CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
This application is a Continuation-In-Part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/214,923 filed Aug. 31,2005.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
This invention pertains to casino gaming, and in particular to methods of cashless gaming and player tracking designed to simplify and secure their operation while eliminating the supplies, maintenance, and repair costs associated with coin acceptors, bill acceptors, card readers, and ticket printers.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Casinos and gaming equipment manufactures continually strive to improve the attraction of gaming to the patron while reducing the operating costs of the equipment. Operating costs include amortized installation costs, operating supplies, maintenance costs and repair costs.
On the operating cost side of the equation, one of the more significant categories is that of coins, tickets, bills, and their associated acceptors, hoppers, and printers. Each of these electromechanical devices occasionally requires attention to maintain it in proper working order. Coin acceptors and coin hoppers can become jammed with bent coins. Bill validators can become jammed with worn or dirty bills. Ticket printers can become jammed with paper debris. Optical sensors in each of them occasionally need cleaning. Coins must be provided to fill all of the hoppers and back room hopper fill inventory requirements. Personnel must empty drop vaults and perform hopper fills on call. Ticket printers must have their paper ticket stock replenished periodically. Although the material and labor costs for any one machine may seem insignificant, when a casino has many thousands of gaming machines, the aggregate cost becomes worthy of attention.
On the attraction side of the equation, in addition to the attractive design of a game itself, casinos have long employed loyalty club programs to reward their better customers with perks, such as free meals, free rooms, and free entertainment. Today, most casinos employ one of a number of available player tracking systems at gaming machines in order to both identify the patron and to record the amount, of the patron's gaming activity. The hardware and software that implements gaming loyalty club programs is commonly known as a player tracking system.
When player tracking systems first took root they used a plastic card the size of a credit card 10 with numerous punched holes 11, as shown in FIG. 1A. The holes 11 were read by an optical card reader, as disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,702,304 granted December to Acres, et al. As the industry progressed, the optically read card 10 was replaced by a card 12 having a magnetic strip 13, as illustrated in FIG. 1B. More recently RFID technology has been employed for player tracking. An RFID (radio frequency identification) keyfob 14 having an RFID inlay 16 with RFID chip 17 and antenna 18 of FIG. 1C is used by Golden Gaming for its casinos and pubs as a player tracking identification means. The keyfob 14 is placed near a reader at a slot machine when the patron logs onto the player tracking system to earn loyalty points while playing. The RFID keyfob has no magnetic reading head to get dirty and intermittent over the course of reading thousands of player cards, and there are no optical sensors to get dirty and intermittent over the course many thousands of player card insertions.
Ease of registration for a loyalty program is an important part of attracting and maintaining customers. Patrons have come to the casino because they are interested in playing the games, as opposed to standing in a line to fill out paperwork for a casino loyalty program. A gaming machine adapted to provide a method of registering a patron to a loyalty program at the gaming machine wherein the patron or a casino service representative enters personal identification information for the account into a device on the gaming machine or on a hand-held wireless device is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,896,618 granted May 24, 2005 to Benoy, et al.
Casinos and gaming equipment manufacturers have also worked to reduce the material and labor costs associated with the money involved in gaming machines. Initially slot machines were all coin operated. In order to reduce the labor cost of selling coins or tokens to patrons, bill validators were introduced on slot machines in the mid 1990s. However, with the subsequent growth in popularity-of the nickel video slot machines hopper fills became a problem. When a patron feeds a $20 bill into a machine and then later presses the cash-out button, the average patron will get a significant portion of that $20 bill in change. That typically results in dispensing nearly 400 nickels and as a consequence results in frequent hopper fills with heavy bags of coins, and furthermore results in frequent instances when a patron is forced to wait ten to fifteen minutes for the hopper refill in order to get fully paid when the slot machine runs out of coins during a cash-out procedure. The industry solution to this problem has been to pay patrons with a barcoded ticket 21 of FIG. 2A which is printed by the slot machine. The ticket 21 has a barcode 22 representative of an amount of money owed the patron. The barcode and the amount are both transmitted through a network connection to a central server at which that information may later be accessed. The ticket 21 may then be redeemed at the next machine by a bill validator adapted to read the barcoded ticket 21, or at the cashier. A slot machine having a bar code ticket printer and a bar code ticket reader to avoid having to use coins or tokens in the operation of slot machines is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,048,269 granted Apr. 11, 2000 to Burns, et al. This technology has become known in the industry as ticket-in-ticket-out, or TITO.
TITO was the first widely successful electronic funds transfer (EFT) technology for slot machines. Although it is a partial step toward cashless gaming, it really only goes as far as coinless gaming. TITO machines still rely on a bill validator for the patron to initially put gaming credits on a machine. Furthermore, the industry standard means of reading the barcoded tickets is through the bill validator. True cashless gaming requires elimination of coins, bills, and hopefully even tickets. Although elimination of coin handling for gaming machines with TITO has had an important cost reduction impact for casinos, it has also had an inadvertent negative side effect on beverage service availability around gaming machines. Patrons no longer have a ready cup full of coins from which to offer the beverage server a tip. So, the incidence of tipping at TITO gaming machines has declined significantly enough that servers prefer to avoid serving patrons at the machines in favor of serving patrons at the tables where plenty of gaming chips are at hand for tipping. Casinos have been looking for a way to remedy this service problem.
Attempts have been made to link together the player tracking account with a debit account to achieve cashless gaming. A cashless gaming system wherein a patron provides money and an ID card to a clerk and wherein the ID number and the amount of money are stored in the memory of the validation terminal is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,265,874 granted Nov. 30, 1993 to Dickinson. The patron subsequently uses the ID card for operating one of a number of game terminals which reads and validates the patron's ID card and then downloads the cash amount from the validation terminal. Upon actuation of the cash-out button the remaining amount is uploaded back to the validation terminal where it may subsequently be likewise downloaded to another game terminal. Slot machine manufacturer IGT markets a system with these features under the trademark Coinless Transit. It utilizes a player tracking card as the ID card and describes the system as a “virtual coin cup” due to the fact that the entire amount is transferred from machine to machine through the “validation terminal” account.
A version of slot machine manufacturer IGT's Coinless Transit system uses a Smart Card 27 of FIG. 2B having contact pads 28 for connection to an embedded encrypted data storage processor in accordance with ISO standard 7816. It stores gaming credits on the card and enforces transaction limits. Similarly, slot machine manufacturer Atronic offers a system called Chip Cash that uses Smart Card technology. Funds are loaded onto the card at a cashier station or simply via the bill validator of the slot machine, and may be cashed out directly from the slot machine to the card. The Chip Cash card may be personalized to also be a player tracking card with optional PIN protection. The advantage of a Smart Card system is that it can operate independently of concern for compatibility and licensing fees required for network connection to a casino player tracking account system since the value is carried on the card and the card provides its own validation and security features. The disadvantage is that if the card is damaged or stolen, the value stored on it is permanently lost. A system fairly similar to both of the above described systems is being marketed by MaxeTag of Australia but instead employs an RFID tag having writable storage memory to hold the gaming funds within the RFID transponder chip in much the same way as does a Smart Card. In any of these systems, once funds have been transferred to the gaming machine, there is no further link maintained between the remaining funds balance on the gaming machine and the patron's ID. The ID must again be present when transferring funds back off the machine to a remote account, and certainly of course, to a Smart Card or RFID transponder that is designed to be an electronic funds carrier.
