Title:
INCENTIVE SYSTEM FOR GAMING PLAYER TRACKING
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An incentive method is provided for encouraging use of a credit or debit card sponsored by, or affiliated with, a first vendor having consumer offerings, such as a casino offering gambling on games of chance, food, lodging, or other goods or services. The method includes offering the card to a person, such as a casino patron, tracking transactions on the card after acceptance by the person, including transactions for consumer offerings purchased from a second vendor, and rewarding second vendor transactions with a discount on a consumer offering purchased from the first vendor. An incentive system is provided for rewarding casino patrons who enroll in a tracking system which monitors various player characteristics. These monitored characteristics are used to assign a player rating which is used to enhance prize payouts and/or award bonus prizes.



Inventors:
Seelig, Jerald C. (Absecon, NJ, US)
Henshaw, Lawrence M. (Hammonton, NJ, US)
Application Number:
12/124438
Publication Date:
11/20/2008
Filing Date:
05/21/2008
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
463/25
International Classes:
A63F9/24
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
GARNER, WERNER G
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ATIP Law (RENO, NV, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. An incentive method of encouraging use of a credit or debit card sponsored by or affiliated with a casino having games of chance and consumer offerings, comprising: offering the card to a casino patron; tracking transactions on the card after acceptance by the patron, including transactions for casino gaming and consumer offerings purchased from a third party vendor; and rewarding third party vendor transactions with a casino reward.

2. The incentive method of claim 1, wherein the casino reward comprises a discount up to a full purchase price of a selected casino consumer offering.

3. The incentive method of claim 1, wherein the casino reward comprises an enhanced payout for gaming wins based on third party vendor card transactions.

4. The incentive method of claim 1, wherein the casino reward comprises a bonus prize for gaming wins having a value based on third party vendor card transactions.

5. The incentive method of claim 1, further comprising paying off up to all of an existing balance on the card for gaming wins where the card was used to place a wager.

6. The incentive method of claim 1, further comprising making at least one payment on the card balance for gaming wins where the card was used to place a wager.

7. An incentive method of encouraging enrollment in a tracking system employed by a casino, comprising: offering casino patrons enrollment into the tracking system; linking a player cashless device to the tracking system; paying a regular prize payout to patrons who decline enrollment; and paying an enhanced prize payout to patrons who enroll in the tracking system.

8. The incentive method of claim 7, further comprising: calculating a player rating for each enrolled patron using the tracking system; and establishing the enhanced prize payout using the player rating.

9. The incentive method of claim 7, further comprising: monitoring a characteristic of each enrolled patron while playing a game at the casino; determining a rating for each enrolled patron corresponding to the monitored characteristic; and varying a value of the enhanced prize payout according to the determined rating.

10. The incentive method of claim 9, wherein: the method further comprises storing a date of patron enrollment in the tracking system; and the characteristic comprises a duration of patron enrollment in the tracking system.

11. The incentive method of claim 9, wherein the characteristic comprises at least one of: (a) a wagering characteristic; (b) an attendance record; and (c) a game profile characteristic.

12. The incentive method of claim 7, further comprising: offering a credit or debit card sponsored by or affiliated with the casino to casino patrons, with casino patrons who accept the card becoming cardholders; monitoring card transactions by cardholders to purchase consumer offerings of a third party vendor; determining a rating for each cardholder based on the monitored card transactions; and varying a value of the enhanced prize payout according to the determined rating.

13. The incentive method of claim 12, wherein paying an enhanced prize payout comprises paying off up to all of an existing balance on the card for gaming wins where the card was used to place a wager.

14. A system for allowing a gaming player to redeem winnings, comprising: a gaming machine comprising a processing system, the processing system configured to present a player with a game of chance, to determine whether the player has won or lost the game of chance, and to update a value according to whether the player has won or lost the game of chance; a cashless gaming device configured to store player information; and a cashless gaming device cash-out system in communication with the gaming machine processing system, with the cash-out system comprising a processor configured to compare information from the gaming machine processing system to a set of predefined instructions to determine whether the game player is entitled to a prize.

15. The system of claim 14, wherein the cashless gaming device cash-out system further comprises a prize indicator, with the prize indicator indicating to the player any additional prize to which the player is entitled.

16. The system of claim 15, wherein the prize indicator comprises at least one of: a video screen; and a printed indicator.

17. The system of claim 14, wherein the cashless gaming device comprises machine readable identification indicia.

18. A gaming player incentive system comprising: cashless means for spending money at a casino cashier; card processing means in communication with the casino cashier for tracking player spending; tracking means in communication with the processing means for monitoring money spent at a home casino; and rewarding means in communication with the tracking means for giving the player an incentive to spend more based on a spending pattern made with the cashless means.

19. The system of claim 18, further comprising calculating means in communication with the tracking means for calculating a rating for the player based on player spending.

20. The system of claim 19, further comprising third party tracking means in communication with the card processing means for tracking money spent at a third party vendor location, the third party tracking means in communication with the rewarding means to affect the rating based on money spent at the third party vendor location.

21. The system of claim 19, wherein: the tracking means further comprises means for tracking casino attendance; and the rating is further calculated based on casino attendance.

22. The system of claim 19, wherein: the tracking means further comprises means for tracking wagering characteristics; and the rating is further calculated based on wagering characteristics.

23. The system of claim 19, wherein: the tracking means further comprises means for tracking game selection; and the rating is further calculated based on game selection.

24. The system of claim 18, wherein the tracking means further comprises means for tracking at least one of: (a) prizes awarded to the player; (b) money spent on activities selected from the group consisting of services, food, non-food, and wagering; and (c) player activity selected from the group consisting of attendance at the home casino, game selection, wagering, prize wining, and spending money on casino offerings.

25. A casino operating system, comprising: a monitor to gather information defining a characteristic exhibited by a casino patron; a tracker to store the gathered information for each casino patron monitored; an enrollment mechanism operable by casino patrons to enroll in the tracking system; and a prize calculator responsive to the gathered information to calculate an enhanced prize for each enrolled patron.

26. The casino operating system of claim 25, wherein: the tracker assigns each enrolled patron a rating based on the gathered information; and the prize calculator tracker uses the rating to calculate the enhanced prize.

27. The casino operating system of claim 25, wherein the characteristic comprises at least one of: (a) patron attendance at the casino; (b) patron wagering habits; and (c) patron gaming selections.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application is a Continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/750,934, filed on May 18, 2007. This application also claims priority to U.S. provisional application 61/023,064, filed on Jan. 23, 2008. The contents of the above are herein incorporated by reference in their entirety.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to a method and apparatus for encouraging players to use cashless gaming, player tracking and rating systems, including methods and apparatuses.

BACKGROUND

Gaming devices, such as slot machines and video poker machines, were originally designed only to accept and dispense coins. This restriction is unsatisfactory for both players and for gaming proprietors. Players are unsatisfied because they are forced to carry around large quantities of heavy coins. Furthermore, players are unable to interchangeably use coins in machines designed for wagers of different denominations. For example, dollar tokens cannot be used in nickel machines and vice versa. Therefore, a player either has to carry around multiple denominations of coins or is forced to go to a cashier cage or casino attendant in order to change coins to a desired denomination. This inconvenience detracts from the player's gaming experience.

The restriction to coins is also unsatisfactory to gaming proprietors. Apart from providing their patrons with a sub-optimal experience, the use of coins creates added expense and inconvenience for gaming proprietors. For instance, gaming proprietors might be required to utilize additional personnel in order to conduct coin based transactions with patrons. Gaming proprietors are also forced to deal with the logistics of maintaining sufficient amounts of various coins, including an increased security risk to gaming employees and patrons from maintaining large amounts of currency on the gaming premises.

