Title:
Gaming Machine Apparatus
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An electronic gaming machine includes, in an embodiment, an embedded processing module, which is compliant with a Computer-On-Module Express standard, and which includes at least one processor. The electronic gaming machine may further include a network interface controller, operatively coupled to the embedded processing module through a first serial, differential signaling bus, one or more mass storage devices, operatively coupled to the embedded processing module through a second serial, differential signaling bus, and a gaming specific input/output module, operatively coupled to the embedded processing module, to perform gaming machine specific functions.



Inventors:
Macika, Raymond E. (Wilmette, IL, US)
Sylla, Craig J. (Round Lake, IL, US)
Application Number:
11/995970
Publication Date:
11/20/2008
Filing Date:
07/20/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63F9/24
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
LIM, SENG HENG
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
SCHWEGMAN LUNDBERG & WOESSNER/WMS GAMING (MINNEAPOLIS, MN, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. An electronic gaming machine comprising: an embedded processing module, which is compliant with a Computer-On-Module Express standard, and which includes at least one processor; a network interface controller, operatively coupled to the embedded processing module through a first serial, differential signaling bus; one or more mass storage devices, operatively coupled to the embedded processing module through a second serial, differential signaling bus; and a gaming specific input/output (I/O) module, operatively coupled to the embedded processing module, to perform gaming machine specific functions.

2. The electronic gaming machine of claim 1, wherein the first serial, differential signaling bus is configured according to a PCI Express standard.

3. The electronic gaming machine of claim 1, wherein the network interface controller is to interface with an external network to download game software into the electronic gaming machine.

4. The electronic gaming machine of claim 1, wherein the second serial, differential signaling bus is configured according to a Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) specification, and wherein the one or more mass storage devices include one or more SATA compliant hard disks or flash disks.

5. The electronic gaming machine of claim 1, wherein the one or more mass storage devices include one or more hard disks or flash disks to store graphics data and audio data.

6. The electronic gaming machine of claim 1, wherein the one or more mass storage devices include one or more hard disks or flash disks to store game software.

7. The electronic gaming machine of claim 1, further comprising: an audio subsystem, operatively coupled to the embedded processing module, which provides for high-definition, multiple channel audio.

8. The electronic gaming machine of claim 1, further comprising: an audio subsystem, operatively coupled to the embedded processing module through a serial bus, which is configured according to an Audio Codec '97 specification.

9. The electronic gaming machine of claim 1, further comprising: a video subsystem, operatively coupled to the embedded processing module, to provide video output to dual independent displays.

10. The electronic gaming machine of claim 9, further comprising: dual independent displays, operatively coupled to the video subsystem.

11. The electronic gaming machine of claim 1, further comprising: a video subsystem, operatively coupled to the embedded processing module through a serial bus, which implements a PCI Express Graphics specification.

12. The electronic gaming machine of claim 1, further comprising: a trusted platform module, operatively coupled to the processing module.

13. The electronic gaming machine of claim 1, further comprising: one or more peripheral devices selected from a group of devices that includes a coin validator, a bill validator, a card reader, a coin hopper, and a ticket printer.

14. The electronic gaming machine of claim 1, further comprising: one or more user interfaces selected from a group of user interfaces that includes a button panel, a mechanical slot-machine lever arm, and a touch-screen display device.

15. The electronic gaming machine of claim 1, further comprising: a casino-style cabinet, which houses the electronic gaming machine.

16. The electronic gaming machine of claim 1, further comprising: gaming software, which when executed by the electronic gaming machine, produces a game selected from a group of games that includes a slot machine, a bingo game, a keno game, a craps game, a roulette wheel, a card game, video poker, blackjack, a game show, a racing game, and a trivia game.

Description:

RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the priority benefit of U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/700,938 filed Jul. 20, 2005, the contents of which are incorporated herein by reference.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The inventive subject matter described herein relates generally to apparatus associated with gaming machines.

COPYRIGHT

A portion of the disclosure of this patent document contains material to which the claim of copyright protection is made. The copyright owner has no objection to the facsimile reproduction by any person of the patent document or the patent disclosure, as it appears in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office file or records, but reserves all other rights whatsoever. Copyright 2006, WMS Gaming, Inc.

BACKGROUND

Wagering games have become popular with casino visitors, and thus are very lucrative for casino operators and game producers. Accordingly, various electronic casino games have been developed, such as electronic slot machines, poker games, and roulette games, to name a few examples. These electronic casino games are implemented on various types of gaming machines, such as upright, casino-style gaming machines and pub-style gaming machines, for example.