A patron identification card having UV fluorescent qualities and an RFID transceiver that is linked to a patron's account on a host computer is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,641,035 granted Nov. 4, 2003 to Predescu, et al. The Predescu et al. patent discloses, but does not claim, that at each game play the amount won is credited and the amount lost is debited to the patron's account, thus allowing patrons to enjoy games without using cash or tokens. Similarly disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,280,328 granted Aug. 28, 2001 to Holch is an account based gaming system wherein the actual funds remain located in an account on a remote network connected server, a network connected gaming machine is enabled to play if the patron's account balance is sufficient for the desired wager, and game result information is transmitted back to the account server where the account balance is credited or debited accordingly. Neither of these disclosures suggests any means or method for limiting display or access of the patron's account balance at the gaming machine other than always working with the full account balance.
To address the problem of limiting the amount the access to funds associated with a patrons credit card or banking debit card account, a gaming machine which allows electronic funds transfer to a gaming machine requests playing credit in according to a limited preset amount not controlled by the patron is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,902,983 granted May 11, 1999 to Crevelt, et al., and in U.S. Pat. No. 6,347,738 granted Feb. 19, 2002 also to Crevelt, et al.
A coin shaped token for use in a cashless transaction having a memory, a display, a keypad and an RF input/output interface embedded within the token body to communicate with an electronic gaming device is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,629,591 granted Oct. 7, 2003 to Griswold, et al. Monetary value and transaction history is stored in the memory. The keypad and display provide a means for the patron to navigate a menu of choices regarding actions and amounts. A very similar device and system called Easy Money, manufactured by Ardent Gaming and used in Isle of Capri casinos, has an electronics funds carrier 23 of FIG. 2C with an LCD display 24, a keypad 25, and utilizes RF communication to transfer funds to and from a gaming machine. These devices in effect are like a Smart Card with a keypad and display. Just like the Smart Card, the disadvantage is that if it is damaged or stolen, the value stored on it is permanently lost. Its more complex construction makes it inherently more susceptible to damage and places additional manufacturing cost burden on the many electronic funds carriers rather than on the fewer transceivers in the gaming machines.
In addition to the methods of transferring credit for cashless gaming systems previously described, still other ways of determining how much credit or value is to be transferred have been used in other markets. A fueling system capable of conducting a wireless transaction to effect payment based on a patron's use of an RFID transponder to link to one of the patron's credit card accounts is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,073,840 granted Jun. 13, 2000 to Marion. The amount of the payment is defined by the amount of fuel pumped by the patron. The nature of the transaction allows the amount to be unknown and unlimited until the fuelling is complete largely because it is a credit account and because the risk is inherently limited by the limited size of a vehicle fuel tank.
Despite the considerable effort that has been applied heretofore towards both player tracking systems and cashless gaming systems, many important aspects of such systems stand in further need of improvement, particularly when they are combined as a single system. While the prior art already has examples of the combination, the problems that remain in the current systems include: a) magnetic strip card systems suffer from the simplicity of making copies, reader heads the get dirty and fail, and the requirement to leave the card in the reader during game play results in many cards being erroneously abandoned when the patron leaves a gaming machine; b) RF tokens or keyfob devices with buttons and LCD displays are comparatively fragile and expensive, all value stored on them is lost if they are lost or broken, and they do not provide a reasonably economical path for the complete elimination of physical monetary media in gaming machines; c) the electrical contacts of Smart Card readers are at least as susceptible to reliability problems as are magnetic strip card reader heads, and the laminated chip embedded in the card is susceptible to damage through bending which can lead to loss of all value stored thereon; and d) ticket-in-ticket-out systems are really only capable of a single use for transfer of monetary value from one machine to another, and they still use a physical media prone to paper jams and do require regular refilling of blank ticket stock. Furthermore, because card systems have not taken the next evolutionary steps in design a) they either make the erroneous assumption that the patron wants access to the full balance of the account at the gaming machine or they require the patron to press buttons and navigate menu screens to select the amount to access, or b) they have not developed the requisite security measures to inherently identify and protect a patron's monetary value currently held by a gaming machine from the surreptitious actions of a second patron.
As can readily be appreciated, there remains a need for further improvement in methods of cashless gaming and player tracking designed to simplify and secure their operation while eliminating the supplies, maintenance, and repair costs associated with coin acceptors, bill acceptors, card readers, and ticket printers.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
In a first embodiment of the present invention a method of cashless gaming includes providing a patron with an ID carrier having an ID code that uniquely identifies the patron's gaming account, predetermining a denomination amount for association with the ID code, reading the ID code at a gaming machine or gaming table, verifying that a gaming account associated with the ID code may be charged the predetermined denomination amount, providing the patron with the predetermined denomination amount of credit for gaming, and charging the predetermined denomination amount to the gaming account.
In a second embodiment of the present invention a method of cashless gaming includes providing a patron with an ID carrier having an ID code that uniquely identifies the patron's gaming account on a remote network connected gaming account server. The gaming account includes both credit balance and player tracking information. Reading the ID code at a gaming machine or table automatically links play activity to the player tracking database and provides for electronic funds transfer.
In a third embodiment of the present invention for cashless gaming, a table game has a keypad for the dealer, an ID carrier reader at each seating position, and a transaction display visible to the dealer, the patron, and to an overhead security camera. When the patron presents his ID carrier to the ID carrier reader at his seat, the transaction display indicates the seating position and a multiple of a predetermined denomination of credit that the patron requests in playing chips from the dealer. The chips are counted and delivered to the patron and a keypad acknowledgement completes the transaction.
In a fourth embodiment of the present invention for cashless gaming, a gaming machine has an Idle State, an Anonymous Credit State, and an Identified Credit State in order to properly treat the difference between anonymous currency and identified gaming accounts. Sets of methodical steps provide definition for transition from one state to another in response to currency validation, cash-out requests, reading of a first ID code, reading of a second ID code, and various account credit balance conditions in order to protect the patron while providing simplicity in system use.
In a fifth embodiment of the present invention cashless gaming methods are shown for creating an instant anonymous account and funding the account from a gaming machine. An ID carrier is dispensed and an account is instantly created when an anonymous currency using patron cashes out from a gaming machine. Patrons new to casino property can use an ID carrier from another property to instantly create a gaming account at a machine without the need for any additional overt registration steps.
In a sixth embodiment of the present invention cashless gaming methods are shown for providing a beverage server with a gratuity at a cashless gaming machine by providing the server with a tip ID carrier that can be read at the gaming machine associated with the gaming account of a patron, and wherein the gratuity amount is authorized by the patron by a subsequent re-reading of the patron's ID carrier.