Coins also create increased maintenance costs and machine down-time. For example, when coins are used, attendants must collect excess coins from machines and must fill the coin hoppers when the machines begin to run low on coins. Coins also cause wear and tear on the internal components of the gaming machines, resulting in malfunctions and broken machines. Coins generate metallic dust that can cause the machines to break and malfunction. Coins often become jammed in the coin transport mechanisms, requiring maintenance.

The introduction of paper currency acceptors and validators addressed some of the problems discussed above. In particular, game players are able to play games of different wager amounts by inserting paper currency into the machine. Therefore, to some extent, the player is no longer required to carry around coins of different denominations.

However, other problems were not solved by paper currency acceptors. For example, even though the gaming machines might accept paper currency, they still dispense winnings in the form of coins. Once a player stops playing the game and “cashes-out” his or her winnings, the player is not be able to use the coins in machines designed for different denominations of coins or tokens. The player still has to visit a cashier cage or attendant in order to change coin types or obtain paper currency. Paper currency acceptors also have not solved the problems of filling and removing currency from the machines and maintenance resulting from wear and tear on the machines caused by the coin handling functions. In fact, the paper currency acceptor and transport mechanisms have additional items that require maintenance and service.

The introduction of non-currency methods, such as tickets, vouchers, smart cards, credit cards, and other credit based transactions (generally, “cashless methods”) has allowed many of the previously described problems to be solved, or at least mitigated. For example, when cashless methods are used, players are able to use their cashless device on machines programmed to wager any denomination.

By using cashless devices, the customer must no longer tote around coins or currency. A player's winnings or losses can be added or subtracted from the value stored in the cashless device. The customer no longer has to worry about exchanging various denominations of currency.

Cashless devices increase the security and safety of the gaming environment. Cashless devices allow the gaming proprietor to reduce the amount of currency on site, reducing the potential for criminal activity. Cashless devices can be tied to a specific person's identity, reducing the chance for theft. For example, a gaming proprietor can require a patron to provide identification before cashing out a cashless device. Similarly, if a patron reported a cashless device as lost or stolen, the gaming proprietor may cancel the missing cashless device and issue the patron a new device.

However, there are problems associated with the use of cashless devices. For example, many game players are unfamiliar with the use of cashless devices and prefer to use currency. Many players are reluctant to try cashless devices because they are not familiar with them. What has long been needed is a means for providing players with an incentive to use cashless devices so that both gaming proprietors and game players can experience the full benefits of the use of cashless devices.

In addition, it would be beneficial to provide players with an incentive to cash out cashless devices only when a player has accumulated a desired value. This would encourage players to play longer, which would benefit the gaming proprietors by increasing revenue.

SUMMARY OF ONE EMBODIMENT OF THE INVENTION

Advantages of One or More Embodiments of the Present Invention

The various embodiments of the present invention may, but do not necessarily, achieve one or more of the following advantages:

encourage game players to enroll in a player tracking system;

    • encourage game players to increase play and amounts wagered;
    • encourage game players to increase their rate of wager, e.g. dollars wagered per hour;
    • encourage game players to use a gambling establishment sponsored or affiliated credit card or debit card to purchase third party goods and services;
    • increase marketing exposure for the gambling establishment
    • encourage game players to use cashless devices;
    • encourage game players to start and end game play during certain time periods;
    • allow game players to view and select a prize for using a cashless device;
    • allow game players to receive a prize for electing to use a cashless device to cash out before or during a game;
    • provide a prize for using a cashless device with a downloadable gaming system; and
    • require less cash on the gaming premises.

These and other advantages may be realized by reference to the remaining portions of the specification, claims, and abstract.

Brief Description of One Embodiment of the Present Invention

The present invention provides a method for providing game players with an incentive to redeem winnings using a cashless device. The method includes providing a wagering game to a player and allowing the player to transfer value to the wagering game. The value transferred by the player to the wagering game is recorded. A game is presented to the player and the player is allowed to place a wager and play the game. It is determined whether the result of the game is a winning event or a losing event. The recorded value is updated by adding or subtracting from the recorded value depending on whether the result of the game was a winning or losing event. The player is allowed to cash out at least a portion of the updated recorded value using a cashless device. A prize is awarded to the player if the cashout occurs during a first time period.

The present invention also provides a gaming apparatus that allows a player to redeem winnings. The gaming apparatus includes a value acceptor and dispenser. The value acceptor and dispenser are configured to accept currency or currency equivalents from the player. A controller is in communication with the value acceptor and dispenser. The controller is configured to present the player with a game of chance and to determine whether the player has won or lost the game of chance. The controller is configured to store the amount of value accepted from the player and update the value according to whether the player has won or lost the game of chance. A cashless gaming system is in communication with the controller and the value acceptor and dispenser. The cashless gaming system is configured to compare information from the controller to a set of predefined instructions to determine whether the player is entitled to a prize and to dispense at least a portion of the stored value to the game player.

The above description sets forth, rather broadly, a summary of one embodiment of the present invention so that the detailed description that follows may be better understood and contributions of the present invention to the art may be better appreciated. Some of the embodiments of the present invention may not include all of the features or characteristics listed in the above summary. There are, of course, additional features of the invention that will be described below and will form the subject matter of claims. In this respect, before explaining at least one preferred embodiment of the invention in detail, it is to be understood that the invention is not limited in its application to the details of the construction and to the arrangement of the components set forth in the following description or as illustrated in the drawings. The invention is capable of other embodiments and of being practiced and carried out in various ways. Also, it is to be understood that the phraseology and terminology employed herein are for the purpose of description and should not be regarded as limiting.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is substantially a front view of a gaming apparatus for use with the present invention.

FIG. 2 is substantially a flow chart illustrating the operation of a method of an embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 3 is substantially a flow chart illustrating the operation of a method of an embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 4 is substantially a continuation of the flow chart of FIG. 3.

FIG. 5 is substantially a block diagram of internal components of the gaming device of FIG. 1.

FIG. 6 is substantially a flow chart illustrating the operation of a method of another embodiment of the present invention and is a continuation of the flow chart of FIG. 3.

FIG. 7 is substantially a continuation of the flow chart of FIG. 6.

FIG. 8 is substantially a continuation of the flow chart of FIG. 7.

FIG. 9 is substantially a flow chart illustrating the operation of a method of an additional embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 10 is substantially a continuation of the flow chart of FIG. 9.

FIG. 11 is substantially a flow chart illustrating the operation of a method of an additional embodiment of the present invention and is continuation of the flow chart of FIG. 2.

FIG. 12 is substantially a continuation of the flow chart of FIG. 11.

FIG. 13 is substantially a block diagram of an additional embodiment of the present invention illustrating one form of a cashless gaming, player tracking and rating system.

FIG. 14 is substantially a block diagram of one manner of operating the system of FIG. 13.

FIG. 15 is substantially a flow chart of one method of operating the system of FIG. 13.

FIG. 16 is substantially a continuation of the flow chart of FIG. 15.

FIG. 17 is substantially a continuation of the flow chart of FIG. 16.

DESCRIPTION OF CERTAIN EMBODIMENTS OF THE PRESENT INVENTION

In the following detailed description of the embodiments, reference is made to the accompanying drawings, which form a part of this application. The drawings show, by way of illustration, specific embodiments in which the invention may be practiced. It is to be understood that other embodiments may be utilized and structural changes may be made without departing from the scope of the present invention.

The present invention relates, generally, to methods of encouraging the use of cashless gaming devices, such as vouchers, coupons, tickets, stubs, certificates, memory storage devices, and cards. A cashless device is meant to be anything that can be assigned or communicate a particular value. For example, one cashless device may be a voucher. The voucher can be issued with a specific value. Preferably, the value associated with the voucher can be updated by recording (e.g., by printing) a new value on the voucher when a player chooses to cash out from a particular gaming device.

Another cashless device is a player card that can be linked to a cash or credit account, such that player's winnings or losses can be credited to or debited from the account and linked to a casino's player tracking system. Preferably, the gaming device has a reader that gathers account identifying information in the card, queries a central computer or accesses a computer network, and receives information about the player's cash or credit account.

