Title:
SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR FLEXIBLE APPROVALS IN A GAMING ENVIRONMENT
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Certain embodiments provide systems and methods for flexible approvals a gaming environment. Certain embodiments of a method include receiving an approval request and locating an appropriate supervisor for the approval request. The method includes obtaining approval or denial of the approval request from the appropriate supervisor. The method includes authorizing action on the approval request based on the approval or denial from the appropriate supervisor. In certain embodiments, an alternate supervisor is located if the appropriate supervisor has not responded within a certain period of time.



Inventors:
Purfield, Darrick (Las Vegas, NV, US)
Martin, Joshua (Las Vegas, NV, US)
Application Number:
11/938645
Publication Date:
06/19/2008
Filing Date:
11/12/2007
Assignee:
ARISTOCRAT TECHNOLOGIES AUSTRALIA PTY, LTD (Lane Cove, AU)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63F9/24
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
KIM, ANDREW
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MCANDREWS HELD & MALLOY, LTD (CHICAGO, IL, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method for flexible approval in a gaming environment, said method comprising: receiving an electronic approval request for an action by a game operator in the gaming environment; locating, via a communication network, an appropriate supervisor for said approval request; electronically routing said approval request to said appropriate supervisor; obtaining approval or denial of said approval request from said appropriate supervisor; and electronically authorizing action on said approval request based on said approval or denial from said appropriate supervisor.

2. The method of claim 1, further comprising locating an alternate supervisor upon lack of response from said appropriate supervisor after a certain time period.

3. The method of claim 1, wherein said action comprises at least one of a) processing of a jackpot having a monetary value greater than a predetermined amount; b) expiration or voiding of tickets from a ticketing system; c) line of credit approvals; and d) purchase of license credits for downloadable or server-based game content.

4. The method of claim 1, wherein said game operator comprises a gaming floor employee.

5. The method of claim 1, wherein said game operator comprises an electronic gaming machine.

6. The method of claim 1, further comprising: monitoring pending approval requests; and re-attempting at least one of said locating step and said electronically routing step.

7. The method of claim 1, wherein said step of electronically authorizing further comprises allowing, based on said approval, a pending operation to complete in the gaming environment.

8. The method of claim 1, further comprising notifying said game operator that said approval or denial has been received.

9. The method of claim 1, wherein said approval is automated based on a certain set of guidelines if said approval involves a monetary amount less than a certain threshold.

10. A gaming approval system providing flexible approvals for actions in a gaming environment, said system comprising: a gaming terminal providing game play to a player and including a communications interface for communication on a network; and a remote approval queue manager connected to the network, said remote approval queue manager receiving a request for approval of an action by a game operator with respect to said gaming terminal, said remote approval queue manager locating, via a communication network, an appropriate supervisor for approval of said request, wherein, upon identification of an available and appropriate supervisor, said remote approval queue manager electronically routes said request to said appropriate supervisor and obtains approval or denial of said request from said appropriate supervisor, said remote approval queue manager transmitting authorization or denial of said action based said approval or denial from said appropriate supervisor.

11. The system of claim 10, wherein said remote approval queue manager initiates transmission of an electronic message to inform an available and appropriate supervisor.

12. The system of claim 10, wherein said appropriate supervisor comprises a supervisor qualified to and capable of approving said request.

13. The system of claim 10, wherein said request for approval comprises a nature of said request, a level of approval involved for said request, and a priority of said request.

14. The system of claim 10, wherein said remote approval queue manager is incorporated with a slot floor configuration manager and wherein said approval or denial of said request impacts a configuration of said gaming terminal.

15. The system of claim 10, wherein said remote approval queue manager locates an alternate supervisor upon lack of response from said appropriate supervisor after a certain time period.

16. The system of claim 10, wherein said action comprises at least one of a) processing of a jackpot having a monetary value greater than a predetermined amount; b) expiration or voiding of tickets from a ticketing system; c) line of credit approvals; and d) purchase of license credits for downloadable or server-based game content.

17. The system of claim 10, wherein said game operator comprises a gaming floor employee.

18. The system of claim 10, wherein said game operator comprises an electronic gaming machine.

19. The system of claim 10, wherein said remote approval queue manager monitors pending approval requests and re-attempts communication with a supervisor to alert said supervisor and route said request.

20. The system of claim 10, wherein said remote approval queue manager notifies said game operator that said approval or denial has been received.

21. The system of claim 10, wherein said approval is automated based on a certain set of guidelines if said approval involves a monetary amount less than a certain threshold.

22. The system of claim 10, wherein said remote approval queue manager maintains a list of supervisors appropriate for approval of certain requests for use in identifying and locating said appropriate supervisor for said request.