Casino game players are more likely to use gaming machines that provide exciting games with enhanced visual and auditory stimulation. Accordingly, developers of gaming machines continuously strive to create gaming machines capable of providing advanced games with improved video and audio output capabilities.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 illustrates an isometric view of an upright, casino-style gaming machine, in accordance with an example embodiment;

FIG. 2 illustrates a simplified, functional block diagram of a gaming machine, in accordance with an example embodiment;

FIG. 3 illustrates a simplified, functional block diagram of an electronic gaming subsystem, in accordance with an example embodiment; and

FIG. 4 illustrates a simplified block diagram of a gaming system, in accordance with an example embodiment of the inventive subject matter.

DESCRIPTION OF THE EMBODIMENTS

Embodiments of the inventive subject matter include apparatus associated with electronic gaming machines. Gaming machines of various embodiments may be used to execute one or more electronic games for the entertainment of a player. In various embodiments, these games include wagering games, such as slot machines, bingo or keno games, craps games, roulette wheels, card games (e.g., video poker and blackjack), game shows, racing games, and trivia games, to name a few. Other wagering or non-wagering games may be executable in conjunction with gaming machine embodiments described herein, such as search and destroy games, course navigation games, and numerous other types of games.

The apparatus embodiments described herein may be implemented, for example, in electronic gaming machines, such as upright, casino-style and/or pub-style gaming machines. Using an upright, casino-style gaming machine, a player sits or stands in front of the machine, and provides various user inputs as prompted by images that are displayed within a substantially vertical display area. Using a pub-style gaming machine, a player sits or stands in front of the machine, and views the display area through a substantially horizontal surface, such as a transparent counter top surface, for example. The term “casino-style” cabinet, as used herein, includes upright cabinets, pub-style cabinets, and other cabinet styles. The use of the term “casino” is not meant to limit embodiments of the inventive subject matter to use in a casino environment.

FIG. 1 illustrates an isometric view of an upright, casino-style gaming machine 100, in accordance with an example embodiment. Gaming machine 100 includes a cabinet 102, which houses a coin validator 104, a bill validator 106, a card reader 108, button panel 110, one or more mechanical or video displays 112, speakers 116, and a coin tray 118, among other things.

A user may initiate a wager, for example, by inserting coins into coin validator 104, paper currency, tickets or vouchers into bill validator 106, or a credit card, debit card, magnetic card or smart card into card reader 108. The user may then manipulate button panel 110 to indicate the amount of the wager and to initiate game play. Besides button panel 110, a gaming machine may include other user interfaces such as, for example, a touch-screen interface associated with a display and/or a mechanical slot-machine lever arm, among other things.

In response to the wager and user inputs, the gaming machine 100 may execute the game by randomly selecting one or a plurality of possible outcomes. The gaming machine 100 may further cause the display 112 (or displays) to depict indicia corresponding to the selected outcome, and may cause speakers 116 to output sounds corresponding to the selected outcome. In an embodiment, a gaming machine may include dual video displays, which may be positioned with respect to each other in side-by-side, top-and-bottom, or front-and-back positions, for example.

Monetary winnings, which may result from game play, may be stored on gaming machine 100 as credits. Alternatively, the winnings may be added onto a magnetic card or smart card, printed onto a ticket, or dispensed as coins from the machine's hopper into coin tray 118. Although FIG. 1 depicts an upright, casino-style gaming machine, embodiments of the inventive subject matter also may be implemented in other types of gaming machines.

FIG. 2 illustrates a simplified, functional block diagram of a gaming machine 200, in accordance with an example embodiment. Gaming machine 200 may be housed, for example, in a cabinet (e.g., cabinet 102, FIG. 1).

Gaming machine 200 includes an electronic gaming subsystem 204, one or more displays 206, 208, and speakers 210, in an embodiment. In an embodiment, gaming machine 200 includes two displays 206, 208. In other embodiments, gaming machine may include more or fewer displays.

During game play, electronic gaming subsystem 204 executes a series of machine readable instructions, in an embodiment, which cause a game to progress through various states and iterations. Electronic gaming subsystem 204 also causes displays 206, 208 to display various images and indicia, and causes speakers 210 to output various sounds. Electronic gaming subsystem 204 and its functionality are described in more detail in conjunction with FIG. 3.