Cashless devices are capable of having a variable value. One way this can be achieved is by imprinting a unique code or identifier on the cashless device. This code could be, for example, a bar code or could be encoded on a magnetic strip, such as those used on credit cards. The identifier is associated with a database that stores information about the cashless device and a player account. The information stored can include many different things, but includes player information and a credit and/or cash account balance. Preferably, the balance stored in the database can be modified. For example, the balance may be updated when a player wins or loses credits, pays additional currency to be converted to credits, or decides to cash out all or part of the value of the cashless device.

Cashless devices can also contain, or be linked to, a player tracking system. Player tracking systems are often used by gaming proprietors to track a player's wagering habits, and to award “comps” such as room upgrades, free meals, show tickets, etc. The information recorded might include the kind of games the player has played, how often the player visits the establishment, the amount won or lost by the player, the amount of time spent playing games of chance, etc. As will be discussed below, this player tracking information (or “player characteristics”) can be used to determine when a player will be given an incentive to cash out and to determine the nature of and/or odds of receiving the incentive award.

The methods, processes, and apparatus of the present invention can be used with many different types of gaming devices, including wagering devices such as slot machines, video poker machines, and the like. One example of a suitable gaming device is the slot machine illustrated in FIG. 1.

As seen in FIG. 1, the present invention comprises a gaming apparatus, generally indicated by reference number 10. In one embodiment, gaming apparatus 10 comprises a prize display 12 and a gaming device 14. Gaming device 14 may be any of a large number of devices that are adapted to allow players to play a game, such as gaming devices typically found in arcade and casino environments, including arcade games, video games, gambling machines, video poker machines, slot machines, etc. Gaming device 14 is further adapted to allow a player to place a wager and play a game, such as a slot machine.

Gaming device 14 may include a wager acceptor for accepting wagers, such as a coin slot 16, a device such as a value acceptor/dispenser 19 that is capable of reading and/or dispensing cashless devices. Gaming device 14 may also include a device 18 for accepting paper currency. In addition, a payout mechanism (not shown) and a coin receptacle 20 may be provided for awarding prizes or for dispensing wagers to players cashing out and retiring from a game. A printer (not shown) may also be provided for printing out cashless vouchers. A handle 22 and a button 24 may be provided for activating gaming device 14 to begin a game. A pay table 26 may further be provided to allow a player to see what symbol or combination of symbols provide a winning event. In at least one embodiment, gaming device 14 may be an S Plus model gaming device manufactured by International Game Technology in Reno, Nev.

Gaming device 14 may further include a gaming outcome display 28 positioned so that a player (not shown) playing gaming device 14 can see the gaming outcome display 28. Gaming outcome display 28 may utilize physical game reels 30, 32, and 34. Game reels 30, 32, and 34 may be attached to a drive mechanism (not shown) of gaming device 14 to rotate the reels in a manner well known in the art. Each game reel 30, 32, and 34 has a plurality of symbols (not shown) positioned on the circumference of each game reel 30, 32, and 34. Game reels 30, 32, and 34 may be positioned side-by-side with coincident axes of rotation and a portion of their individual circumferences facing outward from gaming device 14.

A panel 36 may cover game reels 30, 32, and 34 such that only a portion of their individual circumferences is shown to the player. At least one symbol from any of game reels 30, 32, and 34 may be used to display a game outcome. At least one pay line 38 may be provided for the player to use in determining a game outcome based on the symbol or a combination of symbols positioned thereon. In an alternative embodiment, gaming outcome display 28 utilizes a video display (not shown) displaying images of game reels and images of at least one pay line. A video display may also display game symbols in many other formats and arrangements, such as playing cards.

Gaming apparatus 10 further has a prize display 12 configured to display at least one game and prize to a player. Prize display 12 is most often configured to display a bonus game and at least one bonus prize to the player. In other embodiments, prize display 12 may provide a primary game. Alternatively, prize display 12 may be a stand-alone device allowing a player to place a wager and play a game.

In an embodiment, prize display 12 is attached to gaming device 14 and positioned on top of gaming device 14. In other embodiments (not shown), prize display 12 may be separate from gaming device 14 but in communication with gaming device 14. In this embodiment, prize display 12 may be in communication with a plurality of different gaming devices 14 via a computer network (not shown) in a manner that is well known in the art. Prize display 12 may be positioned adjacent to or remote from gaming device 14. In other embodiments, prize display 12 is a stand-alone display not in communication with gaming device 14, and it may be capable of independently accepting wagers and awarding prizes to a player.

With reference now to FIG. 5, some of the internal components of gaming apparatus 10 are shown. Gaming apparatus 10 may have a controller 40 that can control the operation of gaming apparatus 10. Controller 40 can be a conventional computer or a microprocessor that operates with software. Controller 40 can be in communication with a cashless gaming system 42 and a cashless value acceptor/dispenser 19. Controller 40 can store the value of credits that are wagered, won and lost on gaming apparatus 10. Controller 40 may further be in communication with a server (not shown) that is in communication with several gaming apparatuses 10.

Cashless gaming system 42 may gather information from controller 40 and other sources and value acceptor/dispenser 19 to issue awards or prizes based on certain game player actions. Cashless gaming system 42 may direct value acceptor/dispenser 19 to issue vouchers or other value devices when a player elects to discontinue game play on gaming apparatus 10 and cashout. Cashless gaming system 42 may be programmed with software to provide incentives or awards to game players for using cashless devices to cashout from gaming devices.

Two categories of cashouts are particularly relevant to the invention. Cashouts can occur when a player obtains, removes, or modifies a cashless device from a gaming apparatus. Another type of cashout occurs when a player converts the value of a cashless device into currency or currency equivalents, such as credit on a credit card or to a bank account. For example, a player might choose to convert credits on a casino account to cash. It should be recognized that these two different types of cashouts differ in their value to the gaming operator and differ in how the operator may choose to implement them.

In general, cashouts occur where the player obtains credit or currency are less desirable for the gaming operator than cashouts where the value remains on a cashless device. Cashouts for currency or credit are likely to require more personnel to make the required credit transfer or to provide currency to the player. Also, if the player is obtaining currency or credit, the player is less likely to continue to use that value to play wagering games. Therefore, it may be desirable for the gaming operator to encourage players to wait until their cashless device reaches a set value before they cashout.

Cashouts for currency also are likely to involve more maintenance, service, inconvenience and wear and tear on machines than cashouts where the value remains on the cashless device. For example, when cashouts for currency occur at a gaming device, the currency dispensed causes wear on the machine components. As discussed above, currency dispensers also require service and maintenance. Whether a machine or cashier makes a currency cashout, the gaming operator is required to maintain greater cash reserves on the premises and consequently is likely to require more security.

As was previously discussed, many gaming machines and devices are presently designed to accept and dispense both currency and cashless means for spending money in the casino comprising a cashless devices (such as player tracking cards, smart cards, credit cards, vouchers, tickets, etc.). The present invention encourages players to cashout using cashless transactions. Preferably, the player is provided with an incentive to cashout using a cashless device when the value cashed out is above a certain threshold.

A player may be encouraged to cashout on a cashless device by providing the player an opportunity to win an award in return for using the cashless device. However, if the player is given a chance to win an award every time a cashless device is used for a cashout, the player may simply cash out small values in order to have a chance at winning a prize. The gaming operator may choose to set a threshold, or qualifying amount, of money that must be cashed-out in order to receive an award or a chance at an award. The operator could base this qualifying amount on any number of things.

For example, the operator may choose to allow a player to be awarded a prize, or a chance at a prize, merely for cashing out using a cashless device. Alternatively, the operator might choose to provide the incentive to customers who cash out winnings over a certain amount. In this embodiment, the operator could protect against players repeatedly cashing in and cashing out, without actually playing the wagering games. Similarly, the operator could tie the qualifying event to the amount wagered by the player, or the amount lost by the player.