23. A gaming approval system providing flexible approvals for actions in a gaming environment, said system comprising: a remote approvals manager in communication with a plurality of gaming devices and supervisors via a communications network, said remote approvals manager receiving a request for approval of an action to be undertaken in a gaming environment, and said remote approval queue manager locating, via a communication network, an appropriate supervisor for approval of said request based on a list of potentially available supervisors and authorized approvals associated with said supervisors, wherein, upon identification and location of an available and appropriate supervisor, said remote approval queue manager electronically routes said request for approval to said appropriate supervisor and obtains approval or denial of said request from said appropriate supervisor, said remote approval queue manager transmitting authorization or denial of said action to said gaming environment based said approval or denial from said appropriate supervisor.

24. The system of claim 23, wherein said request for approval comprises a nature of said request, a level of approval involved for said request, and a priority of said request.

25. The system of claim 23, wherein said remote approvals manager locates an alternate supervisor upon lack of response from said appropriate supervisor after a certain time period.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates to gaming operation approvals, and more particularly relates to systems and methods for flexible approvals in a gaming environment.

In slot and player accounting systems, such as Aristocrat's OASIS Casino Management system and/or the system described in co-pending application Ser. No. 11/459,232, approval from a higher authority is commonly required for certain operations. For example, a casino floor worker may be authorized to process jackpots up to a determined amount (for example, $1200). Beyond that amount, a supervisor must review and authorize the transaction before it can be completed. Currently, the supervisor must respond to the floor worker's location in order to complete such an approval.

As another example, an operator scheduling changes to a casino floor via a floor configurator may require additional credits for licensed content. Similar to the above example, an online purchase of additional credits from a content provider may require supervisory approval if the expense is beyond a certain amount. As above, with current systems, the supervisor must physically respond to the operator's location in order to review the transaction and complete the approval.

In today's casino environment, supervisors are highly mobile, often having responsibilities that cover a large area. Requiring a supervisor to respond to specific locations can be inconvenient and disruptive to the supervisor's activities. A resultant delay in approval also causes inconvenience to the player as well as to the floor worker and/or operator awaiting the approval. Delaying a player's return to play may result in a loss of revenue for a casino. Similarly, delaying a casino's ability to put premium content into play on a gaming floor may cause inconvenience to players and loss of revenue to the casino.

Thus, there is a need for flexible systems and methods in which approval can occur in a timelier manner with less interruption to a supervisor's other duties.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Certain embodiments provide systems and methods for flexible approvals a gaming environment. Certain embodiments of a method include receiving an approval request and locating an appropriate supervisor for the approval request. The method includes obtaining approval or denial of the approval request from the appropriate supervisor. The method includes authorizing action on the approval request based on the approval or denial from the appropriate supervisor. In certain embodiments, an alternate supervisor is located if the appropriate supervisor has not responded within a certain period of time.

Certain embodiments provide a casino network system facilitating flexible approvals. The system includes a plurality of gaming terminals interconnected with a slot accounting and/or player tracking system, slot floor configuration manager and remote approval queue manager.

Certain embodiments provide a gaming approval system providing flexible approvals for actions in a gaming environment. The system includes a gaming terminal providing game play to a player and including a communications interface for communication on a network. The system also includes a remote approval queue manager connected to the network. The remote approval queue manager receives a request for approval of an action by a game operator with respect to the gaming terminal. The remote approval queue manager locates, via a communication network, an appropriate supervisor for approval of the request. Upon identification of an available and appropriate supervisor, the remote approval queue manager electronically routes the request to the appropriate supervisor and obtains approval or denial of the request from the appropriate supervisor. The remote approval queue manager transmits authorization or denial of the action based the approval or denial from the appropriate supervisor.

Certain embodiments provide a gaming approval system providing flexible approvals for actions in a gaming environment. The method includes a remote approvals manager in communication with a plurality of gaming devices and supervisors via a communications network. The remote approvals manager receives a request for approval of an action to be undertaken in a gaming environment. The remote approval queue manager locates, via a communication network, an appropriate supervisor for approval of the request based on a list of potentially available supervisors and authorized approvals associated with the supervisors. Upon identification and location of an available and appropriate supervisor, the remote approval queue manager electronically routes the request for approval to the appropriate supervisor and obtains approval or denial of the request from the appropriate supervisor. The remote approval queue manager transmits authorization or denial of the action to the gaming environment based the approval or denial from the appropriate supervisor.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 illustrates a casino network system used in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 2 illustrates a flow diagram for a method for flexible approvals in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 3 shows a gaming system arranged to implement a probabilistic game of the type wherein several symbols from a set of symbols are randomly displayed and a game outcome is determined on the basis of the displayed symbols.

FIG. 4 illustrates a gaming system in the form of a stand alone gaming machine.

FIG. 5 shows a block diagram of operative components of a typical gaming machine which may be the same as or different to the gaming machine shown in FIG. 4.