In various embodiments, gaming machine 200 also may include various combinations of one or more peripheral devices. For example, but not by way of limitation, peripheral devices may include a coin validator 220, bill validator 222, card reader 224, coin hopper 226, and ticket printer 228, to name a few. In various embodiments, peripheral devices (e.g., devices 220, 222, 224, 226, and 228) may communicate with electronic gaming subsystem 204 over physical links, or they may communicate with electronic gaming subsystem 204 through various ports, such as one or more serial ports, Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports, parallel ports, game ports, combinations of these types of ports or other types of ports. Accordingly, each peripheral device may communicate with electronic gaming subsystem 204 through an interface and/or physical connection that is different from that illustrated in FIG. 2.

Gaming machine 200 also may include various combinations of one or more user interfaces. For example, but not by way of limitation, user interfaces may include a button panel 240, a mechanical slot-machine lever arm 242, and a touch-screen display controller 244, to name a few. In other embodiments, gaming machine 200 also or alternatively may include a microphone, a mouse, a keyboard, a game controller (e.g., with toggle switches, direction buttons, etc.), and/or various other types of user input devices. By manipulating the user interfaces, a player may indicate a wager, indicate game options, and cash out, among other things.

Gaming machine 200 may operate in a stand-alone manner, or may communicate with one or more other computers (e.g., one or more servers) over one or more networks. Accordingly, gaming machine 200 may include from one to many ports 250, 252, 254. Although three ports 250, 252, 254 are illustrated, machine 200 may include more or fewer ports. Each of these ports 250, 252, 254 may be configured to communicate with outside devices using a particular protocol. Communication with other devices is described in more detail in conjunction with FIG. 4.

The machine 200 described in conjunction with FIG. 2 is particular to a game machine that provides a player with entertainment in exchange for money, credit, and/or the potential of a reward (e.g., winnings or other bonuses). The illustrated system is a stand-alone system, in an embodiment, which may include all necessary hardware and software for executing the game. In other embodiments, certain features described in conjunction with the machine 200 of FIG. 2 may be excluded. For example, a system that does not accept or pay out money may not include coin validator 220, bill validator 222, card reader 224, coin hopper 226, and/or ticket printer 228, in various embodiments.

FIG. 3 illustrates a simplified, functional block diagram of an electronic gaming subsystem 300 (e.g., electronic gaming subsystem 204, FIG. 2), in accordance with an example embodiment. Electronic gaming subsystem 300 may be housed on one or more printed circuit boards and/or carrier boards, in an embodiment. Electronic gaming subsystem 300 includes various components and subsystems, in various embodiments, each of which may be coupled to the one or more printed circuit boards and/or carrier boards using soldered or socketed connections.

Electronic gaming subsystem 300 includes an embedded computing module 302, a gaming specific input/output (I/O) module 304, a network interface controller 306, one or more mass storage devices 308, 310, one or more non-writable memory devices 312, 314, a trusted platform module 316, an audio subsystem 318, a video subsystem 320, one or more input/output (I/O) connectors 322, 324, and multiple serial ports 326, in an embodiment. Electronic gaming subsystem 300 may include other elements as well, although they are not discussed here in detail. These elements include, but are not limited to, power supplies and regulators, lamp drivers, and fan throttle controllers, to name a few.

Embedded computing module 302 may be used to perform a number of gaming machine functions, which include executing game software, providing video and audio output and control signals, interfacing with one or more external networks, and interfacing with one or more mass storage devices, among other things. In an embodiment, embedded computing module 302 may include a single-board computer. In other embodiments, embedded computing module 302 may include a multiple-board computer.

In an embodiment, embedded computing module 302 is compliant with a COM (Computer-On-Module) Express industry standard, issued by PICMG (PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group). COM Express is based on several serial differential-signaling technologies, including PCI Express, Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA), USB 2.0, and Serial Digital Video Out (SDVO).

In a further embodiment, embedded computing module 302 is compliant with an ETX (Embedded Technology eXtended) Express COM specification. ETX is a PCI/ISA based COM, which offers personal computer (PC) functionality. In a further embodiment, embedded computing module 302 includes a video function, an audio function, an Ethernet function, one or more storage interfaces, and one or more data communication interfaces. Video capabilities may provide for support of dual (or more) independent displays using a single processor.

Embedded computing module 302 may include, for example one or more processing elements and data storage, which enable embedded computing module 302 to perform general purpose and special purpose processing. Embedded computing module 302 may include one or more processors (e.g., Intel® Pentium®, Pentium® II, Pentium® III, Pentium® M, Celeron®, Celeron® M, ULV Celeron® M, AMD® Geode™, VIA Eden processors), memory (e.g., DDR2 SDRAM), cache, a basic input/output system (BIOS), a memory controller, an I/O controller, and connectors, in an embodiment. In other embodiments, embedded computing module 302 may include more, fewer, or different elements.