For example, a qualifying cashout could be based, not on the exact amount cashed out, but on the amount wagered. For example, a player might insert a cashless device with a value of $500. The player might play the wagering game for an hour, place an aggregate wager of $300, and have a cashout balance of $400. The gaming operator could base the qualifying award on the $300 wagered, the $100 lost by the player, the cashout value of $400, or on a combination of these values.

A variation of this would be, in place of or in addition to correlating the qualifying event to the winnings cashed-out, to correlate the qualifying event to the amount of time spent playing a particular game of chance. The operator might choose to make a certain percentage of a cashless device's value available for a qualifying event for a particular duration of game play. For example, the operator might make 15% of the cashless device's value available for every 15 minutes of game play. In the above example, this would mean that the cashout value for award purposes would be 60% of the cashless device's value.

The qualifying events could also be subject to limitations. For example, a particular type of qualifying event could be subject to certain maximums. A particular qualifying event might be limited to a set number of times per day or per hour. These limitations could be tailored according to the value of the incentive and/or the operator's desire to provide the incentive. For example, higher value and/or higher odds awards might be subject to more stringent limitations than lower value and/or lower odds awards. Similarly, if the operator wants to provide a stronger incentive for a particular type of qualifying event, the operator might choose to impose less stringent limitations, or increase the value of the award.

Those of skill in the art will recognize that the nature of the qualifying event can be any of the above embodiments, or additional embodiments within the skill of the person of ordinary skill in the art. Combinations of qualifying events could also be used. Those of skill in the art will also recognize that multiple qualifying events could be used simultaneously, potentially with different incentives, and that the nature of the qualifying event can vary with the incentive awarded, as will be discussed infra.

The incentive provided to the player can take many forms. One incentive might be awarding a player an additional amount of currency/credit. In this embodiment, a player's decision to cashout (perhaps an amount over a threshold level) triggers a random number generator. The random number generator indicates an additional award to which the player is entitled. For example, the random number generator could determine a completely random amount of money (perhaps within a fixed range) to be added to the player's winnings. Alternatively, the amount awarded could be a random, progressive, or fixed percentage (or multiple) of the amount cashed-out. The amount awarded could be correlated to other factors, such as a player rating maintained on the player based on the player's wagering frequency and amounts (such as those currently employed by casinos for awarding comps).

In addition to being awarded additional credits or currency, a player could be awarded goods, merchandise, or services for qualifying cashouts. For example, a player might be awarded a free meal, a room upgrade, or prizes such as jewelry, vacations, automobiles, and other goods of varying value. The prize could be entry into a gaming competition, such as a slot tournament. Anything having a value may be suitable for use as a prize. The value of the good and/or service awarded could be correlated to factors such as the player's rating or the amount cashed-out.

Rather than automatically receiving some prize for qualifying cashouts, a player could be awarded a chance at being awarded a prize. The player's decision to initiate a qualifying cashout event could trigger a random number generator. The random number generator can be used to determine whether a winning event has occurred. If a winning event has occurred, the player can either be awarded a predefined prize of a predefined value, a predefined prize having a randomly determined value, a predefined prize having a value correlated to some other variable, or the player could be randomly awarded a prize having a fixed or randomly determined value.

Rather than generating a random number immediately when a player cashes-out a qualifying amount, a player could be given a chance to play another game or machine and have a chance at winning a prize. For example, when a player made a qualifying cashout, he or she could be awarded a voucher that could be used to activate a gaming device, such as a slot machine, or game wheel, that is designed to award, and perhaps dispense, additional prizes. Also, the player could be awarded free play on the gaming device the player cashed-out from as a reward for making a qualifying cashout.

As was mentioned above, those of skill in the art will recognize that the qualifying event can be tailored to the nature of the incentive. In addition, it will be recognized that multiple incentives, potentially having different qualifying events, can be used. For example, it may be beneficial to encourage all players to use cashless devices. Accordingly, the operator might provide an incentive that is available for all players for all cashouts on cashless devices. In this embodiment, the operator might choose to have the award be of relatively low value and/or relatively low odds of winning. This would tend to discourage players from engaging in repeated cashout transactions merely to obtain a prize or increase their chances of winning a prize.

For other cashout qualifying events, such as when a player has wagered a large amount or played a game for a long period of time, the operator might want to provide a greater incentive to use the cashless device. In this case the operator might want to increase the value of the incentive and/or increase the odds of obtaining the prize.

Those of skill in the art will recognize that the above described incentives and incentive trigger events can be used for both cashouts on cashless devices and for cashouts for currency. Incentives can be provided so that players are discouraged from cashing out for currency until the incentive condition has been reached. Again, the incentive condition can be any of the above described incentive conditions including, without limitation, threshold cashout amounts, wagering thresholds, and game play duration threshold.

Description of a Method of Operation of an Embodiment of the Invention

FIGS. 2-4 illustrate the operation of an embodiment of the invention. With reference to FIG. 2, a gaming device is provided to a player, who may initiate a game by inserting value into the gaming device. The player may insert value by inserting coins in step 60, inserting cash in step 68, or inserting a cashless device in step 62. If coins 60 or cash 68 are inserted, the value of the currency is added to the players gaming credits at step 70.

If a cashless device is inserted at step 62, the next step depends on whether the value of the cashless device is stored on the cashless device or card itself, or if the value is stored remotely. If decision 64 determines that the value is stored on the card, the value of the card is added to the player's game credits on the gaming device at step 70. If decision 64 determines that the value of the card is stored remotely, the gaming device requests information about the gaming device over the remote network in step 66. Once the value of the card is transmitted to the gaming device, the value is added to the player gaming credits at step 70.

After the player has been credited with credits available for play, the player is presented with a game, places a wager, and initiates the game at step 72. Optionally, the gaming device can determine if player tracking (using a player tracking system) has been started at decision 74. If player tracking has been started, or if no player tracking is enabled, the gaming device proceeds to determine a game outcome at step 78. If player tracking is enabled, and tracking has not been initiated, the gaming device may initiate tracking at step 76 before going on to determine the game's outcome at step 78.

Player tracking can be integrated with the cashless device. Player tracking may also be independent from the cashless device processes. For example, a player could swipe his or her tracking card prior to inserting a cashless device into a gaming device. The player tracking system could provide the cashless device system with any information needed to determine whether the player is entitled to an additional prize.

If the game outcome of step 78 is determined at decision 80 to be a wining event, the prize won by the player is added to the player's credits at step 82. If the game outcome is not a winning event, the amount of the wager is subtracted from the player's credits at step 84. At decision 86, the player can then either choose to play another game, in which case the player will once again be presented with a game at step 72, or can choose to cash out. If the player chooses to cash out, tracking, if enabled, is stopped at step 88 and the gaming device enters the cashout process at step 90.

The cash out process 90 is shown in detail in FIG. 3. At step 120, the player is presented with the opportunity to elect the type of cashout. In decision 122, the player may choose between obtaining a cashout for currency, usually dispensed in coins, or may choose to cashout via a cashless device. It should be noted that it is not necessary to provide the player with this choice for all embodiments of the invention. Even if the player is only allowed to cash out on a cashless device, it may still be desirable to have the player only cash out amounts over a certain value, for example.

In one embodiment, if the player chooses to cashout for currency, the cashout process takes place normally at step 124. This will be by the gaming device dispensing the appropriate number of coins. If the player has chosen to cashout via a cashless device in decision 122, the gaming device checks to see if the player is entitled to an additional award (such as those previously described).

For example, if the gaming proprietor wishes, the player can be awarded a prize, including the chance to obtain an item of value, in return for cashing out using a cashless device. If this prize is available at decision 126, the machine determines what, if any, prize the player is entitled and awards that prize in step 128. The machine then proceeds to determine if other prizes are available. If the proprietor has chosen not to award a prize merely for cashing out with a cashless device, the device may proceed to determine if the player is entitled to other awards.

