit for the detected game.

24. The method of claim 18 including the step of communicating the detection of unauthorized game play activity at the entertainment unit to the remote activation unit.

25. The method of claim 24 including the step of communicating a signal to illuminate an auxiliary light source.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Embodiments of the present invention generally relate to entertainment systems, and more particularly to a system for, among other things, operating an entertainment unit (including, but not limited to, a pool table, foosball table, or the like.) Embodiments of the present invention also include a method of controlling game play at an entertainment unit.

Entertainment units in commercial establishments are often operated on a pay-for-play basis. For instance, a pool table in an establishment may be coin operated, whereby the pool table includes a coin acceptor. In order to begin playing a game of pool, a player typically inserts coins into the coin acceptor located on the pool table. More specifically, the player may place coins into a coin slide and then push the coin slide into the coin acceptor. After an amount of currency sufficient for game play to commence is inserted into the coin acceptor, a gated holding rack that retains the colored pool balls within the pool table is opened, thereby releasing the colored pool balls into a storage compartment. The pool balls are then placed on the playing surface of the pool table in order to begin play. However, the inclusion of a coin acceptor and a gated holding rack with a pool table may increase the costs associated with purchasing and maintaining of each pool table. Similarly, the specialized pool tables that have coin acceptors and the required gated holding rack may limit the selection of suitable pool tables.

Additionally, pay-for-play entertainment units, such as a pool tables, among others, typically include a coin acceptor, but not a bill acceptor. This is because the use of a bill acceptor requires increased power and space. One of the obstacles to providing power to such bill acceptors is that many of these entertainment units require unobstructed access from all sides of the entertainment unit for game play. For example, a pool table usually requires a generous amount of floor space surrounding all sides of the table for game play. Further, electrical wires or cabling passing from the pool table to a wall outlet are obtrusive and pose tripping problems.

Entertainment units, such as pool-tables, may also use a battery to supply electrical power to the bill acceptor. However, because a bill acceptor may continuously drain battery power, even when the bill acceptor is not in use, a relatively large battery is typically required for operation. Moreover, the continuous drain of battery power by the bill acceptor typically necessitates the relatively frequent replacement of the large battery, thereby increasing operation costs.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Embodiments of the present invention provide for a system and method for controlling play at a pay-for-play entertainment system. According to certain embodiments, the entertainment system may include an entertainment unit, for example a pool table, at least one game play light source, and a remote activation unit. The remote activation unit may include a central processing unit and a currency acceptor. After sufficient currency for game play has been inserted into the remote activation unit, the remote activation unit may allow the game play light source associated with the entertainment unit to be played to be turned to an on condition. When in an on condition, the game play light source may illuminate at least a portion of the entertainment unit. However, at the end of the purchased game play, or at a predetermined time thereafter, the remote activation unit may act so that the illumination of the game play light source is turned off.

Embodiments of the present invention also provide a game play detection apparatus and an auxiliary light and/or a speaker. The game play detection apparatus may be operably mounted or connected to the entertainment unit. Further, the game play detection apparatus may include a sensor and a transmitter. According to certain embodiments, the game play detection apparatus may also include a processor. The sensor may detect game play activity at the entertainment unit. Such detected game play may be communicated to the processor. The central processing unit, or other processor, may then communicate a signal through the transmitter that is received by the remote activation unit, and which indicates that game play has been detected. A processor at the remote activation unit may then determine whether the detected game play is occurring during a period of unauthorized game play, i.e. during a period in which there is no, or insufficient, existing game play time or game play credits. More specifically, periods of unauthorized game play may occur when a player attempts to engage in game play at the entertainment unit when no payment has been made or received for such game play. Alternatively, the processor associated with the game play detection apparatus may determine whether the detected game play activity is authorized. If the detected game play is unauthorized, the remote activation unit may operate at least one auxiliary light source or a speaker. The auxiliary light source may interfere with player's ability to continue the unauthorized game play or may alter employees or patrons at the facility of the player engaging in unauthorized game play. Likewise, the speaker may emit noise, such as chatter noise, among other sounds, that may interfere with the player's ability to enjoy, or draw attention to, the unauthorized game play.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 illustrates a simplified representation of an entertainment system according to an embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 2 illustrates a front view of a remote activation unit according to an embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 3 illustrates a simplified representation of an entertainment unit that includes a play detection apparatus according to an embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 4 illustrates a flow chart for a method of controlling game play at an entertainment unit according to an embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 5 illustrates a flow chart for a method of controlling game play at an entertainment unit in which game play activity is detected according to an embodiment of the present invention.