The foregoing and many other additional method details described herein finally provide for an integrated electronics funds transfer system and player tracking system, preferably utilizing the non-contact secure technology of RFID, which removes unnecessary costs from the patron's ID carrier without compromising security or simplicity in use.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
FIG. 1A is a top plan view, and illustrates a prior art player tracking card having an ID code composed of a series of punched holes.
FIG. 1B is a bottom plan view, and illustrates a prior art player tracking card having an ID code composed of a magnetic pattern on a magnetic recording strip.
FIG. 1C is a top plan view, and illustrates a player tracking keyfob having an ID code composed of an RFID circuit with a unique serial number.
FIG. 2A is a top plan view, and illustrates a cash-out ticket for ticket-in-ticket-out.
FIG. 2B is a top plan view, and illustrates a smartcard with an embedded chip.
FIG. 2C is a front perspective view, and illustrates an electronic funds carrier.
FIG. 3A is a side perspective view, and illustrates a low frequency RFID keyfob.
FIG. 3B is a top plan view, and illustrates a high frequency RFID keyfob.
FIG. 3C is a top plan view, and illustrates a high frequency RFID inlay.
FIG. 4A is a top plan view, and illustrates a $25 denominated RFID player tracking keyfob.
FIG. 4B is a bottom plan view, and illustrates a denominated RFID player tracking keyfob.
FIG. 4C is a top plan view, and illustrates a $5 denominated RFID player tracking keyfob.
FIG. 4D is a top plan view, and is illustrative of a $100 denominated RFID player tracking keyfob.
FIG. 5 is a side plan view, and illustrates an RFID transceiver.
FIG. 6 is an axial cross-sectional view of the RFID transceiver of FIG. 5, and illustrates interior components and mounting of the RFID transceiver relative to an apertured support.
FIG. 7 is a front perspective view, and illustrates a slot machine.
FIG. 8 is a top plan view, and illustrates an RFID keyfob card assembly in a breakaway holder having the outer dimensions of a standard credit card.
FIG. 9 is a top plan view, and illustrates a gaming table.
FIG. 10A is a front perspective view, and illustrates a transaction display.
FIG. 10B is a front perspective view, and illustrates a transaction display.
FIG. 10C is a front perspective view, and illustrates a transaction display.
FIG. 10D is a front perspective view, and illustrates a transaction display.
FIG. 11 is a block diagram, and illustrates components for the gaming table embodiment of the invention and the connections therebetween.
FIG. 12 is a system diagram, and illustrates the interconnections between gaming tables, gaming machines, and a gaming account server.
FIG. 13 is a flow chart, and illustrates the steps for performing a denominated cashless gaming transaction.
FIG. 14 is a flow chart, and illustrates the steps for transitioning a gaming machine from an Idle State to another state.
FIG. 15 is a flow chart, and illustrates the steps for transitioning a gaming machine from an Identified Credit State to another state.
FIG. 16 is a flow chart, and illustrates the steps for transitioning a gaming machine from an Anonymous Credit State to another state.
FIG. 17 is a flow chart, and illustrates the steps for performing a merger of gaming accounts and display of a gaming account balance.
FIG. 18 is a flow chart, and illustrates the steps for performing a cash-out procedure at a gaming table.
FIG. 19 is a flow chart, and illustrates the steps for cashless operation of a gaming machine where no funds are transferred to the gaming machine.
FIG. 20 is a front perspective view, and illustrates a beverage serving tray having two denominated tip ID carriers.
FIG. 21 is a front plan view, and illustrates a gratuity selection touchscreen display on a gaming machine.
FIG. 22 is a front plan view, and illustrates a gratuity authorization touchscreen display on a gaming machine.
FIG. 23 is a flow chart, and illustrates the steps for cashless operation of providing a beverage server a gratuity at gaming machine.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
Within the context of the invention description that follows, the term gaming machine refers to slot machines and their derivatives, including the mechanical reel types, video reel types, video poker, video black jack, and various adventure games for gambling whether or not they actually still have a traditional coin slot. The term gaming table refers to craps tables, roulette tables, and card tables for black jack, baccarat, Pai Gow, Let It Ride, and others. An ID carrier includes any machine readable card, keyfob, button, or other device which holds an ID code that can uniquely identify a patron, and more specifically a patron's gaming account. RFID transponders are also commonly known as RFID tags. The term cash-out button refers to a physical button, a virtual button on a touch-screen display, or other means by which the patron may otherwise invoke a cash-out request. Although the preferred embodiment of the invention includes a bill validator, it is representative of any type of currency, including the private currency of sponsored tokens and coupons.
Within the casino gaming industry, customer loyalty programs are commonly used in an attempt to attract and hold a casino property's best customers. At the root of the customer loyalty programs used within the casino gaming industry are the automated player tracking systems used in the gaming machines, and the manual player tracking systems used at the gaming tables. The magnetic strip card readers used at the gaming machines to read player tracking cards are not very physically practical at a gaming table, and at a gaming table there is not the same kind of connection with metered wagering for the automated tracking of play activity as has long been available in the gaming machines.
The preferred embodiment for an ID carrier is an RFID transponder. RFID transponders, such as the cylindrical keyfob 30 of FIG. 3A, have a long standing record for quickly and securely linking to a patron's credit card account to effect payment at the gas pump. This service is marketed by Exxon/Mobile under the Speedpass trademark. The keyfob 30 is manufactured by Texas Instruments, operates at 134 KHz and has a 64 bit read-only serial number. The keyfob 31 of FIG. 3B, also manufactured by Texas Instruments and marketed under the Tag-It trademark, operates at 13.56 MHz, has a flat internal inlay 32 of FIG. 3C, a printed antenna 33, a transponder chip 34, and a 64 bit read-only serial number. The 64 bit serial number provides over 18 billion-billion different numbers, enough for three billion per person on earth, and which is enough to ensure there will never be two alike, at least not in the lifetime of anyone alive today. These RFID transponders additionally have a programmable user data area that can be used to identify the sponsor and various application specific parameters. One of the primary reasons for embracing RFID technology is the degree of difficulty of counterfeiting it, especially when compared to the punched-hole plastic card 10 of FIG. 1A. Even the magnetic strip card 12 of FIG. 1B is not even close to safe as magnetic strip card readers and writers have long been freely available on the market to anyone so interested in connecting them together to make card copies. Even American Express and MasterCard have embraced and have started to market credit cards with an embedded Texas Instruments Tag-It RFID inlay.
In addition to the aforementioned security value of RFID, other relatively important qualities of the technology include its low cost, its physical reliability, and the fact that the account value is not directly stored on it. When considering the economics of a system involving very large numbers of ID carriers, much effort should be applied to eliminating cost from the ID carrier, even at the expense of moving it into the ID carrier reader. Certainly this means eliminating buttons, batteries, and displays from the ID carrier, as are evident in the electronic funds carrier 23 of FIG. 2C. While the cost of an RFID keyfob today at about 75¢ in moderate volume cannot come close to the cost of the printed ticket 20 of FIG. 2A, the printed ticket 20 is a fragile one-time-use instrument. Thus, when considering the delivered cost of a paper ticket, it doesn't take too many transactions before a multi-use RFID keyfob starts looking economically justifiable. Another part of the cost picture relates to maintenance costs and indirect lost opportunity costs of intermittent equipment related to physical contact media. Eventually physical contact readers will get dirty, unreliable, and need some labor clock time for cleaning, adjustment, and possible replacement. Non-contact RFID thus provides the best balance of ID carrier cost, operating cost, and security.