FIG. 6 shows a block diagram of the main components of an exemplary memory.

FIG. 7 shows a gaming system in accordance with an alternative embodiment.

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, certain embodiments are shown in the drawings. It should be understood, however, that the present invention is not limited to the arrangements and instrumentality shown in the attached drawings.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Certain embodiments facilitate a flexible supervisory approval process for casinos and/or regulatory authorities. Some examples of casino operations that may require a higher level of approval include but are not limited to processing of jackpots with a monetary value greater than a predetermined amount, expiration or voiding of tickets from a ticketing system, line of credit approvals, and/or purchase of license credits for downloadable and/or server-based game content.

When an approval request is received, an appropriate supervisor is identified regardless of location (e.g., may be on or off property). The approval request is forwarded to the supervisor, such as through a network-based messaging system, a paging system, a phone system, etc. The approval request sent to the supervisor includes information that the supervisor may use to make decisions related to the requested approval.

Once the request is received, the supervisor reviews the information and approves or denies the transaction. The approval (or denial) may be communicated in a variety of ways, such as through a network-based messaging application, paging system, phone system and/or application built into a casino management and/or slot floor configuration system, for example. For example, a supervisor may provide an approval by replying to a wireless message sent to the supervisor's mobile device.

Pending approval requests are monitored, and re-tries and/or other actions may be initiated to account for communication problems and/or other unanticipated situations and to help ensure approval is completed in a timely manner. For example, further action may include redirection to one or more standby or alternate supervisors. Alternatively or in addition, further action may include escalation to supervisor(s) with increasing authority.

Once approval from an appropriate supervisor is received and authenticated, the pending operation is allowed to complete. The operator originating the approval request is notified that approval has been received and the operation has been completed.

Referring to FIG. 1, a casino network system 100 includes a plurality of gaming terminals 110, 120, and 130 interconnected through network 140 to a slot accounting and/or player tracking system 150 (hereinafter collectively referring to as a player tracking system), slot floor configuration manager 160 and remote approval queue manager 170. It should be understood that, while the present description may refer to gaming terminals as “slot machines”, gaming terminal is used to refer to gaming tables, video poker and other gaming machines, for example. It should also be understood that configuration or reconfiguration of a gaming terminal includes both an initial configuration and subsequent reconfiguration of the gaming terminal to download and/or otherwise provide (e.g., server-based) a game and/or other functionality to a player at the terminal. In certain embodiments, the casino network system 100 may be implemented in another gaming environment, such as a hotel, restaurant, theater, store, airport or other venue having one or more gaming systems. The components of the casino network system 100 may be implemented separately and/or in various combinations in hardware, software and/or firmware, for example.

Remote approval queue manager 170 is connected to database server 180 via a communication link 185, which may be integrated with or separate from the network 140. Remote approval queue manager 170 is shown in FIG. 1 as a physically separate server for demonstrative purposes only. However, the manager 170 may be a separate server or the functionality described herein may be incorporated into slot floor configuration manager 160, player tracking system 150 and/or similar server, for example.

System 100 also includes system workstations 200 and 205, connected to network 140. In addition, one or more mobile devices 210, and/or one or more external systems 220 may directly or indirectly communicate with remote approval queue manager 170. Mobile device 210 may take the form of a personal digital assistant, tablet computer, text pager, cellular phone and/or similar device, for example. Mobile device 210 may communicate via wireless data communication including but not limited to near field data communication (e.g., Bluetooth communication, wireless network communication such as 802.11g or similar) or data communication via a commercial or private cellular communications network, for example. External system 220 is connected to network 140 through firewall 225, and may include a player workstation in a hotel room or other location external to the casino, for example.

Gaming terminals 110, 120, and 130 include communications interfaces (CI) 115, 125, and 135 respectively, which communicate with network 140. In other embodiments, CI 115, 125, and 135 may instead communicate with player tracking system 150 via other system and/or method, such as a serial communications protocol (RS-485 or RS-232, for example). In an embodiment, CI 115, 125, and 135 may be integrated into a game controller for gaming terminals 110, 120, and 130. Certain embodiments of a CI are described in more detail below.

Player tracking system 150 collects data from CI 115, 125, and 135 for purposes of slot accounting, monitoring and security, and player tracking as is well known in the art. Player tracking system 150 processes and stores said data in database 180.

Slot floor configuration manager 160 receives information relevant to slot floor configuration management from player tracking system 150 and database 180. For example, slot floor configuration manager 160 may include an interface to player tracking system 150 to facilitate transfer of information between manager 160 and tracking system 150. In an embodiment, slot floor configuration manager 160 receives information from a database separate from database 180 used by player tracking system 150. In an embodiment, slot floor configuration manager 160 may receive floor configuration information independent of player tracking system 150. Slot floor configuration manager 160 also may receive information directly from gaming terminals 110, 120, 130. Gaming terminals 110, 120, 130 may be connected to slot floor configuration manager 160 and/or player tracking system 150 via separate networks or a common network, such as an Ethernet.