The player may be provided with a prize for cashing out amounts over a certain value using a cashless device at decision 130. If this award has been enabled, the gaming device checks in decision 132 to see whether the player has cashed out an amount over a threshold amount using their cashless device. If the threshold has been met or exceeded, the player is awarded a prize in step 134, which may include a chance to receive an item of value. Once any prize has been awarded, if the threshold has not been met, or if the minimum cashout prize has not been enabled, the gaming device goes on to determine whether the player is entitled to other prizes.

The player can be awarded a prize if a threshold value has been wagered at decision 136. If this type of award is enabled, the gaming device proceeds in decision 138 to determine whether the player tracking information shows that the player has wagered at least a threshold amount. If the amount is met, the player is awarded a prize in step 140. If the amount is not met, if the award is not enabled, or once the prize, including the chance at receiving an item of value, is awarded, the game again may proceed to determine whether the player is entitled to other prizes.

With reference now to FIG. 4, the player can be awarded a prize for playing a game for a certain amount of time. Decision 160 checks to see if this prize event is available. If so, the gaming device checks the player tracking information to determine the length of time the player has been playing one or more gaming devices in decision 162. The gaming device then determines what, if any, prize the player is entitled in step 164, awards any prize in step 166, and then proceeds to determine if other prize-qualifying events are enabled. If the minimum time award is not activated in decision 160, the gaming device may proceed to determine if other prize-qualifying events are available.

The player may be awarded a prize if a minimum amount wagered has been lost on one or more gaming devices. Decision 170 checks to see if this prize-qualifying event is activated. If so, the gaming device will check in decision 172 to see if a threshold amount has been lost and then awards a prize in step 174. The prize can include a chance at receiving an item of value. If the threshold is not met, the event has not been activated, or after any prize has been awarded, the gaming device may proceed to determine whether other prize-qualifying events are available.

Those of skill in the art will recognize that the above steps can occur in a different sequence, that different steps can be included, and that certain steps can be omitted with the process still falling within the scope of the present invention.

Once the prize-qualifying events have been checked, the gaming device completes the cashout process. In decision 176, the machine may check to see whether a cashless device was used to initiate the gaming session. If not, the gaming device may check in decision 180 to see if it is to issue a cashless device, such as a voucher. If a cashless device is to be issued, the gaming device, in step 182, directs a cashless device to be generated and issued to the player. Alternatively, if a cashless device is not to be issued, the gaming device could establish a cashless account for the player in step 184 and store the value of the player's credit without issuing a cashless device to the player. For example, the player could be shown an account number and/or a personal identification number (PIN) that can be used to access the player's account.

In decision 176, if the gaming device determines that a cashless device was used to initiate the gaming session, the gaming device then determines in decision 186 whether a value is stored on the cashless device. If value is stored on the cashless device, the gaming device updates the value stored on the cashless device in step 190 and then issues the cashless device to the player in step 192.

In decision 186, if value is not stored directly on the cashless device, the gaming device updates a remotely stored value associated with the cashless device in step 188.

First Alternative Method of Operation of the Invention

With reference to FIGS. 2, 3 and 6-8, another method 200 of operating gaming apparatus 10 (FIG. 1) is shown. Steps 60-140 on FIGS. 2 and 3 are the same as previously described. With specific reference to FIG. 6, decision 160 continues from FIG. 3. Decision 160 checks to see if an award is provided for minimum time played. If so, the gaming device checks the player tracking information to determine the length of time the player has been playing one or more gaming devices in decision 162. The gaming device then determines what, if any, prize the player is entitled in step 164, awards any prize in step 166, and then proceeds to determine if other prize-qualifying events are enabled. If the minimum time award is not activated in decision 160, the gaming device may proceed to determine if other prize-qualifying events are available.

The player may be awarded a prize if a minimum amount wagered has been lost on one or more gaming devices. Decision 170 checks to see if this prize-qualifying event is activated. If so, the gaming device will check in decision 172 to see if a threshold amount has been lost and then awards a prize in step 174. The prize can include a chance at receiving an item of value. If the threshold is not met, the event has not been activated, or after any prize has been awarded, the gaming device may proceed to determine whether other prize-qualifying events are available.

The player may be awarded a prize if the player started playing a gaming device during a pre-determined or random time period. For example, a casino may desire to encourage game play during slow periods and may provide an incentive to encourage game players to use gaming devices during slow periods. Decision 202 checks to see if this prize-qualifying event is activated. If an award is not provided for starting game play during a time period, decision 202 proceeds to decision 208. If an award is enabled at step 202, the gaming device will check in decision 204 to see if game play was started or initiated during a certain time period. If game play was started during the time period, a prize is awarded in step 206. The prize can include a chance at receiving an item of value. If game play was not started during the time period, decision 204 proceeds to decision 208.

The player may be awarded a prize if the player chooses to cash out using a cashless device during a pre-determined or random time period. For example, a casino may desire to encourage game players to cash out during slow or less busy periods and may provide an incentive to encourage game players to use a cashless cashout during these periods. Decision 208 checks to see if this prize-qualifying event is activated. If an award is not provided for a cashless cashout during a certain time period, decision 208 proceeds to step 230 of FIG. 7. If an award is enabled at step 208, the gaming device will check in decision 210 to see if the cashless cashout occurred during the time period. If the cashless cashout occurred during the time period, a list or display of possible prizes is shown to the game player at step 212. The list of prizes may include a dollar amount, tickets for entertainment, a meal voucher, a coupon for a shop, a free entrance to a drawing, a free play for the same or other games, and other prizes.

At decision 214, the gaming device checks to see if the player is allowed to select one of the prizes that are displayed. If the player is allowed to select one of the prizes on the list as an award, decision 214 proceeds to step 216 where the player is allowed to select any prizes. The player may select one of the prizes from the list using an input device such as a touch screen or a button (not shown). The selected prize is awarded in step 218. After step 218 method 200 proceeds to step 230 of FIG. 7. If the player is not allowed to select one of the prizes on the list as an award, decision 214 proceeds to step 218 where the controller selects and awards a prize. After step 218 method 200 proceeds to step 230 of FIG. 7.

Turning now to FIG. 7, method 200 further includes decision 230. At decision 230, method 200 checks to see if the player is eligible for an award for playing a game on a downloadable gaming system and receiving a cashless cashout. A downloadable gaming system allows gaming devices to download game information from a server (not shown). The downloadable gaming system allows a gaming device to be reconfigured to present a large variety of different games to casino patrons.

If the player is eligible for an award for using a downloadable gaming system and selects a cashless cashout at decision 230, method 200 proceeds to step 232 where the player is awarded a prize. If the player is not using a downloadable gaming system or does not select to receive a cashless cashout or the award is not enabled, decision 230 proceeds to decision 234.

At decision 234, method 200 checks to see if the player is eligible for an award for playing a game on a non-downloadable gaming system and receiving a cashless cashout. If the player is eligible to receive an award for using a non-downloadable gaming system and selecting a cashless cashout, decision 234 proceeds to step 236 where the player is awarded a prize that can only be used on a downloadable gaming system. If an award is not provided for using a non-downloadable gaming system or the player does not select to receive a cashless cashout, decision 234 proceeds to decision 176 of FIG. 8.

Turning to FIG. 8, after the prize-qualifying events have been checked, the gaming device completes the cashout process. In decision 176, the gaming device checks to see whether a cashless device was used to initiate the gaming session. If not, the gaming device may check in decision 180 to see if it is to issue a cashless device, such as a voucher. If a cashless device is to be issued, the gaming device, in step 182, directs a cashless device to be generated and issued to the player. Alternatively, if a cashless device is not to be issued, the gaming device could establish a cashless account for the player in step 184 and store the value of the player's credit without issuing a cashless device to the player. For example, the player could be shown an account number and/or a personal identification number (PIN) that can be used to access the player's account.