In an embodiment, embedded computing module 302 may provide external connections for one or more PCI Express lanes, PCI Express Graphics (PEG) links, SATA links, Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) or Parallel Advanced Technology Attachment (PATA) links, Gigabit (Gbit) Ethernet ports (e.g., including 1-Gbps Ethernet and/or 10-Gbps Ethernet), USB 2.0 ports, low-voltage differential signaling (LVDS) channels, high-definition audio interfaces, channels of SDVO, analog cathode ray tube (CRT) interfaces, analog VGA interfaces, NSTC/PAL, TV-out ports (e.g., SDTV and/or HDTV), SMP and I2C busses, and power and ground I/O, among other things. In other embodiments, embedded computing module 302 may not provide selected ones of the above-listed capabilities.

Some of the external connections provided for by embedded computing module 302 may provide for communications over one or more serial busses and/or parallel busses. In an embodiment, embedded computing module 302 implements high-speed serial differential signaling (e.g., LVDS) as a data transport mechanism over selected ones of the serial busses. Serial busses with which embedded computing module 302 may interface include, in an embodiment, busses 340, 342, 344, and 346.

Bus 340 provides interconnectivity between embedded computing module 302 and network interface controller 306. In an embodiment, bus 340 is configured according to a PCI Express standard. PCI Express is a high-bandwidth serial interconnect bus standard, which includes a two-way, serial connection that carries data in packets along two pairs of point-to-point data lanes. In an embodiment, bus 340 implements serial, differential signaling.

Network interface controller 306 enables data to be transmitted and received over a network (e.g., a casino area network, a local area network (LAN), wide area network (WAN), the Internet, or other). In an embodiment, network interface controller 306 implements a communication interface with embedded computing module 302 that is based on the PCI Express standard. In a further embodiment, network interface controller 306 includes a Gbit LAN controller for PCI Express. In an embodiment, network interface controller 306 may facilitate downloading, from an external network, game software and other information, which may be sent to embedded processing module 302, and thereafter stored on mass storage devices 308 and/or 310.

Bus 342 provides interconnectivity between embedded computing module 302 and one or more mass storage devices 308, 310. In an embodiment, bus 342 is configured according to a SATA specification, and accordingly, bus 342 implements serial, differential signaling. In a further embodiment, mass storage devices 308, 310 include SATA compliant hard disks and/or flash disks. SATA is a high-speed, serial interconnect bus standard, particularly adapted for transfer of data to and from a SATA compliant hard disk (e.g., mass storage devices 308, 310). More particularly, SATA includes a physical storage interface, which includes a serial link. The serial link may include a single cable with a minimum of four wires that create a point-to-point connection between devices.

In an embodiment, mass storage device 308 may include an on-board SATA compliant hard disk, and mass storage device 310 may include an external SATA compliant hard disk. In other embodiments, where software and/or other information is stored on removable media, either or both of mass storage devices 308, 310 may include a flash disk, a removable magnetic disk, and/or a removable optical disk, such as a CD ROM or other optical media. In another embodiment, either or both of mass storage devices 308, 310 include a hybrid hard drive (HHD). Hybrid hard drives may include a large buffer cache of non-volatile memory. For example, cache sizes may be 256 megabytes or larger. The cache is used as primary data storage during normal use. In some HHDs, hard drive platters remain idle and spin up only to write data when the cache is near capacity or to read data when the data is not already in the cache, after which the platters return to an idle state. This configuration may advantageously provide decreased power consumption, increased reliability, and faster data access.

Either or both of mass storage devices 308, 310 may be utilized, in an embodiment, to store graphics and/or audio data. In another embodiment, either or both of mass storage devices 308, 310 may be used to store software (e.g., downloaded software) associated with one or more games. Such game software may be downloaded by electronic gaming subsystem 300 via a network interface controller 306, and then may be transferred into either or both of mass storage devices 308, 310 by embedded computing module 302 via bus 342.

Bus 344 provides interconnectivity between embedded computing module 302 and audio subsystem 318. In an embodiment, bus 344 may be configured according to an Audio Codec '97 (AC '97) specification. Accordingly, bus 344 is a serial bus.