As previously noted, use of an RFID tag for player tracking is not a new concept and is easily understood in operation. However, many logistical questions arise when attempting to use an RFID tag for electronics funds transfer. In the previously mentioned application for using an RFID tag to pay at the pump, there is no need to for the patron to enter an amount to charge to the account as it is precisely defined by the amount of gasoline pumped. Also as previously mentioned, slot machine manufacturer IGT markets a system under the trademark Coinless Transit that utilizes a player tracking card as an ID card to electronically transfer game credits from one gaming machine to the next. The system is described as a virtual coin cup because the entire amount is transferred from machine to machine. While this is another easy answer to the question of how much to transfer when the ID code is read from the ID carrier, it is not very practical if one wants to place a few days worth of gaming funds into a gaming account. Not many people really want to empty their complete stash into each machine or as the buy-in at a gaming table.
The answer to what to transfer from a gaming account to a gaming machine or a gaming table without the need to read menus and push buttons is found by realizing that people of different economic means are quite satisfied to classify themselves, for example, as a $5, $25 or $100 buy-in category of patron. Thus when a patron registers with the casino for an ID carrier, they can select their buy-in category and receive an ID carrier denominated as $5, $25 or $100. The denomination value could be stored as additional information along with the ID code on the ID carrier, or it could be stored in the gaming account on a remote network gaming account server. Such an ID carrier may take the form of an RFID keyfob 40 of FIG. 4A having a product trade name 41, casino property information 42, and denomination information 43 printed on a front face. A back face of the RFID keyfob 40 shown in FIG. 4B provides information 44 interpreting the transaction status indication of an ID carrier reader based on the illumination color of a sensing face of the ID carrier reader, a signature location 45 for indication of ownership, and a help reference 46 to get further instruction on use of the ID carrier. The RFID keyfobs of FIGS. 4C and 4D illustrate ID carriers denominated in $5 and $100 respectively.
One of the ways in which a patron can acquire an ID carrier 40 is during registration as a hotel guest at a hotel-casino. During the registration process, the patron selects a denomination amount for an ID carrier. The clerk provides an ID carrier of that denomination, reads the ID code from it, and opens a gaming account for the patron associated with the ID code. The gaming account is a database that may include a) patron identification information, such as a name, driver's license, phone number, etc., b) credit balance information, c) credit transfer records, and d) gaming activity records for the loyalty program player tracking system. The patron can then elect to deposit funds for gaming into the account.
The denomination amount associated with the ID carrier can be stored in the gaming account database, or can be written into an additional user data area of the RFID transponder memory when it is factory configured for the application. In the preferred embodiment of the invention, the denomination information is stored on the RFID transponder along with information to identify the casino property and information that identifies it as a patron transponder versus one of a service employee that may use the same ID carrier reader to access the gaming machine for diagnostics, maintenance or repair. Since the ID carriers reasonably should have printed graphics indicating the denomination amount and the casino property, it makes reasonable sense to factory configure the respective ID carriers to hold the same information internally.
An RFID transceiver 50 suitable for use as an ID carrier reader for RFID keyfob 40 of FIGS. 4A - 4D is illustrated in FIGS. 5 and 6, and is the subject matter of co-pending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/214,922 filed on Aug. 31, 2005 in the name of Scott Juds and is incorporated herein by reference. The RFID transceiver 50 has a sensing face 51, a threaded tubular body 52 for through-panel mounting, a washer 53 and nut a 54 for securing the mounting, and wires 55 for providing power and communication with other system components. FIG. 6 illustrates the mounting of RFID transceiver 50 through a table surface having a plywood base 56, a foam cushion layer 57, and a felt-like surface layer 58. Tightening the nut 54 against washer 53 on the underside of the table base 56 causes compression of the foam cushion layer 57 and the felt-like surface layer 58 about a periphery 59 of the RFID transceiver 50. The RFID transceiver 50 has a circuit board 60 having component parts 61 and others for creating the RF signals necessary for interrogation of the keyfob transponder and for interpretation of the corresponding signals received. The RF signals are transmitted and received through a ferrite core antenna 64. The sensing face 51 of RFID transceiver 50 is illuminated by a multi-color LED 62 which emits light into a light pipe 63 for transmission through and around a ferrite pot core 64. The LED 62 is preferably an RGB type capable of producing any color desired through proper combination of the three base colors red, blue and green, and the relative intensity control of each. Thus, the RFID transceiver 50 can directly indicate to a patron the status of a transaction by the color of its illumination as detailed by information 44 on the back face of the RFID keyfob 40 of FIG. 4B. Each icon adjacent to one of the transaction states of the information 44 is printed with its respective color. For example, IDLE (FIG. 4B) may be blue, ACCEPT may be green, REJECT may be red, UNABLE may be yellow, TRACKING may be white, and NO SERVICE may be purple. The RFID transceiver 50 is designed to communicate via RS-232 and have the capability of replacing the RS-232 interface magnetic strip card reader currently popular in player tracking systems.
A gaming machine 70 illustrated in FIG. 7 includes a machine base denomination display 71, a bill validator 72 for accepting paper currency, an RFID transceiver 50 to read a patron's ID carrier, a player tracking display 74 for displaying information about points being earned, a credit balance display 75, a cash-out button 76, a dispensing tray 77, and various other customary component parts to facilitate the functionality of the gaming machine 70. Basic use of a patron's ID carrier at the gaming machine 70 is described as follows. Upon approaching the gaming machine 70, the patron observes the ID carrier reader 50 has blue illumination, indicating it is in the Idle State. The patron positions his denominated ID carrier 40 in close proximity to ID carrier reader 50 wherein the ID code on ID carrier 40 is read. When the gaming machine has verified that the gaming account associated with the ID code, located on a remote network connected gaming account server, has a sufficient credit balance, the denominated amount of credit is transferred from the gaming account to the gaming machine. To indicate acceptance, the ID carrier reader 50 momentarily changes the illumination of its sensing face from blue to green. If the patron desires to have twice the denominated amount transferred from the gaming account to the gaming machine, the patron simply places the ID carrier 40 in close proximity to the ID carrier reader 50 a second time. The credit balance of the gaming machine for game play by the patron is shown at all times in the credit balance display 75.