Slot floor configuration manager 160 processes information to determine and/or suggest configurations of gaming terminals on a gaming floor, such as a casino floor. Slot manager 160 reviews, adjusts, and approves suggested floor configurations via system workstation 200. In an embodiment, players may be provided with an ability to select desired games to be played or downloaded to a terminal via CI 115, 125, and 135 and/or gaming terminal 110, 120, and 130. Players may also review game information or update their profiles via kiosk 210 or external system 220, for example. Further detail regarding certain embodiments of a slot floor configuration system are described in co-pending U.S. application Ser. No. 11/459,232, which is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety.

When an authorized operator encounters an operation that involves additional approval, an approval request is generated and sent to remote approval queue manager 170. The request includes information such as a nature of the request, a level of approval and a priority of the request.

Remote approval queue manager 170 acknowledges receipt of the request, queues the request in database 180 and forwards the request to one or more appropriate personnel for approval. A location of a supervisor may be determined in a variety of ways. For example, a supervisor may be “logged in” to a messaging application to receive an approval request message. In an embodiment, such instant or rapid messaging functionality may be integrated into other applications associated with player tracking system 150 and/or slot floor configuration manager 160.

In certain embodiments, remote approval queue manager 170 may initiate a transmission of a wireless page or message to mobile device 210 being carried by a supervisor. The message may be a one-way page, for example, intended to inform the supervisor access a nearby and available workstation 205 to approve the request. Alternatively or in addition, the message may be a two-way communication including information to make the approval decision as well as complete the approval through the mobile device 210 (e.g., by responding to the message with a special code).

Once approval is receive by approval queue manager 170, the request is logged as completed in database 180 and forwarded to player tracking system 150 and/or slot floor configuration manager 160. The pending operation is allowed to complete.

System 100 may also include an external system 220, which is connected to network 140 via firewall 225, for example. External system 220 may be a workstation in a gaming regulator's office, for example. In one embodiment, gaming regulators may monitor and manage game certificates and/or other verification information via external system 220.

In certain embodiments, certificate and other licensing/verification information may be managed using a certificate manager. The certificate manager may be configured to allow access to games to be controlled for a given gaming environment, such as governmental regulators or gaming operators acting in compliance with gaming regulations. The certificate manager may work with a certificate database to control access to the game(s) being played. For example, the certificate database may include encoded and encrypted digital certificates or other authentication/license indicators that the to games in the game database on a one-to-one basis. In an embodiment, due to the nature of the games and gaming terminals, a game may not be played unless a valid certificate for that game exists in the certificate database. In an embodiment, a certificate is also mated to a venue, such as a casino or other gaming environment, so that a game may not be played at another venue even if the game and certificate were electronically duplicated and moved to another venue.

In an embodiment, a certificate may also be mated to a binary image of a game file, such that a game may not be played if the binary image is modified. If a modification or update of a game image is a result of an authorized action, a new certificate may be issued by a regulator before the game may be played. Games lacking a valid certificate may be handled differently in a player's game catalog interface. In an embodiment, games lacking a valid certificate may be excluded from a player selection interface altogether. In an alternate embodiment, games lacking a valid certificate may be excluded from certain portions of a player catalog and/or visibly marked with an appropriate descriptive phrase such as “Pending approval for play in this casino”.

In an embodiment, certificates may be implemented such that the number of concurrently playing games of a given title may be limited by regulators or a game provider, for example. In an embodiment, certificates may be implemented such that a number of concurrently playing games from a given game provider is similarly limited. In an embodiment, the certificate database may be implemented to facilitate a total number of games being concurrently played at a given venue, if regulations enforce such a limit, for example.

In an embodiment, regulators have access to the certificate database, either through an interface local to a gaming environment or through a remote interface such as a web-based interface through a dedicated and encrypted network link between the venue and the regulator. Through this interface, the regulator may manage the certificate database to approve games for play or similarly revoke approval of games, for example.

In an embodiment, the floor configuration manager 160 uses historical data as well as stored information regarding available games to determine and suggest, or in certain instances command, available game configuration(s) or mix for a casino floor or other gaming environment. Such a mix may include, for example, game location(s), game denomination(s), game content, game appearance, terminal appearance, terminal operational mode and/or additional parameter(s) such as volatility, return to player (RTP), etc. In an embodiment, the manager 160 may change a gaming environment floor configuration automatically. For example, rules, preferences, calendar-based schedules, and/or historical data may be used by manager 160 to automatically reconfigure a gaming environment. As a few examples, the denominations of games may be changed to higher denominations for periods such as holidays and weekends where tourists or conventioneers are expected and lower denominations during the week for local players. Where a large influx of tourists is expected, game play may be converted from, for example, video Poker games to video slot machine games which may be more popular with the expected demographics of the patrons. Historical data may also be used to control or suggest a configuration regime. Prior successful configurations may be accessed and duplicated and even tied to calendar events, e.g. reconfigure for the Christmas Holiday the same as last Christmas. Where players are entitled to select configurations, a historical record may be maintained with respect to player requested configurations and the same may be analyzed to set up configurations for the casino floor.