In decision 176, if the gaming device determines that a cashless device was used to initiate the gaming session, the gaming device then determines in decision 186 whether a value is stored on the cashless device. If value is stored on the cashless device, the gaming device updates the value stored on the cashless device in step 190 and then issues the cashless device to the player in step 192.

In decision 186, if value is not stored directly on the cashless device, the gaming device updates a remotely stored value associated with the cashless device in step 188.

Those of skill in the art will recognize that the above steps can occur in a different sequence and that different steps can be included and that certain steps can be omitted in the method and still fall within the scope of the present invention.

Second Alternative Method of Operation of the Invention

With reference to FIGS. 3, 4, 9 and 10 another method 300 of operating gaming apparatus 10 (FIG. 1) is shown. Method 300 can award a prize to a game player before game play begins when the player selects to receive a cashless cashout before starting the game. Steps 120-192 on FIGS. 3 and 4 are the same as previously described. With specific reference to FIG. 9, a gaming device is provided to a player, who may initiate a game by inserting value into the gaming device. The player may insert value by inserting coins in step 60, inserting cash in step 68, or inserting a cashless device in step 62. If coins 60 or cash 68 are inserted, the value of the currency is added to the players gaming credits at step 70.

If a cashless device is inserted at step 62, the next step depends on whether the value of the cashless device is stored on the cashless device or card itself, or if the value is stored remotely. If decision 64 determines that the value is stored on the card, the value of the card is added to the player's game credits on the gaming device at step 70. If decision 64 determines that the value of the card is stored remotely, the gaming device requests information about the gaming device over the remote network in step 66. Once the value of the card is transmitted to the gaming device, the value is added to the player gaming credits at step 70.

Method 300 next proceeds to decision 302 where the gaming device checks to see if a cashless cashout has been selected before game play begins. If a cashless cashout is selected, method 300 proceeds to decision 304. If a cashless cashout was not selected at decision 302, method 300 goes to step 72 of FIG. 10.

At decision 304, the gaming device determines if an alternative pay table is to be applied to the game as a reward for selecting a cashless cashout. The alternative pay table would have a higher average payout or payback percentage. If it is determined at decision 304 that an alternative pay table is to be applied, method 300 proceeds to step 306 where the pay table is changed. If an alternative pay table is not to be applied, method 300 proceeds to decision 308.

At decision 308, the gaming device determines if any prizes for selecting a cashless cashout are to be awarded before game play begins. Any prizes awarded before the start of game play would be added to the player's credit meter where they could be used as a wager. If it is determined at decision 308 that a prize is to be awarded before game play begins, method 300 proceeds to step 310 where any prizes are awarded and added to the gaming device credit meter. Step 310 then proceeds to step 72 of FIG. 10. If a prize is not awarded in decision 308, method 300 proceeds to step 72 of FIG. 10.

Turning now to FIG. 10, after the player has been credited with credits available for play, the player is presented with a game, places a wager, and initiates the game at step 72. Optionally, the gaming device can determine if player tracking (using a player tracking system) has been started at decision 74. If player tracking has been started, or if no player tracking is enabled, the gaming device proceeds to determine a game outcome at step 78. If player tracking is enabled, and tracking has not been initiated, the gaming device may initiate tracking at step 76 before going on to determine the game's outcome at step 78.

Player tracking can be integrated with the cashless device. Player tracking may also be independent from the cashless device processes. For example, a player could swipe his or her tracking card prior to inserting a cashless device into a gaming device. The player tracking system could provide the cashless device system with any information needed to determine whether the player is entitled to an additional prize.

If the game outcome of step 78 is determined at decision 80 to be a winning event, the prize won by the player is added to the player's credits at step 82. If the game outcome is not a winning event, the amount of the wager is subtracted from the player's credits at step 84. At decision 86, the player can then either choose to play another game, in which case the player will once again be presented with a game at step 72, or can choose to cash out. If the player chooses to cash out, tracking, if enabled, is stopped at step 88 and the gaming device enters the cashout process at step 90. Method 300 then proceeds to steps 120-192 on FIGS. 3 and 4 to completed the cashout process in the same manner as previously described.

Those of skill in the art will recognize that the above steps can occur in a different sequence and that different steps can be included and that certain steps can be omitted in the method and still fall within the scope of the present invention.

Third Alternative Method of Operation of the Invention

With reference to FIGS. 2, 11 and 12, another method 400 of operating several gaming apparatuses 10 (FIG. 1) is shown. Method 400 awards a prize or prizes to a group of gaming devices, if some or all of the players elect to cashout of the gaming device using a cashless cashout. Several gaming apparatuses 10 (FIG. 1) may be arranged together to form a bank (not shown) of gaming devices or machines as is known in the art. The gaming devices would typically be interconnected through a network that uses a server. The group of gaming devices allows a group of game players to play as a community of game players.

Steps 60-90 on FIG. 2 are the same as previously described except that steps 60-90 apply to several gaming devices. With specific reference to FIG. 11, step 402 continues from step 90 of FIG. 3. At step 402, a cashout message may be displayed to all of the game players at all of the gaming devices. For example, a message may be shown on a video display on each gaming device. The message may state, “If all of the game players in this group of gaming devices agree to cashout using a cashless device, all of the game players will receive an additional prize”. Alternatively, the cashout message could be shown to the game players before or during game play.

Next, method 400 proceeds to decision 404. At decision 404, method 400 checks to see if all of the game players have chosen to cashout using a cashless device. If all of the game players have chosen to use a cashless device to cashout, decision 404 proceeds to step 406 where any additional prizes are awarded to all of the game players. From step 406, method 400 continues to step 176 of FIG. 12. The additional prizes can be added to the player's credit meters. If all of the game players do not chose to use a cashless device to cashout at decision 404, method 400 continues to decision 408.

At decision 408, method 400 checks to see if any of the game players have chosen to use a cashless cashout. If at least one of the game players have chosen to use a cashless device to cashout, decision 408 proceeds to decision 412. If none of the game players chose to use a cashless device to cashout, method 400 proceeds to step 410 where the players are paid in currency or coins to cashout.

At decision 412, method 400 checks to see if the game player that is cashing out is the first game player to cash out using a cashless device. If the game player is the first game player from the group of game players to cash out using a cashless device, method 400 proceeds to step 414 where the first game player to cash out is awarded a first prize. The first prize may be the smallest prize in order to encourage the group of game players to play longer. The later that a game player cashes out using a cashless device, the larger an award may be. If the game player choosing to use a cashless device to cash out at decision 412 is not the first player from the group of players to cash out, method 400 proceeds to decision 416.

At decision 416, method 400 checks to see if the game player that is cashing out is the next (Nth) or second game player to cash out using a cashless device. If the game player is the Nth or second game player from the group of game players to cash out using a cashless device, method 400 proceeds to step 418 where the Nth or second game player to cash out using a cashless device is awarded a next (Nth) or second prize. The Nth or second prize may be larger than the first prize in order to encourage the group of game players to play longer. The later that a game player cashes out using a cashless device, the larger an award maybe. After the Nth prize is awarded in step 418, method 400 proceeds to decision 420. If the game player choosing to use a cashless device to cash out at decision 416 is not the Nth or second player from the group of players to cash out, method 400 proceeds to decision 420.

At decision 420, method 400 checks to see if all of the game players in the group of players have cashed out. If all of the game players have cashed out, method 400 proceeds to step 176 of FIG. 12. If all of the game players in the group of players have not cashed out, method 400 proceeds to back to decision 416. Decision 416 repeats until all of the game players have cashed out.