The foregoing summary, as well as the following detailed description of certain embodiments of the present invention, will be better understood when read in conjunction with the appended drawings. For the purpose of illustrating the invention, there is shown in the drawings, certain embodiments. It should be understood, however, that the present invention is not limited to the arrangements and instrumentalities shown in the attached drawings.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

FIG. 1 illustrates a simplified representation of an entertainment system 100 according to an embodiment of the present invention. The entertainment system 100 may include an entertainment unit 102 and a remote activation unit 104. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 1, the entertainment unit 102 is a pool table 106. It however is understood that embodiments of the present invention may be used with a variety of other types of entertainment units 102, including, but not limited to, foosball tables, hockey-based games, or darts, among others.

The pool table 106 may be a standard pool table including a felt playing surface bounded by rails or bumpers and pockets. The pool table 106 may also include a ball storage compartment 108 that is connected to the pockets through internal pathways that allow pool balls to pass from the pockets into the ball storage compartment 108. A player may remove pool balls from the storage compartment 108 and proceed to place them on the playing surface of the pool table 106 in order to commence or continue game play. Furthermore, according to certain embodiments of the present invention, the pool table 106 may not include the gated pool ball holding compartment that is commonly found on pay-for play pool tables. Conversely, according to certain embodiments of the present invention, pool balls that enter the pockets may pass through the internal pathways and to the player-accessible storage compartment 108 without being detained in a gated holding compartment.

The remote activation unit 104 may be mounted on a wall 110, as shown in FIG. 1. However, according to other embodiments, the remote activation unit 104 may be an upright, stand-alone unit that is supported by the floor 112. Further, according to other embodiments, the remote activation unit 104 may be mounted to the entertainment unit 102, for example to being mounted to the underside 114 of the entertainment unit 102. In accordance with another embodiment, the remote activation assembly 104 may be a hand-held device.

FIG. 2 illustrates a front view of a remote activation unit 104 according to an embodiment of the present invention. The remote activation unit 104 may include a housing 115, a currency acceptor such as a conventional coin acceptor 116, and a central processing unit (“CPU”) 117. According to some embodiments, the coin acceptor 116 and/or CPU 117 may be operably mounted to or within the housing 115, such as through the use of mechanical fasteners and/or mounting brackets. The coin acceptor 116 may be electrically connected to the CPU 117, such as through the use of electrical wires and cables, so that signals, electrical pulses, data, or other forms of information may be communicated from the coin acceptor 116 to the CPU 117. For example, signals corresponding relating the insertion of currency into the coin acceptor 116, may be communicated from the coin acceptor 116 to the CPU 117.

According to one embodiment, the coin acceptor 116 may include a coin insert receptacle 118, a coin return lever or button 120, and a coin return 122. The coin insert receptacle 118 may be configured to receive the insertion of coins. The coin insert receptacle 118 may be operably connected to a coin return 122, which may provide access to coins that are not accepted by the coin acceptor 116, or which have been returned by the pressing or pushing of a coin return lever 120. According to other embodiments, the coin acceptor 116 may be a conventional coin slide mechanism having coin slots on a mounting bracket. According to such an embodiment, if the appropriate type and number of coins are inserted into the coin slots, the coin slide mechanism may be pushed the required distance into the remote activation unit 104 so that the coins are accepted by the remote activation unit 104 for game play.

In addition to, or in lieu of, the coin acceptor 116, the currency acceptor of the remote activation unit 104 may include a conventional bill acceptor 124. The bill acceptor 124 may include a bill insert receptacle 126, through which bills for the purchase of game play time or credits may be inserted. The bill acceptor 124 may also be electrically connected to the CPU 117 so that information or data regarding currency inserted into the bill insert receptacle 126 may be communicated from the bill acceptor 124 and to the CPU 117. Further, the CPU 117 may be programmed, and/or the bill acceptor 124 may be configured, to accept different types of payment or bills, such as U.S. and foreign currency, or specialty bills, which may be created by the establishment operating the entertainment system 100, or other types of organizations.