FIG. 2 illustrates a flow diagram for a method 300 for flexible approvals in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention. At step 310, an approval request is received. For example, a jackpot approval request, credit/account approval request, licensing approval request, configuration approval request and the like is received at an approval system.

At step 320, an appropriate supervisor is located. For example, a supervisor capable of approving the request is called, paged, instant-messaged, emailed, etc. to notify the supervisor of the pending approval request. In certain embodiments, if the supervisor does not respond, an alternate supervisor is contacted.

At step 330, the approval request is forwarded to the available supervisor. For example, the approval request may be messaged and/or emailed to the supervisor, faxed to the supervisor, and/or the supervisor may access the approval system to view the request. In certain embodiments, the approval system may be accessible via a gaming terminal, workstation, external system, web browser and the like. In certain embodiments, a report is generated for the request to provide information to the supervisor for approval.

At step 340, the supervisor reviews and acts on the approval request. As described above, the supervisor may review the approval request and supporting information physically and/or electronically. The supervisor may then approve or deny the request. The approval or deny may be facilitated via messaging, email, fax, page, interaction with the electronic approval system, etc.

At step 350, if approval is received, the requested action is taken. If approval is not received, the requested action may be denied.

In certain embodiments, approval may be automated based on certain guidelines. For example, approvals of jackpot amounts under a certain amount may be automated. If the amount exceeds the threshold, the request is then referred to a human supervisor for approval, for example. In certain embodiments, an on-site supervisor may be presented. A remote supervisor may alternatively and/or in addition be present. In certain embodiments, a central casino or gaming manufacturer supervisor may available for approvals. In certain embodiments, a gaming regulator is available for approvals.

One or more of the steps of the method 300 may be implemented alone or in combination in hardware, firmware, and/or as a set of instructions in software, for example. Certain embodiments may be provided as a set of instructions residing on a computer-readable medium, such as a memory, hard disk, DVD, or CD, for execution on a general purpose computer or other processing device.

Certain embodiments of the present invention may omit one or more of these steps and/or perform the steps in a different order than the order listed. For example, some steps may not be performed in certain embodiments of the present invention. As a further example, certain steps may be performed in a different temporal order, including simultaneously, than listed above.

Thus, certain embodiments provide an improved system and method for configuration of gaming terminals in a gaming environment. Certain embodiments provide a system and method that allow customization and dynamic modification by an operator. Certain embodiments provide improved reconfiguration of gaming terminals in gaming environment to offer a variety of games and/or other options to players. Additionally, certain embodiments improve security, regulation and reliability of gaming terminals and access to games by players. Certain embodiments monitor game play, player response, and configuration changes to affect configuration of a gaming environment. Certain embodiments provide an improved player experience through selectable games, feedback, and/or other preferences, for example. Certain embodiments allow progressive, mystery, bonusing and other gaming content to be added to gaming terminals. Certain embodiments allow an operator to manage sign or display content and configuration, as well as gaming terminal software and firmware content and configuration. Thus, certain embodiments allow adaptable control and configuration of a gaming environment.

Referring to the drawings, FIG. 3 shows a gaming system 310 arranged to implement a probabilistic game of the type wherein several symbols from a set of symbols are randomly displayed and a game outcome is determined on the basis of the displayed symbols. With some such probabilistic games, the set of symbols include standard symbols at least one of which is a function symbol, and the game outcome is determined on the basis of the displayed standard symbols and the function associated with any displayed function symbol. For example, standard symbols may resemble fruit such as apples, pears and bananas with a win outcome being determined when a predetermined number of the same fruit appear on a display in the same line, scattered, and so on. The function associated with a function symbol may be for example a wild function wherein display of the function symbol is treated during consideration of the game outcome as any of the standard symbols. A function symbol may be represented as the word “WILD”, a star, or by any other suitable word or symbol. Other functions are also envisaged such as scatter functions, multiplier functions, repeat win functions, jackpot functions and feature commencement functions.

The gaming system operates such that one or more function symbols can effectively be added during a game so as to modify the probability of occurrence of a win outcome and thereby enhance player interest in playing the game. This is achieved by selecting one or more symbols to acquire a new function and determining game outcomes based on displayed symbols and the new function. The function acquired by a symbol may be in place of or in addition to any function already associated with the symbol.