Turning now to FIG. 12, at decision 176, method 400 may check to see whether a cashless device was used to initiate the gaming session. If not, the gaming device may check in decision 180 to see if it is to issue a cashless device, such as a voucher. If a cashless device is to be issued, the gaming device, in step 182, directs a cashless device to be generated and issued to the player. Alternatively, if a cashless device is not to be issued, the gaming device could establish a cashless account for the player in step 184 and store the value of the player's credit without issuing a cashless device to the player. For example, the player could be shown an account number and/or a personal identification number (PIN) that can be used to access the player's account.

In decision 176, if the gaming device determines that a cashless device was used to initiate the gaming session, the gaming device then determines in decision 186 whether a value is stored on the cashless device. If value is stored on the cashless device, the gaming device updates the value stored on the cashless device in step 190 and then issues the cashless device to the player in step 192.

In decision 186, if value is not stored directly on the cashless device, the gaming device updates a remotely stored value associated with the cashless device in step 188.

Method 400 can be used to encourage a group of game players to use cashless devices to cash out. Players may be prompted to indicate if they want to use a cashless device to cash out during game play rather than when they cash out. In another embodiment, only the last player who cashes out using a cashless device will receive a prize or award. In another embodiment, the later the player cashes out using a cashless device, the larger the award the player will receive. For example, three players are playing at a group of gaming devices. The first player to cash out receives no prize or the smallest prize. The second player to cash out receives a prize that is greater than the first player, and the third player to cash out receives the largest prize.

Those of skill in the art will recognize that the above steps can occur in a different sequence and that different steps can be included and that certain steps can be omitted in the method and still fall within the scope of the present invention.

Fourth Alternative Method of Operation of the Invention

FIGS. 13-17 show one form of an incentive system 500 for tracking and rating a cashless gaming player, the system employing one or more exemplary gaming devices 12 and displays 14 implemented in gaming apparatus 10 (FIG. 1). Incentive system 500 may operate a group of gaming apparatuses 10 interconnected in a conventional or other manner through a network that uses a server, as described above.

In overview, the incentive system 500 is provided for rewarding players who enroll in a player tracking system. The tracking system uses data gathered about a player to assign a rating X to the player which is used to determine what prizes are awarded. In another aspect of incentive system 500, use of a cashless device, such as a credit or debit card 501, is rewarded. Card 501 may be affiliated with or sponsored by a home casino 502 to provide free advertising for home casino 502 when used to make purchases from third-party vendors. Home casino 502 then uses incentive system 500 to reward the player for this free advertising with enhanced payouts, bonus prizes, discounts on casino goods or services, entries into special competitions, and the like. Enhanced payouts may include making a payment against the balance of the account linked to the player's card, paying off the entire balance of the account linked to the player's card or making a payment of a predetermined amount against the balance of the account linked to the player's card.

Referring to FIG. 13, the illustrated incentive system 500 further includes a tracking connections to outside or secondary casino or gaming establishment, such as a gambling ship 504, and third party vendors 506 each of which may be coupled via a communication system, such as Internet 508, to home casino 502. In FIG. 13 double arrow lines are used to indicate this coupling to the Internet, which may be accomplished using conventional or other means, such as hardwiring, telephone, wireless, satellite, etc. The gambling ship 504 may or may not be affiliated with home casino 502.

Continuing to refer to FIG. 13, incentive system 500 includes strategy controlling means, such as a strategy controller 510, the operation of which is discussed further below with respect to FIGS. 14-17. Home casino 502 may also provide a player with a variety of different games of chance, such as poker 512, slots 514, Keno 516, and/or blackjack 518, any of which may be embodied in a gaming apparatus 10 (FIG. 1). While it is apparent that such an establishment may have several cashiers, for the purposes of illustration, home casino 502 is illustrated as having a single cashier 520. Similarly, the gambling ship 504 may include a variety of different games of chance, such as Texas Hold 'Em poker 522, and slot machines 524. The gambling ship 504 may sell other items, for example food 526 and/or services, such as lodging 528.

Continuing to refer to FIG. 13, incentive system 500 may also monitor purchases with card 501 at various third-party vendors 506 selling goods and/or services, for example, an online casino 538, a racetrack 532 having betting, a grocery store 534, a hotel 536, etc. While it is apparent that each vendor 532-538 may have one or more cashiers each having credit/debit card capability, for the purposes of discussion, these cashiers are illustrated collectively as using a card processing means, such as a card processor 540 whereby the card 501 may be used at any or all of the home casino 502, gambling ship 504 or outside goods and services shown collectively as third party vendors 506, with information about the purchase received and recorded by the card processor 540 and provided to the tracker 550 to calculate a players rating as further discussed below.

Continuing to refer to FIG. 13, strategy controller 510 includes player characteristics tracking means, such as a player characteristics tracker 550, which operates a tracking system to monitor third-party spending and gaming characteristics of players enrolled in the tracking system, as described further below. Rewarding means is in communication with the tracking means for giving the player an incentive to spend more based on a spending pattern made with the cashless means.

The tracker 550 may be in communication with: (1) card servicing means, such as a provider of card services 552; and (2) data and storing means, such as a storage system 554 containing programs and data concerning users, games, and pay-out prize protocols. The strategy controller 510 may also include player rating calculating means, such as a player rating calculator 556, which assigns a rating X to a player based on various player characteristics monitored by tracker 550. Strategy controller 510 may be located within or remote from home casino 502.

FIG. 14 illustrates one embodiment of tracker data management means, such as a tracker data management system 560 employed by tracker 550 for constructing a player profile implying user profiling means, such as a user profile 562. The user profile 562 may include for example: various contact information for a player, such as name, address, etc.; an account number assigned to the player by tracker 550; and the date of enrollment. The user profile 562 may also store a user rating X determined by rating calculator 556 (FIG. 13). The data management system compiles data for each person enrolled in the tracking system 550, with user profile 562 correlated to a first player, profile 562′ correlated to a second player, profile 562″ correlated to a third player, etc. For simplicity, only data regarding the first player is discussed herein by way of example.

Continuing to refer to FIG. 14, data management system 560 may also include one or more sub-tracking means or sub-trackers. One sub-tracker may be attendance tracking means, such as an attendance tracker 564 which accumulates and/or calculates information regarding player attendance at home casino 502, such as a players total number visits, and the visit frequency in terms of visits per week, visits per year, etc. Alternatively, the attendance tracker 564 may have access to information that will identify the provider of outside goods and services to the player and may track attendance at other casinos or hotels for example to provide marketing information to home casino 502. Prize tracking means, such as a prize tracker 566 records historical information about the prizes awarded a player, such as the average prize value, total prize value, the type of prize if goods or services are selected instead of cash, etc. Game profile tracking means, such as a game profile tracker 568 accumulates information about games played, for example: the usual game(s) selected; the total number of games played; the average number of games played per visit; the number of consecutive games played on a single gaming apparatus 10; the number of plays per game, etc.

As shown in FIG. 14, the illustrated data management system 560 may also include a home casino spending tracking means comprising a monitor such as a home casino spending tracker 570 which gathers information concerning payments received by cashier 520 (FIG. 13). Spending tracker 570 may accumulate a variety of purchase information, for example: an average purchase amount; purchasing frequency, such as, in terms of purchases per day, or purchases per week; etc. Third-party spending tracking means, such as a third-party spending tracker 572 may accumulate information concerning purchases from third-party vendors 506 paid by card 501 using card processor 540. Wager tracking means, such as a wager tracker 574 may gather information concerning a wagering pattern used by a player, such as: the wagering frequency in terms of wagers per minute, for instance; the average wager placed; wager type; etc.

Continuing to refer to FIG. 14, data management system 560 may also store enhanced prize computation means such as a prize calculator responsive to the gathered information to calculate an enhanced prize for each enrolled patron using prize computation schemes or protocols determined in an enhanced prize system 580 which arrives at various prize enhancements corresponding to a certain level, such as “Level X” where “X” denotes a particular level associated with player rating X stored in user profile 562. The enhanced prize system 580 may be used to award various prizes, such as: an enhanced cash prize which may be an additional percentage of a regular prize award; a travel prize; a casino perk, for instance a gift shop discount or show tickets; free or discounted meals and/or rooms, etc.