The foregoing conventional description of credit transfer from a gaming account to a gaming machine 70 causes a debit in the amount of the transferred credit value to the gaming account and a corresponding credit to the displayed credit balance 75 on the gaming machine 70 such that the transferred funds literally are present in the gaming machine. However, to accommodate the regulations of some jurisdictions, an alternative embodiment of this transaction causes the actual funds to technically remain located in the patron's gaming account, and the credit balance display 75 to only indicate what portion of the gaming account balance has been authorized for game play on the gaming machine 70. For example, if the patron's gaming account balance is $800 and the patron reads his $25 denominated ID carrier 40 twice in succession upon arrival at an idle gaming machine 70, the credit balance display 75 will indicate $50 has been authorized for game play on the machine even though all of the funds remain located in the gaming account. If the patron then wagers and looses $5 during play of a game on the gaming machine 70, the credit balance display will indicate $45 of remaining authorization for game play and a $5 debit message will be transmitted back to the remote network connected gaming account server where the credit balance of the patron's gaming account will be reduced to $795. To the patron the operational difference is transparent. For the purposes of clarity and brevity in the following descriptions, this transparent difference will be referenced to simply as an amount authorized for game play or transferred from the gaming account to the gaming machine resulting in a credit authorization/balance on the gaming machine 70.
When the patron first uses his ID carrier 40 at the gaming machine 70 and a denominated amount is authorized for game play or is transferred from his gaming account to the gaming machine 70, the credit authorization/balance on the gaming machine 70 additionally becomes linked to the gaming account, and thus also linked to the patron. The purpose of maintaining a link between the future remaining credit authorization/balance on the gaming machine and the gaming account is so that the continued presence of the ID carrier within reading range of the ID carrier reader is not required, thus allowing the patron to keep the ID carrier secured in a pocket or a purse. While the credit authorization/balance on the gaming machine 70 is linked to the patron's gaming account, the illuminated face color of the ID carrier reader 50 changes to white to indicate the linked state so that the patron knows that game play activity will be attributed to the patron and logged to the player tracking portion of his gaming account. If the patron decides to leave the gaming machine 70 while a credit authorization/balance remains, the patron presses the cash-out button 76. Since any remaining credit balance is linked with the patron's gaming account, the remaining credit balance is simply transferred back to the patron's gaming account. The ID carrier 50 momentarily changes the color of its illuminated sensing face to green to indicate acceptance of the cash-out transaction, and then returns its color to blue to indicate an Idle State concurrent with the credit balance display 75 indicating a zero balance. The link is terminated when the remaining credit authorization/balance is cashed-out or reduced to zero through exhaustive game play.
Certain precautions are required to protect the patron's credit balance, but these precautions should not have any adverse side effects on the operation of the casino or the play of other patrons. For example, while a first patron is playing a gaming machine 70 that has its credit balance linked to the first patron's gaming account it is possible that a second patron could place his ID carrier 40 in proximity to the ID carrier reader 50. The system must not simply just transfer additional credit value from the second patron's gaming account to add to the credit balance on the gaming machine 70 and then change the linkage to the second patron's account. This would constitute hijacking of the credit balance of the first patron by the second patron, and could happen when the first patron was distracted from the gaming machine by the perpetrator's accomplice. There are two parts to the solution of this problem. The first part of the solution is to reject the second patron's attempted transaction when the read ID code is different from the ID code of the current gaming account linkage. A rejection of an ID carrier 40 (and ID code) is indicated by momentarily changing the color of the sensing face of ID carrier reader to red. However, this part of the solution by itself creates a secondary problem. If the first patron decides to abandon a machine having a trivial remaining balance linked to his gaming account, that machine would then reject the ID carrier 40 of other patrons who may later desire to use the gaming machine, thus effectively disabling the gaming machine from use. In the second part of the solution, upon reading the ID carrier 40 of a second patron, a test is made to determine if there has been recent game play activity. If, for example, there has been no game play activity for at least five minutes, then the remaining credit balance on the gaming machine 70 is first returned to the gaming account of the first patron, and then the denominated amount associated with the ID code and gaming account of the second patron is transferred to the gaming machine 70 and displayed in credit balance display 75. In both parts of the solution the first patron's money is protected, and an appropriate decision is made relative to which patron should have control of the gaming machine.
The die cutting layout shown in FIG. 8 has an ID carrier 40 embedded in a retainer portion 81 providing a card assembly 80 with the overall dimensions of a standard credit card. The retainer portion 81 is easily broken away from the ID carrier 40 by the patron after dispensing. There are numerous credit card dispensers available on the market, such as the CDT-200 Series from Vendapin L.L.C., that could be adapted to dispense the card assembly 80. The retainer portion 81 can further serve to carry printed introductory instructions to aid a patron's understanding of what to do with the ID carrier 40. The CDT-200 Series dispenser includes the capability to both hold or to fully eject the card assembly 80. In addition to the possibility of dispensing ID carriers 40 at the hotel-casino registration desk or at a kiosk, in the preferred embodiment of the invention a card assembly dispenser (not shown) is installed within the slot machine 70. The benefits of doing so include a) the elimination of coin and ticket handling costs and, b) providing a means to cash-out a cash paying customer while gently converting them to the use of the ID carrier. In practice, a cash paying customer approaches gaming machine 70 and inserts one or more currency bills into bill validator 72 to provide a credit balance for game play. When the patron has finished his game play, he presses the cash-out button 76. The gaming machine 70 instructs the installed card assembly dispenser to dispense a card assembly 80 to the patron into the dispensing tray 77. In the process of dispensing the card assembly 80, the card is made to pass over another ID carrier reader 50 (FIGS. 5 and 6) to read its ID code. The ID code and the credit balance are transmitted to a remote gaming account server 120 (FIG. 12) where a new gaming account is instantly opened. In addition to providing the new gaming account with the credit balance from the gaming machine, the game play activity since the gaming machine last had a zero credit balance may also be transmitted to and stored in a player tracking portion of the gaming account.
Upon the automatic opening of an account associated with a dispensed ID carrier 40 card assembly 80, a base denomination for use of the ID carrier 40 must be predetermined. A first method of denomination predetermination is to select and write this information into a programmable memory location within the RFID transponder chip 34 of FIG. 3C prior to loading the ID carriers 40 into the dispenser. The predetermined denomination may be associated with the base wagering denomination of a gaming machine. A casino may decide, for example, that $5 predetermined denomination ID carriers should be used in gaming machines 70 having a base wager denomination of $1 and under and that a $25 predetermined denomination should be used for gaming machines with a base wagering denomination of $5 and $10, etcetera. In the preferred embodiment of the invention, the predetermined denomination is an integer multiple, between one and one hundred, of the base wagering denomination of the gaming machine. A second method of denomination predetermination is to have the gaming machine automatically report its base wagering denomination when transmitting information to the remote gaming account server 120 to open the account. The gaming account server can then set the predetermined denomination to an integer multiple, between one and one hundred, of the base wagering denomination of the gaming machine. A third method of denomination predetermination is to select from a menu a default value for use as the predetermined denomination. The menu selection may be made from a setup menu available on the gaming machine or on the gaming account server. Finally, a fourth method of denomination predetermination is to ask the patron to enter this information at the gaming machine when the ID carrier is dispensed. The patron may also be asked to select a PIN number for use with the account at that time.