Referring to FIG. 3, certain embodiments described may be used in conjunction with game play and operation of a gaming system 10. The gaming system 10 includes a memory 12 arranged to store symbols data 14 indicative of a plurality of symbols for subsequent display to a player, function data 16 indicative of one or more functions allocatable to the symbols, and game instruction data 18 indicative of game instructions usable by the gaming machine 10 to control operation of the game.

The gaming system 10 also includes a symbol selector 20 which is arranged to select several symbols for display to a player and in some game circumstances to select one or more symbol to which a function is to be allocated. In this example, the selection carried out by the symbol selector 20 is made using a random number generator 22.

It will be appreciated that the random number generator 22 may be of a type which is arranged to generate pseudo random numbers based on a seed number, and that in this specification the term “random” will be understood accordingly to mean truly random or pseudo random.

The gaming system 10 also includes a function selector 24 arranged to select one or more functions for allocation to one or more symbols selected during the special game circumstances, and a function allocator 26 arranged to allocate the or each function selected by the function selector 24 to one or more symbols selected during the special game circumstances. The function selector 24 may be arranged to randomly select a function or to select a function on the basis of a predefined rule.

The gaming system 10 also includes an outcome generator 28 which in accordance with the game instructions 18 determines game outcomes based on the symbols selected for display to a player by the symbol selector 20, and on the basis of the function(s) allocated to one or more selected symbols, if any.

In the embodiments described below, the symbol selector 20, the function selector 24, the function allocator 26, and the outcome generator 28 are at least partly implemented using a microprocessor, although it will be understood that other implementations are envisioned.

The gaming system 10 can take a number of different forms.

In a first form, a stand alone gaming machine is provided wherein all or most components required for implementing the game are present in a player operable gaming machine.

In a second form, a distributed architecture is provided wherein some of the components required for implementing the game are present in a player operable gaming machine and some of the components required for implementing the game are located remotely relative to the gaming machine. For example, a “thick client” architecture may be used wherein part of the game is executed on a player operable gaming machine and part of the game is executed remotely, such as by a gaming server; or a “thin client” architecture may be used wherein most of the game is executed remotely such as by a gaming server and a player operable gaming machine is used only to display audible and/or visible gaming information to the player and receive gaming inputs from the player.

However, it will be understood that other arrangements are envisioned. For example, an architecture may be provided wherein a gaming machine is networked to a gaming server and the respective functions of the gaming machine and the gaming server are selectively modifiable. For example, the gaming system may operate in stand alone gaming machine mode, “thick client” mode or “thin client” mode depending on the game being played, operating conditions, and so on. Other variations will be apparent to persons skilled in the art.

A gaming system in the form of a stand alone gaming machine 40 is illustrated in FIG. 4. The gaming machine 40 includes a console 42 having a display 44 on which is displayed representations of a game 46 that can be played by a player. A mid-trim 50 of the gaming machine 40 houses a bank of buttons 52 for enabling a player to interact with the gaming machine, in particular during game play. The mid-trim 50 also houses a credit input mechanism 54 which in this example includes a coin input chute 54A and a bill collector 54B. Other credit input mechanisms may also be employed, for example, a card reader for reading a smart card, debit card or credit card. A reading device may also be provided for the purpose of reading a player tracking device, for example as part of a loyalty program. The player tracking device may be in the form of a card, flash drive or any other portable storage medium capable of being read by the reading device.

A top box 56 may carry artwork 58, including for example pay tables and details of bonus awards and other information or images relating to the game. Further artwork and/or information may be provided on a front panel 59 of the console 42. A coin tray 60 is mounted beneath the front panel 59 for dispensing cash payouts from the gaming machine 40.

The display 44 is in the form of a video display unit, particularly a cathode ray tube screen device. Alternatively, the display 44 may be a liquid crystal display, plasma screen, any other suitable video display unit. The top box 56 may also include a display, for example a video display unit, which may be of the same type as the display 44, or of a different type.

The display 44 in this example is arranged to display representations of several reels, each reel of which has several associated symbols. Typically 3, 4 or 5 reels are provided. During operation of the game, the reels first appear to rotate then stop with typically three symbols visible on each reel. Game outcomes are determined on the basis of the visible symbols together with any special functions associated with the symbols.

It will be understood that instead of providing a video display unit which displays representations of reels, actual reels may be used. Such gaming machines including actual rotatable reels are commonly termed stepper machines.

FIG. 5 shows a block diagram of operative components of a typical gaming machine 500 which may be the same as or different to the gaming machine shown in FIG. 4.

The gaming machine 500 includes a game controller 501 having a processor 502. Instructions and data to control operation of the processor 502 in accordance with the present invention are stored in a memory 503 which is in data communication with the processor 502.