The CPU 117 and/or the bill acceptor 124 may also be programmed to reject certain denominations or monetary amounts that are inserted into the bill acceptor 124. For example, the CPU 117 maybe programmed to reject certain large bill denominations that are inserted into the bill acceptor 124. Further, the CPU 117 may be programmed to limit the amount of play time or play credits that may be purchased, assigned, or accumulate for play at a specific entertainment unit 102, particularly during certain time periods. Such limitations may assist in allowing desired modes of play to commence at an entertainment unit 102, such as allowing for periods of challenge play by a number of different individuals at a specific entertainment unit 102.

According to the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 2, the remote activation unit 104 may include a display 128 to communicate information and/or queries from the CPU 117 to the player, such as the cost or rates for game play, identification of available or assigned entertainment units, or the time remaining for game play, among others. The remote activation unit 104 may also include at least one player interface 130 that is electrically connected to the CPU 117. The player interface 130 may allow the player to select an entertainment unit for play, initiate the start of a playing session, and/or respond to queries shown on the display 128. The user interface may also allow the player to provide game play information, such as results, scores, player or team identification, among other information, into the remote activation unit 104. According to embodiments of the present invention, the player interface 130 may be a button that the player pushes. According to other embodiments, the display 128 may be a touch screen display, wherein the player physically contacts the display 128 at designated areas in order to provide responses and information for the CPU 117.

The remote activation unit 104 may also be operably connected to the internet or a computer network. Through such a connection, the remote activation unit 104 may be able to download or upload information regarding game play, and particularly information relating to league play. For instance, as previously mentioned, game play information may be inputted into the remote activation unit 104 by the player through the use of the player interface 130. The remote activation unit 104 may then download this information to a network where the game play information may update information relating to those players and/or their respective teams. Further, the remote activation unit 104 may receive information from the network regarding play schedules and team assignments, among other types of information. According to such embodiments, league play may commence at a number of different facilities, while play information may be kept up-to-date through the network.

The remote activation unit 104 may also include a communicator 132 that may be configured to receive and/or transmit signals or commands from/to other components of the entertainment system 100. The communicator 132 may be operably connected to the CPU 117, such as by a wired connection. The type of communicator 132 utilized may be based upon the types of signals being communicated or transmitted to the communicator 132 from other components in the system 100. For example, the communicator 132 may be a transceiver, an antenna that is configured to receive radio frequency signals, a receiver for infrared signals, an optical sensor, or an audio sensor, among others. Further, in embodiments in which the communicator 132 both receives and transmits signals or other forms of communication, the components of the communicator 132 associated with receiving a signal may be different than those that transmit or emit a signal.

The remote activation unit 104, and any associated components such as the bill acceptor, display, and/or user interface, may be powered by a variety of energy sources. For instance, the remote activation unit 104 may be operably connected to the electrical utility power supplied to, or at, the facility in which the entertainment system 100 is housed. For example, the remote activation unit 104 may be powered by 120 volt AC. According to another embodiment, the remote activation assembly unit 104 may be battery operated. According to certain embodiments, the remote activation unit 104, and its associated components, maybe powered by a combination of electrical utility power supplied to the facility and at least one battery. Alternatively, the remote activation unit 104 may be powered through solar power, for example through the use of a solar cell that may be mounted at various positions on the remote activation unit 104, the entertainment system 100, or the facility at which the entertainment system 100 is located. According to such an embodiment, the solar cell may be electrically connected to an internal power reservoir, the currency acceptor, and the like. According to other certain embodiments, the communicator 132 of the remote activation unit 104 receive power signals from a commercial radio station. Further, optionally, a capacitor of sufficient storage size may be housed within the remote activation unit 104 and electrically connected to the CPU 117.

According to embodiments of the present invention, the CPU 117 may be programmed to adjust the game play rates or the cost of play credits during different time periods of operation. For example, game play rates or the cost for play credits may be reduced during certain peak business hours or promotional time periods, such as happy hour. Accordingly, the CPU 117 may be programmed to adjust the cost for play during different time periods. Further, the CPU 117 may be programmed to adjust, or prorate, the amount of remaining play time, or the value of remaining play credits, that was purchased prior to the start of the promotional period. Conversely, the CPU 117 may be programmed so that only purchases for game play that occur during the promotional play period receive the benefit of the offered discounted rates, thereby precluding outstanding play time or credits at the start of the promotional period from benefiting from the promotional rates.