Use of the ID carrier at a gaming table 90 (FIG. 9) is quite similar, but includes some additional steps required to accommodate the human dealer involved in the transaction. The gaming table 90 has a playing surface 91, an elbow rest 92, a chip tray 93, table chips 94 of a variety of denominations sorted by tray column, card position markers 95 at each seating location indicating where cards will be dealt, ID carrier readers 50 at each patron seating location (unnumbered), dealer keypad 97, ID carrier reader 98 for large transaction approval by a pit supervisor, and a transaction display 100. The transaction display 100, also shown in FIGS. 10A-10D, is designed to provide visual confirmation to the patron, the dealer, and an overhead security camera. This can be accomplished by both having a vertical facing display 101 and a forward facing display 102 (FIGS. 9, 10A and 10B) or a single back-tilted display 104 that can simultaneously be viewed and provide confirmation to all parties. Preferably the display is tilted back from vertical between 30 and 60 degrees, although angles as low as 20 degrees would still provide a sufficiently readable display for the overhead security camera. Transaction display 100 is positioned on a pedestal 103 on the left side corner of the gaming table 90 where an engraved sign is usually posted to indicate the name of the game played at the table and the minimum and maximum wager.
When a patron arrives at gaming table 90 and wishes to buy-in, the patron places his ID carrier 40 in proximity to the ID carrier reader 50. The ID code is read, the gaming account credit balance and the predetermined denomination are checked against the minimum wager requirements to authorize a transaction. If the requirements are met, the sensing face of the ID carrier reader 50 will momentarily change color to green to indicate acceptance and the preset denominated amount will appear on transaction display 100 along with the seat number of the patron making the transaction. Each time the patron repeats bringing his ID carrier 40 in proximity to the ID carrier reader 50 the amount shown on the transaction display 100 will increment by the preset denomination amount. When the patron has completed incrementing his buy-in amount, the dealer counts out the requisite number of table chips 94 in full view of the patron and the overhead security camera. When the counted table chips are ready for delivery to the patron, the dealer hits a confirmation key on dealer keypad 97. If the requested transaction is over the approval limit of the dealer, then a pit supervisor must first approve the transaction by reading his ID carrier at ID carrier reader 98. The need for approval is indicated by the sensing face of the ID carrier reader 98 near the dealer flashing white until the ID carrier of an authorized pit supervisor is read. When authorized, the transaction is completed by charging the patron's gaming account with the amount, momentarily indicating the confirmation on transaction display 100, and then returning the display function to its normal passive message functions.
When a patron at a gaming table desires to cash-out, he returns his table chips 94 to the dealer who counts them out for everyone, including the overhead security camera, to see. The dealer then enters the amount and the seating position number using the dealer keypad 97. The information is shown on the transaction display 100 for everyone, including the overhead security camera, to see. If the requested transaction is over the approval limit of the dealer, then a pit supervisor must first approve the transaction by reading his ID carrier at ID carrier reader 98. The need for approval is indicated by the sensing face of the ID carrier reader 98 near the dealer flashing white until the ID carrier of an authorized pit supervisor is read. When authorized, the sensing face of the ID carrier reader 50 at the seating position of the patron starts flashing white to indicate that his pending transaction needs to be confirmed by reading of the ID code from his ID carrier 40. When the ID code is read, the amount shown in the transaction display 100 (FIG. 10B) is transferred to the patron's gaming account, the transaction display 100 momentarily confirms completion of the transaction, and the sensing face 51 (FIG. 6) of the ID carrier reader 50 at the seating position of the patron preferably turns green before returning to its blue idle color.
Transaction information is always displayed on both the vertical facing display portion 101 and the forward facing display portion 102 of the transaction display 100 for the dealer, patron and overhead security camera to see. The forward facing display portion 102 (FIGS. 10A and 10B) shows information in a more verbose format than the vertical facing display portion 101 in order to facilitate its intrinsic understanding at first glance. The forward facing display 102 can additionally integrate the function of the former engraved sign when no transaction is taking place, as illustrated in FIGS. 10C and 10D.
The block diagram of FIG. 11 illustrates the preferred embodiment of the gaming table system components and their connections for performing the functions of the present invention. A table system controller 110 controls the information flow to and between the other components and the network for access to gaming account information on the remote gaming server. The table system controller 110 is a module that mounts under the gaming table and connects to each of the other components as shown. In the preferred embodiment of the invention, the table system controller 110 is an embedded microcontroller design executing firmware that performs the functions as described anywhere herein by text or flow charts. One suitable microcontroller is the Freescale (formerly Motorola) MC68HC705C9A having 32 I/0 pins, 16 K of ROM, 176 bytes of RAM, and SPI port and an RS-232 port. Communication to each of the ID readers 50 and 98 requires an RS-232 port which is provided in the table system controller 110 through use of multiple SPI to RS-232 interface chips such as the MAX3100 produced by Maxim Integrated Products. The keypad interface to the microcontroller is simply a direct connection between the three column and four row signal wires and well known keypad scanning and contact debounce algorithms. One suitable keypad is the model 88AC2 manufactured by Grayhill. One suitable transaction display 100 is the Noritake's model GU140X32F-7000 vacuum fluorescent display with 140×32 pixel graphics display capability and a serial port interface packaged in a suitable molded housing such as the 5.9″ by 3.2″ transparent cover housing model 1591DTBU produced by Hammond Manufacturing. The network interface may be a simple RS-485 design requiring little more than a transceiver buffer such as the Linear Technology model LTC1335IN to provide the multi-drop functionality from RS-232. The protocol will depend on the player tracking network system already installed in a casino, the details of which are known and easily implemented as the installation demands. The power supply for all of the components can be provided by a pre-packaged and safety agency approved module such as the 6.0VDC 500 mA model 318AS06050 manufactured by Tamura. Further details involving the design of the table system controller 110 or its connections are well known to those skilled in the art of electronic design.
The block diagram of FIG. 12 illustrates the interconnection of a plurality of gaming machines 70 and gaming tables 90 through networks 115, 121, and 125 through network bridges 122 and 123 to a remote gaming account server 120. In a typical casino installation, a group of up to 32 machines use a low bandwidth RS-485 multi-drop network 115 that connects to a network bridge 122 that functions to translate the protocols between networks. Although interconnection of the gaming tables 90 into a player tracking system is both rare and incomplete in today's casinos, the preferred embodiment of the invention requires a network 121 to connect each of the gaming tables through network bridge 123 onto network 125 in order to access a patron's gaming account on the gaming account server 120.
The flow chart of FIG. 13 illustrates method steps of opening and using a patron's gaming account. When a patron opens a gaming account in step 130, a denomination for transactions is selected and stored either in the gaming account database on the gaming account server 120 or may be stored in the ID carrier 40. In step 131 the patron arrives at a gaming machine or gaming table where the ID carrier is presented for reading. Gaming tables typically have a minimum wager limit, such as $5, $25, or $100. Gaming machines also have a minimum wager amount which may vary between 1¢ and $1,000. The read ID code and the minimum wager amount are transmitted to the gaming account server 120 for approval. If the preset denomination amount is stored in the ID carrier 40, it too is transmitted to the gaming account server 120. In step 132 it is determined if the minimum buy-in (or wager amount) is met. If it is not met, step 133 is executed to indicate by color change in the ID carrier reader 50 that the system is not able to complete the transaction and ends the process in step 139. In the preferred embodiment of the invention, the color yellow is used to indicate the inability to complete a transaction for an otherwise valid ID code. If the minimum buy-in is met, then in step 134 it is determined if the preset denomination amount is available in the patron's gaming account credit balance. If the preset denomination amount is available, it is transferred from the gaming account to the gaming machine or table. If it is not available, then the maximum integer multiple of the minimum buy-in amount that is available in the gaming account is transferred to the gaming machine or table. If any amount is transferred, in step 137 the color of the ID carrier reader 50 momentarily is preferably changed to green to indicate acceptance of the transfer. Finally, in step 138 a record of the transaction is saved in the player tracking portion of the gaming account.