Typically, the gaming machine 500 will include both volatile and non-volatile memory and more than one of each type of memory, with such memories being collectively represented by the memory 503.

FIG. 6 shows a block diagram of the main components of an exemplary memory 503. The memory 503 includes RAM 503A, EPROM 503B and a mass storage device 503C. The RAM 503A typically temporarily holds program files for execution by the processor 502 and related data. The EPROM 503B may be a boot ROM device and/or may contain some system or game related code. The mass storage device 503C is typically used to store game programs, the integrity of which may be verified and/or authenticated by the processor 502 using protected code from the EPROM 503B or elsewhere.

The gaming machine has hardware meters 504 for purposes including ensuring regulatory compliance and monitoring player credit, an input/output (I/O) interface 505 for communicating with a player interface 520 of the gaming machine 500, the player interface 520 having several peripheral devices. The input/output interface 505 and/or the peripheral devices may be intelligent devices with their own memory for storing associated instructions and data for use with the input/output interface or the peripheral devices. A random number generator module 513 generates random numbers for use by the processor 502.

In the example shown in FIG. 5, the peripheral devices that communicate with the game controller 501 comprise one or more displays 506, a touch screen and/or bank of buttons 507, a card and/or ticket reader 508, a printer 509, a bill acceptor and/or coin input mechanism 510 and a coin output mechanism 511. Additional hardware may be included as part of the gaming machine 500, or hardware may be omitted as required for the specific implementation.

In addition, the gaming machine 500 may include a communications interface, for example a network card 512. The network card may, for example, send status information, accounting information or other information to a central controller, server or database and receive data or commands from the central controller, server or database.

It is also possible for the operative components of the gaming machine 500 to be distributed, for example input/output devices 506, 507, 508, 509, 510, 511 may be provided remotely from the game controller 501.

FIG. 7 shows a gaming system 700 in accordance with an alternative embodiment. The gaming system 700 includes a network 701, which for example may be an Ethernet network, a LAN or a WAN. In this example, three banks 703 of two gaming machines 702 are connected to the network 701. The gaming machines 702 provide a player operable interface and may be the same as the gaming machines 40, 500 shown in FIGS. 4 and 5, or may have simplified functionality depending on the requirements for implementing game play. While banks 703 of two gaming machines are illustrated in FIG. 7, banks of one, three or more gaming machines are also envisioned.

One or more displays 704 may also be connected to the network 701. The displays 704 may, for example, be associated with one or more banks 703 of gaming machines. The displays 704 may be used to display representations associated with game play on the gaming machines 702, and/or used to display other representations, for example promotional or informational material.

In a thick client embodiment, a game server 705 implements part of the game played by a player using a gaming machine 702 and the gaming machine 702 implements part of the game. With this embodiment, as both the game server 705 and the gaming machine 702 implement part of the game, they collectively provide a game controller. A database management server 706 may manage storage of game programs and associated data for downloading or access by the gaming devices 702 in a database 706A. Typically, if the gaming system enables players to participate in a Jackpot game, a Jackpot server 707 will be provided to monitor and carry out the Jackpot game.

In a thin client embodiment, the game server 705 implements most or all of the game played by a player using a gaming machine 702 and the gaming machine 702 essentially provides only the player interface. With this embodiment, the game server 705 provides the game controller. The gaming machine will receive player instructions, and pass the instructions to the game server which will process them and return game play outcomes to the gaming machine for display. In a thin client embodiment, the gaming machines could be computer terminals, e.g. PCs running software that provides a player interface operable using standard computer input and output components.

Servers may also be provided to assist in the administration of the gaming system 700, including for example a gaming floor management server 708 and a licensing server 709 to monitor the use of licenses relating to particular games. An administrator terminal 710 is provided to allow an administrator to monitor the network 701 and the devices connected to the network.

The gaming system 700 may communicate with other gaming systems, other local networks such as a corporate network, and/or a wide area network such as the Internet, for example through a firewall 711.

Persons skilled in the art will appreciate that in accordance with known techniques, functionality at the server side of the network may be distributed over a plurality of different computers. For example, elements may be run as a single “engine” on one server or a separate server may be provided. For example, the game server 705 could run a random number generator engine. Alternatively, a separate random number generator server could be provided.

The components, elements, and/or functionality of the system(s) described above may be implemented alone or in combination in various forms in hardware, firmware, and/or as a set of instructions in software, for example. Certain embodiments may be provided as a set of instructions residing on a computer-readable medium, such as a memory or hard disk, for execution on a general purpose computer or other processing device.

Several embodiments are described above with reference to drawings. These drawings illustrate certain details of specific embodiments that implement the systems and methods and programs of the present invention. However, describing the invention with drawings should not be construed as imposing on the invention any limitations associated with features shown in the drawings. The present invention contemplates methods, systems and program products on any machine-readable media for accomplishing its operations. As noted above, the embodiments of the present invention may be implemented using an existing computer processor, or by a special purpose computer processor incorporated for this or another purpose or by a hardwired system.