Embodiments of the present invention may also include at least one game play light source 134, such as a florescent, halogen, or incandescent light(s) that may be positioned and/or configured so as to provide sufficient illumination for game play at the pool table 106. According to the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 1, the game play light source 134 may be mounted to, or hang from, a ceiling 136 or wall 110. According to other embodiments, the game play light source 134 may be operably connected or mounted to the entertainment unit 102.

The activation of the game play light source 134 may be controlled by the remote activation unit 104. According to certain embodiments, electrical power for the game play light source 134 may be operably wired to the remote activation unit 104. According to such embodiments, the insertion of sufficient payment for play at a particular entertainment unit 102 may result in the remote activation unit 104 allowing electrical power to be supplied to the game play light source 108, such as by closing a switch that allows a circuit to be closed so that electrical power needed for illumination is provided to the game play light source 134. According to another embodiment, the entertainment system may employ communicate signals or other forms or information or commands to control the operation of the game play light source. For example, the remote activation unit 102 may employ a communication protocol, such as, but not limited to, a X10 protocol, which allows for communication between the remote activation unit 104 and the game play light source along existing electrical power wiring. According to such an embodiment, the remote activation unit 104 may be configured to communicate commands, such on and off commands, from the CPU 117 to the game play light source 134, while the game play light source 134 is configured to receive and execute such commands. Further, the game play light source 134 may be configured to communicate a status, such as an indication of whether the lights of the game play light source 134 are on or off, back to the remote activation unit 104.

According to other embodiments, the remote activation unit 104 may utilize a wireless control for turning the illumination of the game play light source 134 on or off. For example, the communicator 132 of the remote activation unit 104 may include an emitter that may include at least one light emitting diode (“LED”), or may include an antenna that is configured to communicate a radio frequency (RF) signal. The communicator 132 may be operably connected to the CPU 117, such as being connected by wires and/or cables. According to some embodiments, after the CPU 117 detects the receipt of sufficient payment into the remote activation unit 104 for game play to commence, the CPU 117 may operate, or issue a command that causes the operation of the communicator 132 so that a “on” command signal is communicated to a receiver 138 that is part of, or operably wired to, the game play light source 134, as shown in FIG. 1. The receiver 138 may include a senor or antenna that receives the communicated signal from the communicator 132, and a processor that decodes the received signal so that the requested function may be performed, namely the turning on or off of the game play light source 134. Likewise, when game play is to stop, an “off” signal from the CPU 116 may be again transmitted from the communicator 132 to the receiver 138, and the game play light source 134 may subsequently be turned off. Further, besides using infrared and radio frequency signals, the present system may be configured to use any number of different types of wireless protocols, systems, and methodologies, including a wireless X10 protocol remote system or audio signals, among others.

The remote activation unit 104 may also be operably connected to at least one auxiliary light 140. According to some embodiments, the auxiliary light 140 may be flashing lights that may flash when a player attempts to proceed with game play without inserting the required fee into the remote activation unit 104 or after purchased game play time or credits have expired. The flashing lights may be configured to interfere with the ability to play the entertainment unit 102, of interfere with the enjoyment of game play. Additionally, the auxiliary light 140 may be configured to provide notification to the player(s), facility operator, or other patrons that a player is engaging in unauthorized game play.

According with other embodiments, the auxiliary light 140 may be positioned and configured to interfere with the player's ability to engage in game play, such as providing light that interferes with the player's ability to see or focus on the playing surface of the entertainment unit 102. For example, the auxiliary light 140 may be positioned so that, when the auxiliary light source 140 is “on,” a shadow is cast on the entertainment unit 102, thereby potentially interfering with player's ability to play and/or the player's enjoyment of playing the entertainment unit 102. Further, auxiliary light 140 may be positioned so that the shadow is created by at least a portion of the body of the player when the player attempts to position himself for game play. Alternatively, the auxiliary light 140 may be positioned so as to project light into the face of the player, thereby interfering with the player's ability to see the game playing surface of the entertainment unit 102.

The remote activation unit 104 may be operably connected to, or communicate with, the remote activation unit 104 in manners similar to those previously discussed with regard to the game play light source 134. For example, the auxiliary light 140 may include, or be electrically wired to an auxiliary receiver 143 that may operate in a manner similar to, or the same as, that previously discussed with respect to the receiver 138 for the game play light source 134. According to certain embodiments, when the game play light source 134 is off, the auxiliary light 140 may be powered on. Further, the auxiliary light 140 may be separate from, incorporated into, or operably connected to the game play light source 134.