In addition to, or instead of the enhanced prize system 580, data management system 560 may include bonus prize awarding means, such as a bonus prize awarding system 582 for different level thresholds (Level X) determined using the player rating X from user profile 562. The bonus prizes awarded by bonus prize awarding system 582 may include cash, gifts, merchandise, services, vehicles, etc. For example, Level X for prize profiles 580 or for the bonus prize-awarding system 582 may be set at ten different levels (1≦X≦10). Level X=10 may correspond to the largest value of enhanced or bonus prizes awarded, while Level X=1 may payout the lowest value of enhanced or bonus prizes.

Various factors accumulated by sub-trackers 564, 566, 568, 570, 572 and 574 may be used by tracker 550 to determine player rating X stored in user profile 562, as indicated by information communication lines 575 in FIG. 14. Player rating X stored in user profile 562 is communicated to the enhanced prize system 580 via communication line 576, and to the bonus prize-awarding system 582 by communication line 578.

FIGS. 15-17 together illustrate an incentive payment method 600 which may be used to operate in the incentive system 500 of FIG. 13, with each figure showing a portion of a flowchart of method 600.

First referring to FIG. 15, method 600 may begin by employing offering means, such as by performing an operation 602 of offering a player the option of enrolling in the tracking system 550. Of course the offering of enrollment may be presented to home casino patrons in a way other than, “Do you want to enroll in our tracking system?” For example, enrollment may be offered in terms of: “Would you like to join our Casino Club?” Enrollment determining means, such as an enrollment determiner 604 determines whether a player has opted to enroll, is already enrolled, or has declined enrollment. If the player opts to enroll an enrollment mechanism is operable by casino patrons to enroll in the tracking system. Further, player gives permission to home casino 502 to gather certain information about spending with the cashless card to calculate the player rating. When enrollment is declined, determiner 604 issues a NO signal 606 and the player is only eligible for regular prizes 608 and a regular cash payout 610.

Continuing to refer to FIG. 15, when a player decides to enroll or has previously enrolled, the determiner 604 issues a YES signal 612. When a player identification query 614 receives YES signal 612, a new player may enroll, or an enrolled member may identify himself or herself to correlate game play with the user's profile 562. As used herein, the terms “player,” “patron,” “member,” and “user” are used interchangeably and synonymously to indicate in tracking system 550, unless otherwise specifically indicated as a patron not enrolled. Following player identification 614, the visit is stored (new member) or updated (old member) in attendance tracker 564 (FIG. 14) using attendance recording means, for example in a recording attendance operation 616.

The incentive payment method 600 wager selection means requests a player to select a wager type in operation 618. The wager type selected may be either: (1) a cashless wager 620 using for example card 501 in value acceptor 19; or (2) a cash wager 622 using coin slot 16 or paper currency accepting device 18 of gaming device 14 (FIG. 1). The wager type 620 or 622 selected is then recorded in the wager tracker 574 in operation 624. A signal 626 is indicated to couple the portion of the incentive payment method 600 shown in FIG. 15 with that shown in FIG. 16.

Referring to FIG. 16, method 600 may include game selection means where a player chooses which game 512, 514, 516 or 518 (FIG. 13) to play in operation 628. Conventional wager placing means may be used by the player to place a wager in operation 630, with wager recording means being used in operation 632 to record the wager amount in wager tracker 574 (FIG. 14). The player then plays the selected game in operation 634, and game incrementing means may be used in operation 636 to record that a game has been played in game profile tracker 568. The game outcome (e.g., win or lose, and base prize amount) may be recorded in operation 638 using outcome recording means in prize tracker 566.

New game determining means then presents the player with the option of playing another game on the same gaming device 612-618 in operation 640, or a player may move to play a new gaming device 612-618. When a player selects a new game, a YES signal 642 is issued to the game selection operation 628, and method 600 proceeds as described above. If a player decides not to select a new game, a NO signal 644 is issued by the new game determiner 640. The NO signal 644 couples the portion of the incentive payment method 600 shown in FIG. 16, with that shown in FIG. 17.

Referring to FIG. 17, method 600 may include rating level calculating means, which in operation 646 may be used to calculate a new player rating Level X. Bonus prize eligibility determining means may be used in operation 648 to determine whether a player is eligible for a bonus prize. If a player is eligible for a bonus prize, eligibility determiner 648 generates a YES signal 650, and if multiple bonuses are available, the player chooses which bonus prize to receive in operation 652. If the player is not eligible for a bonus prize, the outcome determiner 648 issues a NO signal 654 to an enhanced prize eligibility determining means which may determine in operation 656 according to the bonus prize awarding system 582 (FIG. 14) whether a player is eligible for an enhanced prize.

Continuing to refer to FIG. 17, if the player is eligible for a bonus prize, the eligibility determiner 656 issues a YES signal 658 according to bonus prize awarding system 582 (FIG. 14) and one or more enhanced prizes may be offered to the winning player in operation 660. The only prize offered or a selected one of a group of offered prizes may be awarded in operation 664. The winning player then may be presented with prize type selection means in operation 668 for selecting a payout type for monetary prizes. The payout type selection may be either a regular cash payout 670 or a deposit to a cashless device or account 672. Following a cashless payout selection 672, incentive payment method 600 may include means for updating player for example placing a deposit on the winner's credit/debit card 501.

A variety of different bonus prizes may be offered by bonus system 582. For example, when using a casino sponsored/affiliated card 501, one of the bonus prizes may be to make a payment on the player's card 501, or better yet, to pay off the balance on the card. If discounts on third party's goods or services are selected as the bonus prize, an additional bonus prize may be awarded if the sponsored card 501 is used to complete the purchase. In another bonus prize variation, every time card 501 is used to place a wager, the player may be eligible to win bonus prize according to bonus prize awarding system 582. Alternatively, every time the value of a player's funds on card 501 are updated in tracker 550, the player may receive a cash out.

Alternatively, the bonus prizes may be customized to the player's activity. For example if the player activity indicates the player frequents a particular hotel or restaurant, the bonus may be in the form of discounts or complementary goods or services at these venues.

The illustrated incentive payment method 600 may also be used to track and reward spending at third-party vendors 506 using the home casino issued or affiliated credit/debit card 501. The reward level may be calculated based on card transaction inputs accumulated from card processor 540 in third party spending tracker 572 to increase the player's rating X. The rewards may be discounts on goods and services provided by the home casino 502, and either presented upon player identification 614 or by mailing (or e-mailing) coupons or discount notices to a player's address of record stored in user profile 562. Indeed, incentive payment method 600 may be used by any type of vendor sponsoring or affiliated with a particular credit/debit card to reward the free advertising from consumers presenting card at other merchants or service providers. The rewards may then be claimed by visiting the sponsoring vendor casino or placing an order for the sponsoring casino vendor's goods or services.

In summary, the present invention provides a system 500 and method for rewarding an enrolled game player with an incentive to use a cashless gaming card 501 to pay for wagers, goods and services, the card 501 comprising a card such as a credit or debit card associated with a home casino 502, a monitor to gather information defining a characteristic exhibited by a casino patron comprising a tracker 550 for monitoring card use and player location in a home casino 502 and third party vendor 506 locations and storing the gathered information for each casino patron monitored, a rating calculator 556 for calculating a player rating based on card use and monitored activity and spending characteristics and a reward system calculating a rating based on the players activity and spending, the incentive comprising a prize enhancement or bonus prizes.

Those of skill in the art will recognize that the above operations or steps may occur in a different sequence, that different operational steps may be included, and that certain steps may be omitted in the method, while still falling within the scope of the present invention.