As noted above, certain embodiments within the scope of the present invention include program products comprising machine-readable media for carrying or having machine-executable instructions or data structures stored thereon. Such machine-readable media can be any available media that can be accessed by a general purpose or special purpose computer or other machine with a processor. By way of example, such machine-readable media may comprise RAM, ROM, PROM, EPROM, EEPROM, Flash, CD-ROM or other optical disk storage, magnetic disk storage or other magnetic storage devices, or any other medium which can be used to carry or store desired program code in the form of machine-executable instructions or data structures and which can be accessed by a general purpose or special purpose computer or other machine with a processor. When information is transferred or provided over a network or another communications connection (either hardwired, wireless, or a combination of hardwired or wireless) to a machine, the machine properly views the connection as a machine-readable medium. Thus, any such a connection is properly termed a machine-readable medium. Combinations of the above are also included within the scope of machine-readable media. Machine-executable instructions comprise, for example, instructions and data which cause a general purpose computer, special purpose computer, or special purpose processing machines to perform a certain function or group of functions.

Certain embodiments of the invention are described in the general context of method steps which may be implemented in one embodiment by a program product including machine-executable instructions, such as program code, for example in the form of program modules executed by machines in networked environments. Generally, program modules include routines, programs, objects, components, data structures, etc., that perform particular tasks or implement particular abstract data types. Machine-executable instructions, associated data structures, and program modules represent examples of program code for executing steps of the methods disclosed herein. The particular sequence of such executable instructions or associated data structures represent examples of corresponding acts for implementing the functions described in such steps.

Certain embodiments of the present invention may be practiced in a networked environment using logical connections to one or more remote computers having processors. Logical connections may include a local area network (LAN) and a wide area network (WAN) that are presented here by way of example and not limitation. Such networking environments are commonplace in office-wide or enterprise-wide computer networks, intranets and the Internet and may use a wide variety of different communication protocols. Those skilled in the art will appreciate that such network computing environments will typically encompass many types of computer system configurations, including personal computers, hand-held devices, multi-processor systems, microprocessor-based or programmable consumer electronics, network PCs, minicomputers, mainframe computers, and the like. Embodiments of the invention may also be practiced in distributed computing environments where tasks are performed by local and remote processing devices that are linked (either by hardwired links, wireless links, or by a combination of hardwired or wireless links) through a communications network. In a distributed computing environment, program modules may be located in both local and remote memory storage devices.

An exemplary system for implementing the overall system or portions of certain embodiments of the invention might include a general purpose computing device in the form of a computer, including a processing unit, a system memory, and a system bus that couples various system components including the system memory to the processing unit. The system memory may include read only memory (ROM) and random access memory (RAM). The computer may also include a magnetic hard disk drive for reading from and writing to a magnetic hard disk, a magnetic disk drive for reading from or writing to a removable magnetic disk, and an optical disk drive for reading from or writing to a removable optical disk such as a CD ROM or other optical media. The drives and their associated machine-readable media provide nonvolatile storage of machine-executable instructions, data structures, program modules and other data for the computer.

The foregoing description of embodiments of the invention has been presented for purposes of illustration and description. It is not intended to be exhaustive or to limit the invention to the precise form disclosed, and modifications and variations are possible in light of the above teachings or may be acquired from practice of the invention. The embodiments were chosen and described in order to explain the principals of the invention and its practical application to enable one skilled in the art to utilize the invention in various embodiments and with various modifications as are suited to the particular use contemplated.

Those skilled in the art will appreciate that the embodiments disclosed herein may be applied to the formation of a variety of gaming systems. Certain features of the embodiments of the claimed subject matter have been illustrated as described herein; however, many modifications, substitutions, changes and equivalents will now occur to those skilled in the art. Additionally, while several functional blocks and relations between them have been described in detail, it is contemplated by those of skill in the art that several of the operations may be performed without the use of the others, or additional functions or relationships between functions may be established and still be in accordance with the claimed subject matter. It is, therefore, to be understood that the appended claims are intended to cover all such modifications and changes as fall within the true spirit of the embodiments of the claimed subject matter.

While certain embodiments of the present invention have been described, it should be understood that these embodiments are subject to many modifications and changes without departing from the spirit and scope of the appended claims. For example, it will be understood that the invention disclosed and defined in this specification extends to all alternative combinations of two or more of the individual features mentioned or evident from the text or drawings. All of these different combinations constitute various alternative aspects of the invention. It will also be understood that the term “comprises” (or its grammatical variants) as used in this specification is equivalent to the term “includes” and should not be taken as excluding the presence of other elements or features.