Audio subsystem 318 includes an audio codec, in an embodiment, which provides for high-definition, multiple channel audio. The audio may include, for example, an Intel® AC'97 audio codec or an Intel® High Definition Audio (Intel® HD Audio) codec. AC'97 is a high-quality, 96 kHz/20-bit audio architecture defined by an AC'97 Component specification. Intel® HD Audio is a specification providing for 192 kHz/32-bit playback in multichannel mode. In other embodiments, other audio codecs may be used.

In an embodiment, the audio codec output may include an S/PDIF (Sony/Phillips Digital Interface) output connector. S/PDIF is a digital audio interface which provides for multi-channel audio output, thus enabling electronic gaming subsystem 300 to produce surround sound signals for output on a gaming machine's speakers (e.g., speakers 210, FIG. 2). In an embodiment, the audio output connector may include a coaxial connector. In another embodiment, the audio output connector may include an optical connector.

Bus 346 provides interconnectivity between embedded computing module 302 and video subsystem 320. In an embodiment, bus 346 is configured according to a PEG bus standard. Accordingly, bus 346 provides a high-bandwidth, serial connection between embedded computing module 302 and video subsystem 320. In an embodiment, video subsystem 320 includes an SDVO to DVI (Digital Visual Interface) converter. In an embodiment, video subsystem 320 is adapted to drive a single display or dual (or more) independent displays.

Bus 348 provides interconnectivity between embedded computing module 302 and one or more internal USB ports 350 and/or one or more external USB ports 352. In an embodiment, bus 348 is configured according to a USB 2.0 specification. USB 2.0, also referred to as Hi-Speed USB, is an external bus standard.

Internal USB ports 350 may, for example, provide interconnectivity with, for example, a USB memory stick. External USB ports 352 may, for example, provide interconnectivity with an external network. In an embodiment, electronic gaming subsystem includes four internal USB ports 350 and four external USB ports 352, although more or fewer of either type of port may be included, in other embodiments.

Bus 354 provides interconnectivity between embedded computing module 302 and gaming specific I/O module 304. In an embodiment, bus 354 is configured according to the PCI specification. Accordingly, bus 354 provides for parallel data communication between embedded computing module 302 and gaming specific I/O module 304.

Gaming specific I/O module 304 may include an FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array), in an embodiment. Gaming specific I/O module 304 may perform gaming machine specific functions, such as controlling a lamp matrix, processing key switch inputs, processing game button inputs, controlling meter outputs, controlling the coin hopper, and monitoring and controlling other peripherals such as a coin validator, bill validator, card reader, and ticket printer, for example.

Bus 360 provides interconnectivity between embedded computing module 302 and non-writable memory devices 312, 314. In an embodiment, bus 354 is configured according to an IDE or PATA specification. Accordingly, bus 354 provides for parallel data communication between embedded computing module 302 and non-writable memory devices 312, 314.

Gaming specific I/O module 304 additionally may provide an interface with non-writable memory devices 312, 314, in an embodiment. Non-writable memory devices 312, 314 may include, for example, one or more memory devices, such as, for example, one or more compact flash cards. In another embodiment, non-writable memory devices 312, 314 may include one or more read only memory (ROM) devices, such as, for example, an electrically erasable programmable ROM (EEPROM). Non-writable memory devices 312, 314 are utilized to store operating system software and/or game software (i.e., software for executing a wagering game), in an embodiment. Operating system software may include a Linux-based operating system (e.g., a Fedora Core distribution or a SuSE distribution), for example, in an embodiment. In other embodiments, operating system software may include a Microsoft® or other operating system. Prior to game play, game software may be loaded, via bus 360, from non-writable memory 312 or 314 into embedded computing module 302, which may thereafter execute the game software.

Bus 356 provides interconnectivity between embedded computing module 302 and trusted platform module 316. In addition, bus 356 may provide interconnectivity between embedded computing module 302 and BIOS component 358. In an embodiment, bus 356 is configured according to a Low-Pin-Count (LPC) specification. Accordingly, bus 356 provides for parallel data communication between embedded computing module 302, trusted platform module 316, and the BIOS component 358.

Trusted platform module 316 enables a particular CPU board on a network to be uniquely identified. Trusted platform module 316 may include, for example, public key and private key pairs, which may be used for generating and signing certificates. Further, the trusted platform module 316 may include a random number generator, which is used to generate private keys.

In an embodiment, the one or more input/output (I/O) connectors 322, 324 provide for connections between elements of electronic gaming subsystem 300 and elements of a gaming machine that are external to electronic gaming subsystem 300. Each of the various pins of I/O connectors 322, 324 may be assigned to a particular external element. Although two I/O connectors 322, 324 are illustrated in FIG. 3, more or fewer connectors may be used in other embodiments.

For example, but not by way of limitation, certain pins of I/O connectors 322, 324 facilitate connections between peripherals of the gaming machine (e.g., coin validator 220, FIG. 2, bill validator 222, card reader 224, coin hopper 226, and/or ticket printer 228) and serial ports 326.

As described previously, gaming machines of various embodiments may be capable of accessing one or more networks. FIG. 4 illustrates a simplified block diagram of a gaming system 400, in accordance with an example embodiment of the inventive subject matter. System 400 may include at least one central server 401, which communicates with one or more local servers 402, 403, 404, 405 over a public or private network. Central server 401 may be, for example, a server that is associated with a centralized computing facility for a corporation that owns and/or manages multiple casinos at multiple locations.

One or more local servers 402-405 may be resident at a casino location. A local server (e.g., server 402) may communicate over one or more networks 410 to one or more groups or clusters 418 of gaming machines 420, 421, 422, 423, 424. Network 410 may be, for example, but not by way of limitation, a casino area network, a LAN, a WAN, a local area progressive network, a wide area progressive network, a bonus game network, a cashless system network, or another type of network.

Local server 410 may provide a variety of gaming service to gaming machines 420-424 across network 410. Gaming services provided over a network may include, for example, game downloading, graphics or audio data downloading, player tracking services, accounting services, electronic funds transfers to and from a machine, external wins and awards, ticket redemption, lottery services, progressive game services, bonus games, advertising services, and other gaming services.

Because a server 410 may provide a variety of gaming system services, a server may communicate according to a variety of communication protocols and using various types of hardware. Communications may be performed using one or more of a variety of communications protocols, including, but not limited to, SAS (Slot Accounting System), SDS (Slot Data System), BOB (Best of Breed), WAP (Wide Area Progressive), LAP (Local Area Progressive), MICON, or other proprietary or non-proprietary protocols.

In alternate embodiments, one or more servers may provide multiple gaming services over a network using a common protocol. For example, a server may include a network interface that translates messages encoded using one or more proprietary protocols into messages encoded in a common protocol (e.g., UDP, TCP/IP, ATM, SLIP, PPP, SCTP, a layer/protocol transmitted on top of TCP/IP, or some other protocol), which may or may not be proprietary. A gaming machine may have a corresponding network interface, which converts the network-received messages back into the corresponding proprietary protocols.

A group of gaming machines 420-424 may be connected together through peer-to-peer links 440, 441, 442, 443. In various embodiments, links 440-443 may connect machines 420-424 in a daisy-chain fashion, a star topology, a ring topology, a hub topology, or the like. Links between central server 401, local servers 402-405, network 410, and gaming machines 420-424 are for illustration purposes only, and these links may be alternatively arranged, in other embodiments. Further, although one central server, four local servers, and one group of five gaming machines are illustrated in FIG. 4, for simplicity sake, more or fewer servers, groups, and/or gaming machines may be present within a system.

In the description of the embodiments, above, reference is made to the accompanying drawings, which form a part hereof and show, by way of illustration, specific embodiments in which the inventive subject matter may be practiced. These embodiments are described in sufficient detail to enable those skilled in the art to practice the inventive subject matter, and it is to be understood that other embodiments may be utilized, and that process or mechanical changes may be made, without departing from the scope of the inventive subject matter. It will be recognized that the methods of the various embodiments can be combined in practice, either concurrently or in succession. Various permutations and combinations will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art.

Various embodiments of a gaming apparatus and methods have been described. Modifications that would be apparent to those of skill in the art can be made to the various embodiments to achieve the same results. In particular, but not by way of limitation, the arrangements and interconnections between various, illustrated functional blocks and method steps can be different, and other and different functional blocks and steps can be used to achieve the same function, in substantially the same way, to achieve substantially the same result. Further, the type of system within which the embodiments are incorporated can be different (e.g., it can include more, fewer or different components than those illustrated and described, or the components can be interconnected in different ways).

Although specific embodiments have been illustrated and described herein, it will be appreciated by those of ordinary skill in the art that any arrangement that is calculated to achieve the same purpose may be substituted for the specific embodiments shown. Many adaptations of the inventive subject matter described herein will be apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art. Accordingly, this application is intended to cover any adaptations or variations of the inventive subject matter. It is manifestly intended that the inventive subject matter be limited only by the following claims and equivalents thereof.