The flow chart of FIG. 14 illustrates the method steps of transitioning a gaming machine from an Idle State to either an Anonymous Credit State or an Identified Credit State. An Idle State is defined as a gaming machine having zero credit balance and no remaining links to any patron's gaming account. In step 150 starting with the Idle State the gaming machine loops through steps 152 and 154 checking to see if an ID code has been read or if a bill has been validated. If an ID code has been read, the gaming account server 120 is checked for an existing gaming account associated with the ID code. If no account currently exists, an anonymous one is instantly opened for the patron and a denomination for transactions is assigned either by default or by patron selection from a menu presented on the gaming machine 70. A default denomination may be determined by a preselected value stored in the gaming account server 120 for all new anonymous accounts, or it may be a preselected value related to the class of gaming machine that read the ID code. No credit value exists, so none is transferred to the gaming machine. However, the credit balance on the gaming machine 70 is at least temporarily linked to the new gaming account and the ID carrier reader color is momentarily changed to green to indicate acceptance, and then the color changes to white to indicate that tracking is enabled. If the account is not new and there is no current credit balance on the gaming machine 70, then in step 155 the gaming account balance is checked for a credit balance of at least the preset denomination amount. If sufficient credit is available, step 157 transfers the preset denomination amount to the gaming machine 70, records the transaction in the player tracking database, links the credit balance on the gaming machine 70 to the gaming account, momentarily changes the color of the ID carrier reader 50 to green to indicate acceptance, and then changes the color to white to indicate that tracking is enabled. Finally in step 165, whether the account was new or already existed, the gaming machine state is set to the Identified Credit State.
At step 156 of the flow chart of FIG. 14 a bill has been validated and the value of the currency is added to the gaming machine's credit balance. A timer is set to a Timeout value after the validation of the bill. If additional bills are validated prior to the Timeout period elapsing, the currency value is again added to the gaming machine's credit balance and the timer is reset to the Timeout value. If game play commences in step 161 or the Timeout period is reached in step 162 the gaming machine state is set to the Anonymous Credit State in step 166. This state indicates that the patron is a cash player and no link exists to any gaming account. If an ID code is read subsequent to bill validation, but prior to the Timeout period elapsing, the credit balance accumulated on the gaming machine 70 is recorded in the player tracking account, credit balance on the gaming machine 70 is linked to the gaming account, the color of the ID carrier reader 50 momentarily changes to green to indicate acceptance, and then changes the color to white to indicate that tracking is enabled. Finally in step 165, whether the account was new or already existed, the gaming machine state is set to the Identified Credit State. If the ID code read did not have an existing gaming account, one is first automatically created for the patron in step 153.
The flow chart of FIG. 15 illustrates the method steps of transitioning a gaming machine 70 from an Identified Credit State to either an Anonymous Credit State or an Idle State. An Identified Credit State is defined as the state of a gaming machine 70 wherein the credit balance is linked to a gaming account associated with an ID code read from and patron's ID carrier 40. If a bill has been validated during the Identified Credit State in step 171, the gaming machine 70 will simply add the bill value to the gaming machine credit balance in step 173 if there has been recent machine activity indicating that the patron is still actively involved with the gaming machine. However, if there has been no activity on the gaming machine for some lengthy period of time, preferably in the range of at lest one to five minutes, there becomes doubt that the patron who's ID code and gaming account are linked to the gaming machine is still involved with the gaming machine. To ensure that anonymous cash from a second patron is not erroneously linked to the first patron's gaming account after having abandoning the gaming machine, the remaining credit balance on the gaming machine is transferred to the patron's gaming account in step 175 along with the associated player tracking information accumulated, then the color of the ID carrier reader 50 is changed from the white tracking color to the blue color. The gaming machine credit balance is then set to the value of the validated bill and the gaming machine state is then set to the Anonymous Credit state.
While in the Identified Credit state of FIG. 15, the gaming machine 70 is checked in step 174 to determine if the credit balance on the gaming machine has been zero for a while, perhaps 15 seconds to a minute. This can occur if game play on the gaming machine has consumed the credit balance, or if it was the reading of and ID code from an ID carrier in the Idle State that brought the gaming machine to step 181 where the color of the ID carrier reader is changed from the white tracking color back to the idle blue color and the gaming machine state is set to the Idle State. Similarly, if the patron presses the cash-out button, the reaming credit balance on the gaming machine is transferred back to the patron's gaming account, the color of the ID carrier reader 50 is changed from the white tracking color back to the idle blue color and the gaming machine state is set to the Idle State.
Additionally, in the Identified Credit State of FIG. 15, the ID carrier reader 50 may read an ID code from a patron's ID carrier 40 in step 176. If the ID code is the same one associated with the linked gaming account, the preset denominated amount is transferred from the gaming account to the gaming machine 70, and the ID carrier reader color momentarily preferably turns green to indicate acceptance. Although not detailed in this flowchart, steps 132 through 138 of FIG. 13 are incorporated herein into the meaning of step 178. If the ID code read is different from the one associated with the linked gaming account, the action taken is dependent on whether there has been recent activity on the gaming machine. If so, the ID code is rejected, the ID carrier reader preferably turns red momentarily to indicate the rejection, and the Identified Credit State and account linkage remain. If it appears that the gaming machine has been abandoned, the credit balance on the gaming machine is transferred back to the gaming account to which it is linked in step 182, then the denominated amount associated with the new ID code and gaming account is transferred to the gaming machine 70, and the gaming machine's credit balance is linked to the new gaming account. Although not detailed in this flowchart, steps 132 through 138 of FIG. 13 are incorporated herein into the meaning of step 184. The gaming machine 70 remains in the Identified Credit State.
The flow chart of FIG. 16 illustrates the method steps of transitioning a gaming machine 70 from an Anonymous Credit State to either an Idle State or an Identified Credit State. An Anonymous Credit State is defined as the state of a gaming machine wherein there is a credit balance but it is not linked to any patron's gaming account. In the Anonymous Credit State, the value of any bill validated in step 202 is simply added to the credit balance of the gaming machine in step 203. If the cash-out button is pressed void of having read an ID code at about the same time, then in step 212 the ID code of the next ID carrier in an ID carrier dispenser is read, the ID code and the credit balance are transferred to the remote gaming account server, a new anonymous account is created to save the credit balance, the ID carrier is dispensed to the patron, and gaming machine state is set to the Idle State.