According to embodiments of the present invention, the remote activation unit 104 may be operably connected to at least one speaker 141, such as being connected through a wire or cable, or through the use of a wireless connection. The speaker 141 may be placed at a variety of locations, including, among others, on the ceiling 136, a wall 110, floor, or mounted to or on the entertainment unit 102 or the remote activation unit 104. The speaker 141 may be positioned so that the sound emitted from the speaker 141 is generally directed at or toward the area the entertainment unit 102.

The remote activation unit 104 may control the types of sounds played through the speaker 141, and the time at which such sounds are played. Further, the CPU 117 may vary the volume and types of sounds played during different time periods. For example, during periods in which the entertainment unit 102 is not in operation, the speaker 141 may be producing no sound, or may be producing sounds or music that are the same or similar to those being produced by other parts of the facility. During periods of game play, the speaker 141 may be playing music, announcements, or advertisements, or may be silent. During periods of unauthorized game play, such as periods in which the player(s) has not paid the required fee for game play, at closing time for the facility, or upon the expiration of a game play period, the speaker 141 may emit chatter noise or other sounds that may harass, annoy, or embarrass the player so that the player may be discouraged from continuing to engage in game play and/or encourage or persuade the player to insert the required fee for game play in the remote activation unit 104 or stop engaging in unauthorized game play activity.

The remote activation unit 104 may be operably connected to a variety of audio sources. For example, the remote activation unit 104 may be operably connected to an antenna so that the remote activation unit 104 receives radio broadcasts. Alternatively, the remote activation unit 104 may be operably connected to a audio subscription source, such as satellite radio, among others. According to other embodiments, the remote activation unit 104 may be configured to reproduce audio stored on, or downloaded from, a variety of different media, including CDs, MP3 players, removable storage devices, and the internet, among others. Likewise, the remote activation unit 104 may include memory storage capacity for maintaining audio files that may be accessed by the CPU 117.

FIG. 3 illustrates a simplified representation of an entertainment unit 102, for example a pool table 106, that includes a play detection apparatus 142 according to an embodiment of the present invention. The play detection apparatus 142 may include a sensor 144 and a transmitter 146. The sensor 144 may detect game play. For example, the sensor 144 may detect physical motions or vibrations caused by game play or attempts at game play. According to certain embodiments in which the entertainment unit is a pool table 106, the sensor 144 may be a piezoelectric device that detects vibrations caused by a pool ball 148 hitting a bumper, entering a pocket, traveling in an internal pathway, or entering the storage compartment 108. According to other embodiments, the sensor may be a switch, such as a micro switch or a leaf switch, among others, or an optical sensor. Further, multiple sensors 144 may be placed at various locations about the entertainment unit 102 for detecting game play.

According to certain embodiments in which the entertainment unit 102 is a pool table 106, the play detection apparatus 142 may include at least one pool ball 148 that includes an identification marker, which may be embedded within, or located on the outside of the pool ball. The identification maker may be used to identify movement or the location of the pool ball. Further, the identification marker may identify the particular pool ball 142, such as the number on the pool ball and/or the type of pool ball, i.e. whether it is the cue ball or a stripped or solid color ball. For example, the pool ball 148 may include an identification marker that is a receiving microchip, a metallic security tag, a magnet, an ultrasonic emitter or sensor, or various other such devices capable of transmitting or receiving a signal. The movement of the pool ball 148, and associated identification marker, may be detected by a sensor 144 that corresponds to the type of identification marker employed. According to such embodiments, the sensor 144 may be a receiving or transmitting antenna, an electromagnetic sensor, radio frequency sensor, optical sensor, laser, or an ultrasonic detector, among others. Further, the identification marker may be used to indicate game play information, such as the value of the associated pool ball 148.

Upon detection of pool ball 148 movement or associated game play, the sensor 144 may communicate a signal to a processor 150 indicating play game play activity has been detected at the entertainment unit 102. The processor 150 may be operably connected to the sensor 144, such as, for example, by a wired connection. After receiving a signal from the sensor 144, the processor 150 may identify the particular pool ball 148 that was detected. Further, the processor 150 may issue a command or signal for the transmitter 146 to emit a signal to the remote activation unit 104, the receiver 138, and/or the auxiliary receiver 143. The signal emitted from the transmitter 146 may indicate that game play has commenced, or instruct the game play light 134 and/or the auxiliary light 140 be turned on or off.

FIG. 4 illustrates a flow chart for a method of controlling game play at an entertainment unit 102 according to an embodiment of the present invention. At 400, currency is inserted into the currency acceptor of the remote activation unit 104. For example, as previously discussed, currency may be inserted into a coin acceptor 116 and/or a bill acceptor 124. Further, the remote activation unit 104 may be configured to accept a range of currency, such as U.S. and foreign currency, or specialty bills, which may be created by the establishment operating the entertainment unit 102 or other types of organizations. Further, the display 128 may communicate to the player the cost or rates for game play, the amount of money inserted, and/or the game play credits or game play time purchased or remaining. Further, the display 128 may prompt the player to select an particular entertainment unit 102 and/or the type of entertainment unit 102 that the player wishes to play. The player may respond to questions prompted on the display 128 by engaging the player interface 130, as previously discussed. Alternatively, the remote activation unit 104 may assign the player to an entertainment unit 104.

According to certain embodiments, time for game play at the entertainment unit 102 may be available for purchased based on pre-determined time increments, such as by the minute, quarter-hour, half-hour, or hour, among others. Alternatively, play time available for purchase may correspond to the average duration of time for one game at that particular entertainment unit 102, or one game at that particular type of entertainment unit 102, to be completed. According to such embodiments, the average time may be pre-programmed in the CPU 117, or may be based on a survey and/or analysis of game play at the facility, as indicated by signals from the game play detection apparatus 142 at the entertainment unit 102, and/or at other entertainment units 102 in the facility. Moreover, based on sampling the duration of game play at the entertainment unit(s) 102 over a period of time, the CPU 117 may adjust the average time of game play, and thereby adjust the duration of single game play time that may be purchased by the players.

Alternatively, rather than purchase game play time, the insertion of currency into the remote activation unit 104 may be for game play credits. The CPU 117 of the remote activation unit 104 may be programmed so that a certain number of game play credits are required for game play. Game play may commence when the number of game play credits required for game play have been purchased, or are available for play. Further, the cost for each credit may be decreased as the amount of currency inserted into the remote activation unit 104 increases or reaches pre-determined threshold values.

At 402, the remote activation unit 104 determines whether the inserted amount is sufficient for game play to commence. If the inserted amount is insufficient for game play, at 404 the remote activation unit 104 may not communicate an “on” command for the game play light source, and the lights of the game play light source 134 may be off. If, however, the inserted amount is sufficient, the remote activation unit 104 communicates an “on” signal to the game play light source 134 at 406. According to certain embodiments, the “on” signal may be communicated by the remote activation unit 102 allowing electrical power to be supplied to the game play light source 134. According to other embodiments, the remote activation unit 104 may have a signal communicated to the game play light source 134, for example by the use of an X10 protocol, an IR signal, an RF signal, or an audio signal, among others.

At 408, the game play light source 134 is in an “on” condition so that the game play light source 134 illuminates at least a portion of the entertainment unit 102. At 410, game play may commence at the illuminated entertainment unit 102. For example, for embodiments of the present invention in which the entertainment unit 104 is a pool table 106, the player places pool balls 148 from the ball storage department 108 onto the illuminated pool table 106. and as previously discussed, certain embodiments of the present invention include pool tables that allow pool balls 148 that enter pockets on the pool table 106 to travel through passageways and be deposited at a player accessible ball storage department 108.

At 412, the remote activation unit 104 may inquire as to whether the purchased game play time has expired, or whether insufficient game play credits remain for game play to continue. If the purchased game play time or credits have not expired, then at 413 the game play light source 134 remains on. However, upon expiration of the game play time or when insufficient game play credits remain for game play to continue, at 414 the remote activation unit 104 may communicate an off signal to the game play light source 134. Upon receipt of the “off” signal, the game play light source 134 may be turned to an off condition at 416. Further, according to some embodiments, the remote activation unit 104 may give a grace period after the expiration of the purchased game play time or credits that allows for additional currency to be inserted into the remote activation unit 104 so that play may continue before the game play light source 134 is turned off. Further, the remote activation unit 104 may provide a notification to the player(s) that the purchased game play time or credits have expired, or are soon to expire, such through the use of an audio or visual signal. For example, the remote activation unit 104 may communicate a signal to the game play light source 134 that provides a visual notification, such as flashing the lights of the game play light source 134 or dimming the brightness of the game play light source 134, among others, when the purchased game play time or credits have expired or about to expire.

FIG. 5 illustrates a flow chart for a method of controlling game play at an entertainment unit 102 in which game play activity is detected according to an embodiment of the present invention. At 500, the game play detection apparatus 142 may detect game play at an entertainment unit 102, or detect attempts at game play. At 502, the detection of game play may be communicated to the remote activation unit 104. However, according to certain embodiments, during periods in which game play time has been purchased or sufficient game play credits have been expended for game play, the game play detection apparatus 142 may not monitor whether game play is occurring and/or may not communicate the detection of game play activity to the remote activation unit 104.

The remote activation unit 104, and particularly the CPU 117, may inquire as to whether game play is occurring during purchased game play time or in connection with the expenditure of game play credits at 504. If game play is occurring during purchased game play time or in connection with the expenditure of game play credits, and is therefore authorized, game play may continue to proceed, as indicated at 506. Alternatively, if game play credits are available for game play, and no game play credits have been expended in association with the current game play, or the game play credits associated with prior game play have expired, the remote activation unit 102 may deduct remaining game play credits so that payment is made for the current game play activity.

If payment has not been made for the detected game play, or no credits are available for deduction, the remote activation unit 104 may communicate an “on” signal for the operation of the auxiliary light 140 and/or the speaker 141 at 508. Under such circumstances, if the game play light source is not already in an off condition, the remote activation unit 104 may also act accordingly so that the game play light source is turned off, such as by stopping the supply of electrical power to the game play light source or communicating an “off” command. At 510, the auxiliary light 140 and/or the speaker 114 may be turned on. As previously discussed, the auxiliary light 140 and speaker 141 may operate so as to draw attention to the fact that unauthorized game play, including game play occurring without payment of the required fee, is occurring. Further, the auxiliary light 140 and speaker 141 may operate so as to harass, annoy, or embarrass the player so that the player may be discouraged from continuing to engage in game play and/or interfere with the ability to play a game at the entertainment unit 102.

At 512, the remote activation unit 104 may inquire as to whether any subsequent communications indicating that the unauthorized game play activity is still occurring have been received. According to certain embodiments, this inquiry may occur at a designated time period after the receipt of the first communication relating to unauthorized game play. The game play detection apparatus 142 may continuously monitor whether game play is occurring or may monitor during designated time intervals. Further, the game play detection apparatus 142 may communicate to the remote activation unit 104 the detection of game play during designated time intervals, rather than communicate every detection of game play activity. For example, the game play apparatus 142 may not monitor whether game play is occurring, and/or may not communicate to the remote activation unit 104 the presence of game play activity, during periods in which the player has purchased game play time or paid for the game play. However, following the completion of game play, the game play apparatus 142 may monitor whether game play is occurring, and may communicate that information to the remote activation unit 104. According to some embodiments, upon the expiration of the player's game purchased game play time or credits, the game play detection apparatus 142 may communicate any game play activity that has subsequently been detected. According to other embodiments, the game play detection apparatus 142 may not monitor and/or communicate the detection of game play to the remote activation unit 104 until a designated grace period following the expiration of the purchased game play time or credits have elapsed.

If unauthorized game activity is no longer detected, then at 514 the remote activation unit 104 may communicate an “off” signal for the auxiliary light 140 and/or speaker 141. The auxiliary light 140 and/or speaker 141 may then turn “off” at 516. Alternatively, rather than turn off, the auxiliary light 140 and/or speaker 141 may have their operation altered, for example the speaker 141 may emit the same or similar sounds as other speakers in the facility or may emit advertisements. According to alternative embodiments, the transmitter 146 of the game play detection apparatus 142 may communicate “on” and “off” commands to the auxiliary light 140 and speaker 141 when unauthorized game play has been detected, or when unauthorized game play activity has stopped. According to such an embodiment, the game play detection apparatus 142 may include, or be operably connected to, a processor that is capable of determining that the detected game play is unauthorized, such as by utilizing information communicated from remote activation unit 104, and may issue “on” and “off” commands for transmission to the auxiliary light 140 and speaker 141.

While the invention has been described with reference to certain embodiments, it will be understood by those skilled in the art that various changes may be made and equivalents may be substituted without departing from the scope of the invention. In addition, many modifications may be made to adapt a particular situation or material to the teachings of the invention without departing from its scope. Therefore, it is intended that the invention not be limited to the particular embodiment disclosed, but that the invention will include all embodiments falling within the scope of the appended claims.