If an ID code is read in step 204 or 208 and the cash-out button is not pressed within a short period of time, such as two seconds, the ID code is rejected, the color of the ID carrier reader 50 is momentarily changed to a red color to indicate rejection in step 209, and then returned to the blue color. The gaming machine 70 remains in the Anonymous Credit State. If the cash-out button is pushed and an ID code is simultaneously read within that short period of time, the credit balance on the gaming machine is transferred to the gaming account associated with the ID code in step 215 and the ID carrier reader color is momentarily changed to green to indicate acceptance and then to blue. The gaming machine then is set to the Idle State. If a gaming account did not previously exist for this ID code, an anonymous gaming account is first created in step 213.
The flow chart of FIG. 17 illustrates the method steps of merging two gaming accounts and displaying a gaming account balance. When a first ID code is read in step 222, credit value is transferred from the associated gaming account to the gaming machine 70. If the same ID code is continuously read for more than about 2 seconds, the credit transfer to the gaming machine is reversed in step 228 and the gaming account balance is displayed for the patron in step 230. If a second ID code is then simultaneously read the gaming account balance and player tracking information from the second gaming account is transferred to the first gaming account in step 237 if both ID codes are registered to the same person, or if at least the second gaming account is an anonymous gaming account. This provides a patron with a method of combining various fragmented accounts into a single gaming account anywhere there is an ID carrier reader without the need to wait in line at a cashier cage.
The flow chart of FIG. 18 illustrates the method steps of a cash-out procedure at a gaming table. The patron first gives his table chips to the dealer for reimbursement in step 242. The dealer counts the table chips in full view of the patrons and the overhead security camera in step 244, and then enters the amount to credit the patron into a keypad with the seating position of the patron (FIG. 9). Both the amount to credit the patron and the seating number of the patron are displayed for each of the patron, the dealer, and overhead security camera to see in step 246. If the amount is greater than the approval limit of the dealer, then an ID carrier 40 of a pit supervisor (having appropriate graphics imprinted thereon) must be read at step 247 by ID carrier reader 98 to authorize the transaction. The ID carrier reader 50 at the patron's seating location then begins to blink a white color to indicate that a pending transaction needs approval using the patron's ID carrier 40. In step 248 the patron confirms the transaction by placing his ID carrier in sufficient proximity to the ID carrier reader for it to read the ID code. The credit amount and the ID code are then transmitted to a remote gaming account server. If there is no account associated with the ID code read, then an anonymous gaming account is immediately opened for the ID code. In step 254 the amount is credited to the gaming account and a record of the transaction is stored in the player tracking portion of the gaming account. In step 256 the display indicates to the patron, the dealer and the overhead security camera that the transaction has been completed. Likewise, the ID carrier at the patron's seating position first momentarily is changed to a green color to indicate acceptance, and then back to the idle blue color.
The flow chart of FIG. 19 illustrates the method steps for cashless operation of a gaming machine where no funds are transferred to the gaming machine. When an ID code is read from an ID carrier 50 in step 272, the validity of the account and its balance are verified with the remote network connected account server 120 (FIG. 12) to ensure the patron has sufficient funds with which to play the games of a gaming machine 70. If sufficient funds are available to authorize game play with the denominated amount of the ID carrier, the gaming machine credit balance display 75 is incremented by the denominated amount to indicate the game play amount authorized. When the cash-out button 76 is pressed in step 274, the gaming machine simply resets the authorized game play amount shown on the credit balance display 75 and there is no further need to adjust the gaming account balance on the remote network connected account server 120. When game play has been requested by the patron in step 276 and the remaining authorization amount is sufficient for the wager amount selected, the game is played and a game outcome is generated as a result. If the patron has won the game, the credit balance meter is incremented in step 294 by the net amount won and a credit memo is transmitted to the remote network connected gaming account server 120 to credit the patron's account balance by the net amount won. If the patron has lost the game, the credit balance meter is decremented in step 284 by the net amount lost and a debit memo is transmitted to the remote network connected gaming account server 120 to debit the patron's account balance by the net amount lost.
One other important kind of gaming transaction is the payment of tips or gratuities to beverage servers from a patron's gaming money or gaming credit. As previously noted, the advent of TITO for coinless gaming has had an adverse effect on the beverage service level around gaming machines because those patrons now rarely have any coins at hand for tipping the server. Thus the beverage servers have developed a natural bias against spending time servicing the gaming machine areas and a correspondingly opposite bias in favor of spending time servicing the gaming tables where table chips are readily at hand for the patron to use for tipping. However, a denominated tip ID carrier 302 (FIG. 20) having an ID code recognizable as being associated with a gratuity account on the same remote network connected gaming account server 120 can likewise be used to manage cashless gratuity transactions between patrons and beverage servers.
A beverage serving tray 301 of FIG. 20 holds beverages 300 and denominated tip ID carriers 302. When a beverage server delivers an ordered beverage to a patron at a gaming machine 70 (FIG. 7), the patron may provide the beverage server a gratuity by selecting one of the denominated tip ID carriers 302 and reading its ID code at the ID carrier reader 50 of gaming machine 70 that is currently associated with the patron's ID code and gaming account. Each time the denominated tip ID carrier 302 is read, the gratuity amount is increment by the denominated amount. For example, if the patron used the $1 tip ID carrier and read it three times, the gratuity amount would be $3. The gratuity amount may optionally be displayed on a numerical display such as credit display 75 (FIG. 7) or a touchscreen display 301 (FIG. 22) that may be present on the gaming machine for purposes of actual play or for other amenity display functions. When the tip ID carrier 302 is read at the ID carrier reader 50, the ID carrier reader 50 begins to blink a white color to indicate that a pending transaction needs approval using the patron's ID carrier 40. If the patron provides the approval, then a gratuity account associated with the ID code of the tip ID carrier is credited with the gratuity amount, and either the patron's gaming account or the patron's credit balance on the gaming machine is debited by the gratuity amount. If there is no approval within a predetermined period of time, say 30 seconds, then the pending transaction is canceled and the color of the ID carrier reader returns to its former steady white tracking color. The block diagram of FIG. 23 further details the flow of the transaction just described.
An alternative embodiment to the foregoing utilizes the reading of a non-denominated tip ID carrier (not shown) to cause the display of menu 304 (FIG. 21) on touchscreen 303 for the patron to select a gratuity amount from among those displayed. LCD touchscreens have become almost ubiquitous on new gaming machines, either for purposes of game play or for other amenity functions. When the patron has selected a gratuity amount, the patron is then prompted 305 (FIG. 22) to authorize the transaction by re-reading the patron's ID carrier 40. If the patron provides the approval, then the gratuity account associated with the ID code of the tip ID carrier is credited with the gratuity amount, and either the patron's gaming account or the patron's credit balance on the gaming machine is debited by the gratuity amount. Beverage servers thus may now be provided a cashless tip by patrons playing a cashless gaming machine.
It is to be understood that the above described embodiments of the invention are illustrative only, and many variations and modifications will become apparent to one skilled in the art without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention.