The present invention relates generally to gaming machines and systems, and more specifically to methods and systems for providing and administering cashless instruments associated with gaming machines and systems.
Casinos and other forms of gaming comprise a growing multi-billion dollar industry wherein electronic and microprocessor based gaming machines have become increasingly popular in recent years. In a typical electronic gaming machine, such as a slot machine, video poker machine, video keno machine or the like, a game play is first initiated through a player wager of money or credit, whereupon the gaming machine determines a game outcome, presents the game outcome to the player and then potentially dispenses an award of some type, including a monetary award, depending upon the game outcome. Many additional gaming machine components, features and programs have been made possible in recent years through this proliferation of electronic gaming machines, including those involving linked progressive jackpots, player tracking and loyalty points programs, among other items. Many of these added components, features and programs can involve the implementation of various back-end and/or networked systems, including more hardware and software elements, as is generally known.
Electronic and microprocessor based gaming machines can include a variety of hardware and software components to provide a wide variety of game types and game playing capabilities, with such hardware and software components being generally well known in the art. A typical electronic gaming machine can include hardware devices and peripheral such as bill validators, coin acceptors, card readers, keypads, buttons, levers, touch screens, coin hoppers, player tracking units and the like. In addition, each gaming machine can have various audio and visual display components that can include, for example, speakers, display panels, belly and top glasses, exterior cabinet artwork, lights, and top box dioramas, as well as any number of video displays of various types to show game play and other assorted information, with such video display types including, for example, a cathode ray tube (“CRT”), a liquid crystal display (“LCD”), a light emitting diode (“LED”), a flat panel display and a plasma display, among others.
In addition, electronic gaming machines and gaming systems often employ cashless instruments for ease of paying out machine credits or balances, including winnings, to users. Descriptions and examples of gaming machines and systems adapted to employ cashless instruments can be found in a variety of references, such as, for example, U.S. Pat. No. 6,048,269 by Burns, et al., entitled “Coinless Slot Machine System and Method,” as well as U.S. Pat. No. 6,746,330 by Cannon, entitled “Method and Device for Implementing a Coinless Gaming Environment,” each of which is incorporated herein in its entirety and for all purposes. Such cashless instruments can include, for example, credit cards, charge cards, stored value cards, smart cards, thermally rewritable cards or tickets, chips, tokens and other physical markers, as well as cash vouchers or paper tickets, such as those used in the EZ Pay® system by IGT of Reno, Nev., among others. Paper tickets in particular can be printed by a printer at the gaming machine upon the request of a player at the completion of a game or gaming session, and signify a cash amount owed to the player, a portion of which might represent cash winnings owed to the player. Such paper tickets typically include appropriate currency or credit amounts, as well as various identification features printed on them.
Of course, the introduction of cashless instruments such as these paper tickets or cash vouchers can introduce new issues for players and gaming operators, such as mechanical problems with a printer or other equipment, paper or ink shortages at one or more printers or gaming machines, and new alternatives for fraud, among others. Additionally, outfitting gaming machines with printers, not to mention the cost of printing tickets (including paper and ink costs), can make this an expensive endeavor. While the introduction of plastic player cards serving as cashless instruments may resolve some of these issues, prior uses of such cards have generally failed to cure many of these issues entirely, as there are added costs associated with the cards themselves, in addition to the need to outfit existing machines with card readers. More importantly, the monetary value associated with the card is still generally encoded on the card. Additionally, the card is generally issued to and associated with a particular player, and not intended for use by other players. Furthermore, when a player has exhausted the balance on a card, the card is often discarded or left at the gaming machine site. The accumulation of exhausted cards may appear untidy and even deter superstitious gaming machine users from using a particular gaming machine.
While existing systems and methods for providing printed tickets and other cashless instruments associated with gaming machines and gaming systems have been adequate in the past, improvements are usually welcomed and encouraged. In light of the foregoing, it is thus desirable to develop methods and systems for reducing overall costs, as well as preventing or reducing fraud and other potential problems associated with cashless instruments in gaming systems.
It is an advantage of the present invention to provide systems and methods for using cashless instruments in gaming machines and/or systems in a manner that more readily reduces costs and prevents or reduces fraud and other potential problems associated with paper tickets and other cashless instruments. This is accomplished at least in part through the use of reusable cashless instruments in the gaming systems, gaming machines and methods provided herein.
In some embodiments, the present invention pertains to a gaming system adapted for accepting wagers, playing games based on the wagers and granting payouts based on the results of the games. The system includes a plurality of reusable cashless instruments, each having a unique validation code designated thereon, an associated monetary value, and no monetary designation stored or encoded thereon. The reusable cashless gaming instrument system may also include a server configured to compare the unique validation codes of each of the reusable cashless instruments with a plurality of stored validation codes to determine a monetary value associated with each of the reusable cashless instruments. A database can also be provided, which database may be in communication with the server and adapted to store the plurality of validation codes and associated account information for the plurality of reusable cashless instruments. The associated account information may include the associated monetary value for each of the reusable cashless instruments. A plurality of gaming machines may also be provided.
In some embodiments, such gaming machines may be a part of an overall gaming system or reusable cashless instrument system, while other embodiments may include only a gaming machine itself. Such a gaming machine or machines may include a variety of components, such as an exterior housing arranged to contain a plurality of internal gaming machine components, a plurality of input and output devices adapted to accept wagers, play games and grant payouts based on the results of the games, a master gaming controller in communication with one or more of the plurality of input and output devices, at least one reusable cashless instrument issuing device in communication with the server and/or master gaming controller, at least one reusable cashless instrument reading device in communication with the server and/or master gaming controller, and at least one storage mechanism adapted to store the reusable cashless gaming instruments, among others. Each gaming machine is preferably adapted to accept a first reusable cashless instrument having a first associated monetary value, provide a gaming credit corresponding to the first associated monetary value on the gaming machine, and issue the first reusable cashless instrument with a second different associated monetary value.
In some embodiments, various methods of using reusable cashless instruments in a reusable cashless gaming instrument system adapted for accepting wagers, playing games based on the wagers and granting monetary payouts based on the results of the games are provided. Various process steps can include providing a reusable cashless instrument having a unique validation code designated thereon, an associated monetary value and no monetary designation stored or encoded thereon, as well as reading the reusable cashless instrument, such as by a suitable reading device at a gaming machine or other gaming device. The unique validation code on the reusable cashless instrument can be compared with a plurality of stored validation codes to determine a first monetary value associated with the reusable cashless instrument. Credit can be provided in a gaming device to match the first monetary value associated with the reusable cashless instrument. The reusable cashless instrument can then later be issued with a second different associated monetary value.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
Other methods, features and advantages of the invention will be or will become apparent to one with skill in the art upon examination of the following figures and detailed description. It is intended that all such additional methods, features and advantages be included within this description, be within the scope of the invention, and be protected by the accompanying claims.
The included drawings are for illustrative purposes and serve only to provide examples of possible structures and process steps for the disclosed inventive methods and systems.
FIG. 1 illustrates in perspective view an exemplary gaming machine.
FIG. 2 illustrates in block diagram format an exemplary network infrastructure for providing a gaming system having one or more gaming machines.
FIG. 3 illustrates in block diagram format various components of a cashless gaming system.
FIG. 4 illustrates an exemplary reusable cashless instrument according to one embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 5 illustrates an exemplary architecture for a gaming machine with a reusable cashless instrument reading device according to one embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 6 illustrates a flowchart of one exemplary method of using a reusable cashless instrument in a gaming system according to one embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 7 illustrates a flowchart of one exemplary method of determining the value of a reusable cashless instrument according to one embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 8 illustrates a flowchart of one exemplary method of adding value to a reusable cashless instrument according to one embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 9 illustrates a flowchart of one exemplary method of redeeming credit from a reusable cashless instrument gaming system for monetary payment according to one embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 10 illustrates a flowchart of one exemplary general method of using reusable cashless instruments in a reusable cashless gaming instrument system according to one embodiment of the present invention.
Exemplary applications of methods and systems according to the present invention are described as follows. These examples are being provided solely to add context and aid in the understanding of the invention. It will thus be apparent to one skilled in the art that the present invention may be practiced without some or all of these specific details. In other instances, well known process steps have not been described in detail in order to avoid unnecessarily obscuring the present invention. Other applications are possible, such that the following examples should not be taken as definitive or limiting in scope or setting. Although these examples are described in sufficient detail to enable one skilled in the art to practice the invention, it will be understood that they are not limiting, such that other embodiments may be used and changes may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention.
Cashless instruments can be advantageously employed in gaming systems to reduce the need for gaming machines to carry money, thus making them less vulnerable to theft. Such cashless instruments also mean that users need not carry as much cash on their persons, also reducing the risk of theft or other loss. Such cashless instruments can be tickets that are utilized by systems such as the EZ Pay® system illustrated herein, although it should be noted that these cashless instruments can be utilized by many different gaming systems while remaining within the scope of the invention. According to the present invention, a plurality of reusable cashless instruments is provided for use with the inventive systems and methods disclosed herein. Each such reusable cashless instrument preferably includes a unique “validation code” or number, such as a randomly generated number sequence, that can be used to verify the authenticity of the cashless instrument and also to match the cashless instrument to a corresponding account stored on a central system.
- Gaming Machines
It will be readily understood that such a validation number or code can be called a variety of names, such as a confirmation, account, identification, verification, and/or authentication number or code, among others, and that any such term or terms can be used where the basic function is to identify a specific cashless instrument. Such a verification code on a ticket or other cashless instrument is typically used in association with a matching confirmation code that is stored on the system, such that a match can be made with a recorded and outstanding number when a ticket is offered or received, whereby the ticket can be determined as valid and thus be accepted. For purposes of consistency within the present disclosure, the term “validation code” will primarily be used with respect to tickets and/or other suitable cashless instruments.
Referring first to FIG. 1, an exemplary gaming machine is illustrated in perspective view. Gaming machine 10 includes a top box 11 and a main cabinet 12, which generally surrounds the machine interior (not shown) and is viewable by users. This top box and/or main cabinet can together or separately form an exterior housing adapted to contain a plurality of internal gaming machine components therein. Main cabinet 12 includes a main door 20 on the front of the gaming machine, which preferably opens to provide access to the gaming machine interior. Attached to the main door are typically one or more player-input switches or buttons 21, one or more money or credit acceptors, such as a coin acceptor 22 and a bill or ticket validator 23, a coin tray 24, and a belly glass 25. Viewable through main door 20 is a primary video display monitor 26 and one or more information panels 27. The primary video display monitor 26 will typically be a cathode ray tube, high resolution flat-panel LCD, plasma/LED display or other conventional or other type of appropriate video monitor. Alternatively, a plurality of gaming reels can be used as a primary gaming machine display in place of display monitor 26, with such gaming reels preferably being electronically controlled, as will be readily appreciated by one skilled in the art.
Top box 11, which typically rests atop of the main cabinet 12, may contain a ticket dispenser 28, a key pad 29, one or more additional displays 30, a card reader 31, one or more speakers 32, a top glass 33, one or more cameras 34, and a secondary video display monitor 35, which can similarly be a cathode ray tube, a high resolution flat-panel LCD, a plasma/LED display or any other conventional or other type of appropriate video monitor. Alternatively, secondary display monitor 35 might also be foregone in place of other displays, such as gaming reels or physical dioramas that might include other moving components, such as, for example, one or more movable dice, a spinning wheel or a rotating display. It will be understood that many makes, models, types and varieties of gaming machines exist, that not every such gaming machine will include all or any of the foregoing items, and that many gaming machines will include other items not described above.
With respect to the basic gaming abilities provided, it will be readily understood that gaming machine 10 can be adapted for presenting and playing any of a number of gaming events, particularly games of chance involving a player wager and potential monetary payout, such as, for example, a wager on a sporting event or general play as a slot machine game, a keno game, a video poker game, a video blackjack game, and/or any other video table game, among others. Other features and functions may also be used in association with gaming machine 10, and it is specifically contemplated that the present invention can be used in conjunction with such a gaming machine or device that might encompass any or all such additional types of features and functions. One item that is specifically contemplated for use with the present invention involves a gaming machine that incorporates a reusable cashless instrument feature, such as a reusable cashless instrument issuing device and/or a reusable cashless instrument reading device.
With respect to electronic gaming machines in particular, the electronic gaming machines made by IGT are provided with special features and additional circuitry that differentiate them from general-purpose computers, such as a laptop or desktop personal computer (“PC”). Because gaming machines are highly regulated to ensure fairness, and in many cases are operable to dispense monetary awards of millions of dollars, hardware and software architectures that differ significantly from those of general-purpose computers may be implemented into a typical electronic gaming machine in order to satisfy security concerns and the many strict regulatory requirements that apply to a gaming environment. A general description of many such specializations in electronic gaming machines relative to general-purpose computing machines and specific examples of the additional or different components and features found in such electronic gaming machines will now be provided.
At first glance, one might think that adapting PC technologies to the gaming industry would be a simple proposition, since both PCs and gaming machines employ microprocessors that control a variety of devices. However, because of such reasons as 1) the regulatory requirements that are placed upon gaming machines, 2) the harsh environment in which gaming machines operate, 3) security requirements and 4) fault tolerance requirements, adapting PC technologies to a gaming machine can be quite difficult. Further, techniques and methods for solving a problem in the PC industry, such as device compatibility and connectivity issues, might not be adequate in the gaming environment. For instance, a fault or a weakness tolerated in a PC, such as security holes in software or frequent crashes, may not be tolerated in a gaming machine because in a gaming machine these faults can lead to a direct loss of funds from the gaming machine, such as stolen cash or loss of revenue when the gaming machine is not operating properly.
Accordingly, one difference between gaming machines and common PC based computers or systems is that gaming machines are designed to be state-based systems. In a state-based system, the system stores and maintains its current state in a non-volatile memory, such that in the event of a power failure or other malfunction the gaming machine will return to its current state when the power is restored. For instance, if a player were shown an award for a game of chance and the power failed before the award was provided, the gaming machine, upon the restoration of power, would return to the state where the award was indicated. As anyone who has used a PC knows, PCs are not state machines, and a majority of data is usually lost when a malfunction occurs. This basic requirement affects the software and hardware design of a gaming machine in many ways.
A second important difference between gaming machines and common PC based computer systems is that for regulation purposes, the software on the gaming machine used to generate the game of chance and operate the gaming machine must be designed as static and monolithic to prevent cheating by the operator of gaming machine. For instance, one solution that has been employed in the gaming industry to prevent cheating and satisfy regulatory requirements has been to manufacture a gaming machine that can use a proprietary processor running instructions to generate the game of chance from an EPROM or other form of non-volatile memory. The coding instructions on the EPROM are static (non-changeable) and must be approved by a gaming regulator in a particular jurisdiction and installed in the presence of a person representing the gaming jurisdiction. Any change to any part of the software required to generate the game of chance, such as, for example, adding a new device driver used by the master gaming controller to operate a device during generation of the game of chance, can require a new EPROM to be burnt, approved by the gaming jurisdiction, and reinstalled on the gaming machine in the presence of a gaming regulator. Regardless of whether the EPROM solution is used, to gain approval in most gaming jurisdictions, a gaming machine must demonstrate sufficient safeguards that prevent an operator of the gaming machine from manipulating hardware and software in a manner that gives the operator an unfair or even illegal advantage over a player. The code validation requirements in the gaming industry affect both hardware and software designs on gaming machines.
A third important difference between gaming machines and common PC based computer systems is that the number and kinds of peripheral devices used on a gaming machine are not as great as on PC based computer systems. Traditionally in the gaming industry, gaming machines have been relatively simple in the sense that the number of peripheral devices and the number of functions on the gaming machine have been limited. Further, the functionality of a gaming machine tends to remain relatively constant once the gaming machine is deployed, in that new peripheral devices and new gaming software is infrequently added to an existing operational gaming machine. This differs from a PC, where users tend to buy new and different combinations of devices and software from different manufacturers, and then connect or install these new items to a PC to suit their individual needs. Therefore, the types of devices connected to a PC may vary greatly from user to user depending on their individual requirements, and may also vary significantly over time for a given PC.
Although the variety of devices available for a PC may be greater than on a gaming machine, gaming machines still have unique device requirements that differ from a PC, such as device security requirements not usually addressed by PCs. For instance, monetary devices such as coin dispensers, bill validators, ticket printers and computing devices that are used to govern the input and output of cash to a gaming machine have security requirements that are not typically addressed in PCs. Many PC techniques and methods developed to facilitate device connectivity and device compatibility do not address the emphasis placed on security in the gaming industry. To address some of these issues, a number of hardware/software components and architectures are utilized in gaming machines that are not typically found in general-purpose computing devices, such as PCs. These hardware/software components and architectures include, but are not limited to, items such as watchdog timers, voltage monitoring systems, state-based software architectures and supporting hardware, specialized communication interfaces, security monitoring, and trusted memory.
A watchdog timer is normally used in IGT gaming machines to provide a software failure detection mechanism. In a normal operating system, the operating software periodically accesses control registers in a watchdog timer subsystem to “re-trigger” the watchdog. Should the operating software not access the control registers within a preset timeframe, the watchdog timer will time out and generate a system reset. Typical watchdog timer circuits contain a loadable timeout counter register to allow the operating software to set the timeout interval within a certain time range. A differentiating feature of some preferred circuits is that the operating software cannot completely disable the function of the watchdog timer. In other words, the watchdog timer always functions from the time power is applied to the board.
IGT gaming computer platforms preferably use several power supply voltages to operate portions of the computer circuitry. These can be generated in a central power supply or locally on the computer board. If any of these voltages falls out of the tolerance limits of the circuitry they power, unpredictable operation of the computer may result. Though most modern general-purpose computers include voltage-monitoring circuitry, these types of circuits only report voltage status to the operating software. Out of tolerance voltages can cause software malfunction, creating a potential uncontrolled condition in the gaming computer. IGT gaming machines, however, typically have power supplies with tighter voltage margins than that required by the operating circuitry. In addition, the voltage monitoring circuitry implemented in IGT gaming computers typically has two thresholds of control. The first threshold generates a software event that can be detected by the operating software and an error condition generated. This threshold is triggered when a power supply voltage falls out of the tolerance range of the power supply, but is still within the operating range of the circuitry. The second threshold is set when a power supply voltage falls out of the operating tolerance of the circuitry. In this case, the circuitry generates a reset, halting operation of the computer.
The standard method of operation for IGT gaming machine game software is to use a state machine. Each function of the game (e.g., bet, play, result) is defined as a state. When a game moves from one state to another, critical data regarding the game software is stored in a custom non-volatile memory subsystem. In addition, game history information regarding previous games played, amounts wagered, and so forth also should be stored in a non-volatile memory device. This feature allows the game to recover operation to the current state of play in the event of a malfunction, loss of power, or the like. This is critical to ensure that correct wagers and credits are preserved. Typically, battery backed RAM devices are used to preserve this critical data. These memory devices are not used in typical general-purpose computers. Further, IGT gaming computers normally contain additional interfaces, including serial interfaces, to connect to specific subsystems internal and external to the gaming machine. The serial devices may have electrical interface requirements that differ from the “standard” EIA RS232 serial interfaces provided by general-purpose computers. These interfaces may include EIA RS485, EIA RS422, Fiber Optic Serial, optically coupled serial interfaces, current loop style serial interfaces, and the like. In addition, to conserve serial interfaces internally in the gaming machine, serial devices may be connected in a shared, daisy-chain fashion where multiple peripheral devices are connected to a single serial channel.
IGT gaming machines may alternatively be treated as peripheral devices to a casino communication controller and connected in a shared daisy chain fashion to a single serial interface. In both cases, the peripheral devices are preferably assigned device addresses. If so, the serial controller circuitry must implement a method to generate or detect unique device addresses. General-purpose computer serial ports are not able to do this. In addition, security-monitoring circuits detect intrusion into an IGT gaming machine by monitoring security switches attached to access doors in the gaming machine cabinet. Preferably, access violations result in suspension of game play and can trigger additional security operations to preserve the current state of game play. These circuits also function when power is off by use of a battery backup. In power-off operation, these circuits continue to monitor the access doors of the gaming machine. When power is restored, the gaming machine can determine whether any security violations occurred while power was off, such as by software for reading status registers. This can trigger event log entries and further data authentication operations by the gaming machine software.
Trusted memory devices are preferably included in an IGT gaming machine computer to ensure the authenticity of the software that may be stored on less secure memory subsystems, such as mass storage devices. Trusted memory devices and controlling circuitry are typically designed to not allow modification of the code and data stored in the memory device while the memory device is installed in the gaming machine. The code and data stored in these devices may include, for example, authentication algorithms, random number generators, authentication keys, operating system kernels, and so forth. The purpose of these trusted memory devices is to provide gaming regulatory authorities a root trusted authority within the computing environment of the gaming machine that can be tracked and verified as original. This may be accomplished via removal of the trusted memory device from the gaming machine computer and verification of the secure memory device contents is a separate third party verification device. Once the trusted memory device is verified as authentic, and based on the approval of verification algorithms contained in the trusted device, the gaming machine is allowed to verify the authenticity of additional code and data that may be located in the gaming computer assembly, such as code and data stored on hard disk drives.
- General Network and System Configurations
Mass storage devices used in a general-purpose computer typically allow code and data to be read from and written to the mass storage device. In a gaming machine environment, modification of the gaming code stored on a mass storage device is strictly controlled and would only be allowed under specific maintenance type events with electronic and physical enablers required. Though this level of security could be provided by software, IGT gaming computers that include mass storage devices preferably include hardware level mass storage data protection circuitry that operates at the circuit level to monitor attempts to modify data on the mass storage device and will generate both software and hardware error triggers should a data modification be attempted without the proper electronic and physical enablers being present. In addition to the basic gaming abilities provided, these and other features and functions serve to differentiate gaming machines into a special class of computing devices separate and distinct from general-purpose computers.
Turning now to FIG. 2, an exemplary network infrastructure for providing a gaming system having one or more gaming machines is illustrated in block diagram format. Exemplary gaming system 50 has one or more gaming machines, various communication items, and a number of host-side components and devices adapted for use within a gaming environment. As shown, one or more gaming machines 10 adapted for use in gaming system 50 can be in a plurality of locations, such as in banks on a casino floor or standing alone at a smaller non-gaming establishment, as desired. Common bus 51 can connect one or more gaming machines or devices to a number of networked devices on the gaming system 50, such as, for example, a general-purpose server 60, one or more special-purpose servers 70, a sub-network of peripheral devices 80, and/or a database 90.
A general-purpose server 60 may be one that is already present within a casino or other establishment for one or more other purposes beyond any monitoring or administering involving gaming machines. Functions for such a general-purpose server can include other general and game specific accounting functions, payroll functions, general Internet and e-mail capabilities, switchboard communications, and reservations and other hotel and restaurant operations, as well as other assorted general establishment record keeping and operations. In some cases, specific gaming related functions such as cashless gaming, downloadable gaming, player tracking, remote game administration, video or other data transmission, or other types of functions may also be associated with or performed by such a general-purpose server. For example, such a server may contain various programs related to cashless gaming administration, player tracking operations, specific player account administration, remote game play administration, remote game player verification, remote gaming administration, downloadable gaming administration, and/or visual image or video data storage, transfer and distribution, and may also be linked to one or more gaming machines, in some cases forming a network that includes all or many of the gaming devices and/or machines within the establishment. Communications can then be exchanged from each adapted gaming machine to one or more related programs or modules on the general-purpose server.
In one embodiment, gaming system 50 contains one or more special-purpose servers that can be used for various functions relating to the provision of cashless gaming and gaming machine administration and operation under the present methods and systems. Such a special-purpose server or servers could include, for example, a cashless gaming server, a player verification server, a general game server, a downloadable games server, a specialized accounting server, and/or a visual image or video distribution server, among others. Of course, these functions may all be combined onto a single specialized server. Such additional special-purpose servers are desirable for a variety of reasons, such as, for example, to lessen the burden on an existing general-purpose server or to isolate or wall off some or all gaming machine administration and operations data and functions from the general-purpose server and thereby increase security and limit the possible modes of access to such operations and information.
Alternatively, exemplary gaming system 50 can be isolated from any other network at the establishment, such that a general-purpose server 60 is essentially impractical and unnecessary. Under either embodiment of an isolated or shared network, one or more of the special-purpose servers are preferably connected to sub-network 80, which might be, for example, a cashier station or terminal. Peripheral devices in this sub-network may include, for example, one or more video displays 81, one or more user terminals 82, one or more printers 83, and one or more other input devices 84, such as a ticket validator or other security identifier, among others. Similarly, under either embodiment of an isolated or shared network, at least the specialized server 70 or another similar component within a general-purpose server 60 also preferably includes a connection to a database or other suitable storage medium 90. Database 90 is preferably adapted to store many or all files containing pertinent data or information regarding cashless instruments such as tickets, among other potential items. Files, data and other information on database 90 can be stored for backup purposes, and are preferably accessible at one or more system locations, such as at a general-purpose server 60, a special purpose server 70 and/or a cashier station or other sub-network location 80, as desired.
- Specific Cashless Gaming System Configuration
While gaming system 50 can be a system that is specially designed and created new for use in a casino or gaming establishment, it is also possible that many items in this system can be taken or adopted from an existing gaming system. For example, gaming system 50 could represent an existing cashless gaming system to which one or more of the inventive components or program modules are added. In addition to new hardware, new functionality via new software, modules, updates or otherwise can be provided to an existing database 90, specialized server 70 and/or general-purpose server 60, as desired. In this manner, the methods and systems of the present invention may be practiced at reduced costs by gaming operators that already have existing gaming systems, such as an existing EZ Pay® or other cashless gaming system, by simply modifying the existing system. Other modifications to an existing system may also be necessary, as might be readily appreciated.
Continuing on to FIG. 3, a block diagram of the components of a cashless system according to one embodiment of the present invention is illustrated. Cashless gaming system 100 includes various hardware components and software components needed to validate and dispense reusable cashless instruments. Components of this cashless system can include, for example, 1) data acquisition hardware, 2) data storage hardware, 3) cashless instrument validation hardware (e.g. card readers, ticket acceptors, validation terminals, etc.), 3) auditing software, 4) cashless instrument validation software and 5) database software. Many types of cashless systems are possible and are not limited to the components listed above.
A first group of gaming machines, 165, 166, 167, 168 and 169, is shown as being connected to a first clerk validation terminal (“CVT”) 160, while a second group of gaming machines, 175, 176, 177, 178 and 179, is shown as being connected to a second CVT 170. Other groups of gaming machines and CVTs may also be present within this cashless gaming system 100, as will be readily appreciated. Many or all of such gaming machines can be adapted to issue reusable tickets that can be exchanged for cash or accepted as credit of indicia in another gaming machine located within the cashless system 100. In this example, the reusable ticket serves as a cashless instrument.
Where the CVTs are not connected to one another in some way, a reusable ticket issued from one gaming machine may typically only be used as indicia of credit in another gaming machine that is in a group of gaming machines connected to the same CVT. For example, if CVT 160 and CVT 170 were completely independent and unconnected to each other in any way, a ticket issued from gaming machine 165 might be used as an indicia of credit in any of gaming machines 166, 167, 168 or 169, each of which are connected to common CVT 160, but not in any of gaming machines 175, 176, 177, 178, or 179, which are each connected to the other CVT 170. In an analogous manner, when the cashless systems from one casino or gaming property are not connected together in any way, then a ticket issued from gaming machine 166 might not be usable at a property different from any properties that are within cashless system 100. Of course, where CVTs are connected either directly or as part of a larger system, as is shown here, then tickets from one set of gaming machines under one CVT 160 might be redeemable at another set of gaming machine under the other connected CVT 170, and vice-versa.
CVTs 160 and 170 are typically adapted to store cashless instrument transaction information corresponding to outstanding cashless instruments, including reusable tickets, which are waiting for redemption. In this embodiment, the CVTs are separate from the gaming machines. Alternatively, one gaming machine may functionally act as a CVT for a group of gaming machines, thus eliminating a need for separate CVT hardware. In addition, cashless instrument transaction information may be stored at a cashless server, such as EZ Pay® server 110. Such a server can be identical or substantially similar to a portion of general-purpose server 60 or a special-purpose server 70 of the foregoing exemplary network configuration, for example. The cashless instrument transaction information may be used when the tickets are validated and cashed out or redeemed in some other manner. The CVTs 160 and 170 may store the information for the tickets issued by the gaming machines connected to the CVT. For example, CVT 160 can be adapted to store ticket information for reusable tickets issued by gaming machines 165, 166, 167, 168, and 169. When a ticket is issued, ticket information is sent to the CVT using a communication protocol of some type from the gaming machine. For example, a gaming machine may send transaction information to a CVT that is part of a cashless system using the slot acquisition system (“SAS”) made by IGT, or the slot data system (“SDS”) made by Bally Gaming Systems (Alliance Gaming Corporation of Las Vegas, Nev.).
In this embodiment, when a player wishes to cash out an issued reusable ticket, the player may redeem the ticket issued from a particular gaming machine at the CVT associated with the gaming machine, or at any other CVT that is part of the cashless system associated with the first CVT. For example, since CVT 160 and CVT 170 are connected as part of a single cashless system to the EZ Pay® server 110, a player or other user may redeem or utilize tickets at the gaming machines, the CVTs 160 or 170, the cashiers 125, 130 or 135, or the wireless cashier or cashiers 158. These CVTs, cashiers, wireless cashiers and gaming machines may be referred to as “cashless validation sites.” Prior to cashing out the reusable ticket, the ticket is validated by comparing information obtained from the ticket with information stored within the CVT. After a reusable ticket has been cashed out, the CVT zeroes the account balance associated with that ticket to prevent counterfeit tickets with similar information from being cashed multiple times. Furthermore, once the account balance associated with a reusable ticket is zeroed, the reusable ticket is retained at the cashless validation site.
Not all cashless systems may utilize CVTs, and many of the functions of a CVT may be transferred to a cashless server, such as the EZ Pay® server 110, thus eliminating the need for a CVT or various functions within an existing CVT. For instance, the cashless instrument transaction information may be stored in the cashless server or database 90 instead of the CVT. Thus, the need to store cashless instrument transaction information within the CVT may be eliminated. In this embodiment using the EZ Pay® system, multiple groups of gaming machines connected to CVTs are connected together in a cross validation network 145. The cross validation network is typically comprised of one or more concentrators 155 that accept inputs from two or more CVTs and enable communications to and from the two or more CVTs using one communication line. Each concentrator can be connected to a front-end controller 150 that may poll the CVTs for ticket information. This front-end controller is connected to an EZ Pay® server 110, which may in turn provide various information services to other system components, which can include accounting 120 and administration 115 computers, modules, locations or units, among others.
One hardware and software platform allowing cashless instruments to be utilized at all of the cashless validation sites (e.g., cashier stations, gaming machines, wireless cashiers and CVTs) within a single property and across multiple properties can be referred to as a “cashless server.” In this embodiment, an EZ Pay® server 110 may function as the cashless server. Usually, this cashless server is a communication nexus in the cross validation network 145. For instance, the EZ Pay® server 110 can be connected to the cashiers, wireless devices, remote cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse, CVTs and the gaming machines via the CVTs, among other items.
The cross validation network 145 allows reusable tickets issued by any gaming machine connected to the cross validation network to be accepted by other gaming machines in the cross validation network. Additionally, the cross validation network allows a cashier at a cashier station 125, 130, or 135 to validate any reusable ticket issued from a gaming machine within the cross validation network 145. To cash out a reusable ticket, a player may present the reusable ticket at one of the cashier stations 125, 130, and 135, or to a game service representative carrying a wireless gaming device 158 for validating reusable tickets. Information obtained from the reusable ticket is used to validate the ticket by comparing information on the ticket with information stored on one of the CVTs connected to the cross validation network 145. In addition, when the reusable ticket was issued at another property, the information on the ticket may be stored at the other property. Thus, to validate the reusable ticket, the EZ Pay® server may have to communicate with the cashless instrument transaction clearinghouse via a remote connection 111 or other similar means to obtain the information necessary to validate the reusable ticket.
- Reusable Cashless Instruments
As reusable tickets are issued and/or validated, this information can be sent to an audit services computer or unit 140 providing audit services, an accounting computer or unit 120 providing accounting services, and/or an administration computer or unit 115 providing administration services. In another embodiment, all of these services may be provided by a cashless server, such as EZ Pay® server 110. Examples of auditing services, which may be provided by cashless system software residing on an auditing computer 140, include 1) session reconciliation reports, 2) soft count reports, 3) soft count verification reports, 4) soft count exception reports, 5) machine ticket status reports and 6) security access reports, among others. Examples of accounting services, which may be provided by cashless system software residing on an accounting computer 120, include 1) ticket issuance reports, 2) ticket liability reports, 3) ticket tracking reports, 4) ticket paid reports and 5) ticket redemption reports, among others. Examples of administration services, which may be provided by cashless system software residing on an administration computer 115 include 1) manual ticket receipts, 2) manual ticket reports, 3) ticket validation reports, 4) interim validation reports, 5) validation window closer reports, 6) voided ticket receipts and 7) voided ticket reports, among others.
In contrast to conventional printed tickets, the inventive systems and methods herein are adapted to utilize reusable tickets or other suitable reusable cashless instruments that do not have a particular cash value printed, designated or otherwise stored thereon. In preferred embodiments, such reusable tickets can be assigned or associated with monetary values only when they are distributed or issued to players, such that the bulk of reusable tickets held by the gaming operator within its gaming machines, cashier cages, vaults, and elsewhere within control of the system will all or mostly all have an assigned or associated monetary value of zero. Although the reusable cashless instruments used in the systems and methods provided herein can be referred to as ticket vouchers, cash vouchers, tickets, vouchers, player cards, mag-stripe cards, smart cards, tokens, and other various names, the terms “reusable ticket” and “ticket” will be used herein, and will generally be understood to encompass all such variations, possibilities and terminologies with respect to reusable cashless instruments, as may be appropriate.
Rather than having a monetary value designated thereon, each reusable ticket or other suitable cashless instrument preferably possesses its own unique validation code or account number that is encoded thereon. Furthermore, each unique validation code is associated with its own corresponding account or file, with the account or file record being stored on a cashless server, such as EZ Pay® server 110, and/or in a database, such as database 90. Additional reusable ticket information can also be stored on a database and shared over a cashless server. Such additional reusable ticket information can include an account balance or monetary value of the reusable ticket, as well as ticket tracking information. Such ticket tracking information can include the ticket location, if presently stored in a gaming machine, cashier terminal, ticket dispenser, vault, or other verifiable location on the premises, as well as a log of past transactions involving that ticket. Ticket information may also include information related to the condition of the ticket, such as the age of the ticket and the number of transactions for which the ticket has been used. In this way, worn tickets can be removed from the field of play and replaced.
Turning now to FIG. 4, an exemplary reusable ticket, such as that which could be used in conjunction with current hardware, is illustrated in top plan view. Reusable ticket 200 is a cashless instrument adapted for use in many forms of gaming machines and gaming systems, and is preferably formed of a durable and inexpensive material, such that the reusable ticket can withstand dozens, hundreds or even thousands of separate user transactions. It is also preferable that reusable ticket 200 be thin enough to allow for efficient stacking within a gaming device. Suitable materials of construction for reusable tickets having such preferred functions and abilities can include, for example, various kinds of paper, cardboard, plastic and metal, among other types of materials. Although it is contemplated that reinforced paper or a durable and hardened plastic would be particularly suitable materials for such a reusable ticket 200, it will be readily appreciated that a wide variety of materials may be used for such a ticket to accomplished the desired objectives herein.
The reusable ticket 200 will typically include a number of informational elements, such as, for example, a casino or operator identifier 202, a ticket identifier 204, a validation number 206, a ticket number 212, and an expiration date 214, among others. Reusable ticket 200 may also display other helpful information, such as instructions 218 on the front and/or back of the ticket. Reusable ticket 200 might also include a bar code 220 or other similar item that stores one or more of the above informational elements in a manner that is readable by machines, such as gaming machines, cashier machines, or other network devices. For example, bar code 220 may include validation number 206 in bar form. Of course, each of these items may or may not be present on any given ticket, and other items not shown may also be stored on ticket 200, including, but not limited to, standard warranties, advertisements, promotional information and/or other related items, as desired. It will be understood that other formats, language combinations or uniformly translated tickets may be used, as desired.
A particular advantage of using a reusable ticket 200 or a similarly relatively sophisticated cashless instrument is the ability to reuse the item, such that costs for resources such as paper and ink can be saved in the long run. In contrast to many of the conventional paper tickets, rewritable storage cards and other similar cashless instruments in prior cashless systems, the monetary value associated with reusable ticket 200 is preferably not encoded or otherwise designated on the reusable ticket. Thus, each reusable ticket can preferably be stored, assigned a monetary value, issued, held, used, redeemed, accepted, and reissued many times over without ever changing form or having any indicia thereupon altered. Accordingly, in some embodiments, it is preferable that any reusable ticket issuing device not write to or otherwise alter the reusable ticket upon issuance.
In some embodiments, reusable ticket 200 can be written to, printed or produced once, after which further printing or writing to the ticket would then be unnecessary. Of course, printing or rewriting with respect to advertisements or other information may be desirable, but there would preferably ordinarily be no need to print or write information to a reusable ticket with respect to a validation code, monetary amount, player identifier, or other information relating to the value or holder of the ticket. Since writing to the reusable ticket upon issuance or reissuance would ordinarily be discouraged during the ordinary life and use of the reusable ticket, the production of and/or writing to reusable tickets could be primarily accomplished at an off-site or manufacturing facility.
In various alternative embodiments, printing, writing, stamping or updating of data or information to a reusable ticket may take place from time to time. For example, one or more reusable tickets may have a region where a gaming machine or other reusable ticket issuing device may print a small one-time issuance code upon each issuance or reissuance of the ticket. Such issuance codes may be placed side-by-side in a set area, similar to a check out or due date card in a library book. Such an area can be designated on the front of the ticket, or may encompass the entire back of the ticket. While such a feature may serve to limit the effective number of uses for a given reusable ticket, such issuance codes could be used to provide additional protection against counterfeit tickets or other fraud attempts. Such a small issuance code might indicate, for example, the issuing device, time and date of issuance, and player to whom the ticket was issued, if known. Similar to the system set forth herein for storing the actual associated monetary value for a given reusable ticket, such small issuance codes may be limited in what is actually printed to the ticket, and might merely represent a code or sequence, further information for which could be stored on the central server.
In a particularly limited alternative example, a short code or even a single random digit or character could be printed to the reusable ticket upon each issuance or reissuance of the reusable ticket. Such a single random digit or character could then be stored on the system as part of the data in the account associated with the ticket, and this short code or other single digit could then be checked upon a later acceptance of the ticket for validation purposes. As will be readily appreciated, the use of such a short code or single digit printed to the reusable ticket upon each issuance could aid further in preventing the use of counterfeit or fraudulent tickets, since a potential thief might know the full original validation code of a reusable ticket, but would be less likely to know any short code or single digit recently printed to that reusable ticket. In the event that a counterfeit ticket having a recognizable original validation code but invalid short code or single digit is offered for redemption, an alert can be signaled by the system and/or appropriate casino personnel can be notified.
In various embodiments, reusable ticket 200 is preferably adapted to be accepted and stacked within a gaming machine or other similar gaming device. Reusable ticket 200 preferably can be accepted and validated with existing bill acceptors, thereby allowing a single bill acceptor to accept, validate, and store both cash currency and reusable tickets. In some of these embodiments, various gaming machines and gaming devices within the system may be adapted to accept both reusable tickets and disposable tickets, such as the paper based EZ Pay® tickets currently in use throughout the gaming industry. Because reusable ticket 200 can be stacked, gaming machines and other gaming devices adapted to accept such reusable tickets can also be adapted to hold and reissue tickets that have been accepted by the gaming machine or device. Such gaming machines or devices can be adapted to stack and store dozens, hundreds or even thousands of reusable tickets, many or all of which would have the potential of being issued or reissued by the gaming machine.
For example, a player may insert a valid reusable ticket having an associated monetary amount into a gaming machine, whereupon the reusable ticket is accepted, an associated monetary credit is given, the reusable ticket is stacked within the gaming machine, and gaming takes place on the gaming machine. At some later time, that gaming machine may be requested to issue a ticket to that same player or any other player, at which point the prior reusable ticket is assigned a new monetary value, recordation is made of such monetary value on the central system, and that reusable ticket is then issued to the requesting player. In some embodiments, the reusable ticket may be held in an escrow type area within the gaming machine for a possible reissuance to the player, and is only stacked when the credit meter on the gaming machine goes to zero, further tickets or currency are inserted, or it otherwise becomes apparent that no ticket reissuance to the player will be forthcoming.
Cashless instruments can in some instances be susceptible to counterfeiting by those that wish to fabricate false cashless instruments and redeem them for money. In particular, as stated above, cashless instruments are often printed with a validation number that is used to determine authenticity. Typically, the validation number is printed on the ticket and a corresponding (e.g., matching) confirmation number is also stored in a back-end system, such as at EZ Pay® server 110 or an associated database. When a ticket is redeemed, its validation number or account number is checked to see if it matches the stored confirmation number or account in the EZ Pay® server 110, or an associated database. If so, the monetary value of the ticket is paid out. However, such validation numbers are often just number strings that may have predictable portions and/or unpredictable portions.
- Ticket Acceptors, Validators, and Controllers
The use of reusable tickets 200 having unique confirmation codes or account numbers can reduce the potential for fraud, since the location of a particular ticket, or at least the location of last use, can be tracked. For example, assuming that a thief would be able to correctly produce a counterfeit ticket with a validation code corresponding to an existing code and associated account, the thief would likely have no way of knowing if the associated account has any monetary value, since it is preferable that no such value is ever set forth on the ticket itself. Furthermore, as stated above, tracking information may be stored for each ticket 200. Hence, in some embodiments, if a thief attempted to cash out a counterfeit or fraudulent ticket matching a proper ticket already stored in a gaming machine, vault, or elsewhere under system control, then the system could detect the presence of two tickets having the same validation code. Anti-fraud software could then flag and put a hold on the associated account and alert relevant personnel. Furthermore, since all stacked or stored reusable tickets preferably have no monetary value (since only tickets in distribution to players would ordinarily have monetary value), and monetary values are only assigned upon a valid issuance relating to an actual monetary amount then owed, there would be little incentive to steal stored reusable tickets.
FIG. 5 illustrates in block diagram format an exemplary architecture for a gaming machine 300 having a ticket validator 310 able to accept, validate, escrow, and dispense cash currency and/or cashless instruments according to one embodiment of the present invention. Specialized gaming machine 300 contains an MGC or other similar primary processor 320 having one or more associated memory units 325, which preferably include at least a portion of specific game instructions 326, and a variety of input and output devices 330. This gaming machine 300 is associated with a gaming system or network having at least one server 340, which can be in a remote location, and which is in communication with the MGC 320 of the gaming machine. As set forth in greater detail above, this gaming network, system and/or server can be of any form, may have various associated databases and other components, and can be used for other purposes in addition to administering cashless instrument systems.
Ticket validator 310 includes a ticket acceptor 312 suitable for insertion of reusable tickets. In some embodiments, the ticket acceptor 312 may also function as a ticket issuing device or dispenser. In other embodiments, the ticket reader or acceptor may be separate from the issuing device or dispenser. In still other embodiments of the present invention, there may be two or more ticket acceptors 312 capable of processing different kinds of cashless instruments and/or cash currency. The ticket validator 310 preferably also includes a ticket scanner or reader 313 for reading cash or cashless instruments, such as reusable tickets 200, a holding area 315 to hold one or more reusable tickets 200 in escrow, such as during validation and/or game play, at least one stacker 322 to stack and/or store a plurality of tickets, as well as a specialized controller 314 having one or more associated memory units with a set of instructions 316. Specialized controller 314 can be in direct communication with the gaming machine MGC 320, a remote server 340 and/or an associated database.
A reusable ticket may be held in escrow during, for example, an initial acceptance and verification process, similar to that which might take place for the acceptance of cash currency. In some embodiments, a full credit for the full associated monetary value of the reusable ticket may be granted on the gaming machine whenever the reusable ticket is good, whereupon the reusable ticket is then fully accepted, discharged from escrow, and stacked within the gaming machine. As noted herein, such a reusable ticket may then be reissued with a different associated monetary value at some later time. In other embodiments, a partial credit for the monetary value of the ticket may be granted on the gaming machine, whereupon the associated monetary value of the ticket would then be updated, and the ticket either held in escrow or discharged back to the player with the updated monetary value in effect. In some embodiments, the reusable ticket may be held in escrow within the gaming machine for a potential reissuance to the same player, in the event that the player is owed any credit at the end of his or her gaming session. Of course, to the extent that any already validated reusable ticket being held in escrow would interfere with the acceptance of any additional ticket and/or cash currency that might be inserted into the gaming machine, it is preferable that the original ticket would then be passed through escrow, stacked, and stored, so that the additional items could then be validated and processed as well.
Although it is possible that reusable tickets could be accepted, stacked and reissued on a “last in-first out” basis, it may be preferable that some mechanism or process be implemented to avoid such situations whenever possible. Where thieves or other shady parties might be aware of any “last in-first out” tendencies of a gaming system or individual machine, it might then become easier to determine when a valid reusable ticket having an associated positive monetary amount has been issued and is live within the gaming system. As noted, knowledge of such occurrences would tend to aid in the creation and use of counterfeit tickets, as well as other fraudulent activities. Accordingly, it is preferable that fully accepted and stacked tickets be stored in a manner such that the last ticket accepted within the gaming machine is not the first ticket to be issued or reissued the next time that a ticket is to be issued. Various mechanisms for accomplishing this objective can include, for example, stacking accepted tickets to one location (e.g., the bottom of a stack) and issuing tickets from another location (e.g., the top of the stack), a random issuance of tickets from any of a number of positions near the end of a stack, a pseudo-escrow area adapted to hold several tickets that could be issued in any order, or any other suitable mechanism for avoiding a “last in-first out” pattern, or any other detectable issuance pattern for that matter.
In some embodiments, much of the stocking of reusable tickets within system gaming machines and devices can be substantially automated, and even assisted by players themselves, since many system gaming machines and devices will tend to accept and reissue many reusable tickets. While a standard disposable paper ticket gaming machine might be adapted to store 1000 blank paper tickets for printing as cashless instruments, for example, a gaming machine adapted for use with reusable tickets might be adapted to stack and store 500 reusable tickets. Restocking of the reusable ticket gaming machine or device by casino personnel may be much less frequent, however, since many players will insert reusable tickets into the machine that could then be stacked, stored and reissued at a later time to any other player. In fact, it may become necessary in some instances to remove excess reusable tickets from a gaming machine, rather than to restock the gaming machine.
Ticket tracking components may be used to track the actual number of reusable tickets stacked or stored within a given gaming machine, such that casino personnel could then attend to restocking the machine with more reusable tickets or removing an excess of reusable tickets, as may be needed. In some embodiments, a substantially automated restocking system might alert casino personnel whenever the stack or stored about of reusable tickets gets to within 5% of empty or maximum capacity. For example, if a given gaming machine is adapted to stack a maximum of 500 reusable tickets, then an alert can be sent whenever that gaming machine has over 475 tickets or less than 25 tickets remaining. Of course, other percentages or amounts might also be used, as may be desired by a given gaming operator.
- Methods of Use
While it has been noted that the reusable tickets disclosed herein may be formed from any of a number of sturdy yet inexpensive materials, such materials still have a cost that might be significantly higher than the cost of a comparable disposable paper ticket. Many patrons tend to take home any number of items as souvenirs or mementos, however, and reusable tickets should be no exception to such tendencies. To the extent that the cost of a reusable ticket is more than the value associated with the ticket, such souvenirs would then result in net losses to the gaming operator. Also, it may be increasingly difficult or even annoying for a given gaming operator to deal with reusable tickets with associated small monetary amounts, such as $1 or less, for example. As also noted above, the littering of zero or near-zero value cashless instruments about a bank of gaming machines is not only unsightly, but can be interpreted by many would-be players as showing a set of machines that could be unlucky or otherwise undesirable for play and enjoyment. Accordingly, in some embodiments, some or all of the various gaming machines and devices adapted to administer reusable tickets could be set to issue or reissue a reusable ticket only if the proposed monetary value is to be greater than a certain amount. Such a monetary amount may be arbitrarily set by the gaming operator, and may correspond to the actual cost of each reusable ticket and/or a determined nuisance value for which the distribution or issuance of lower valued tickets is simply not desirable. In instances where such a small credit designated as not worthy of reusable ticket use is owed to the player, then the player may be compensated by coin(s) discharged from the gaming machine, by a disposable ticket, or by other suitable means.
It will be readily appreciated that the various methods and illustrative flowcharts provided herein are merely exemplary, and that the present invention may be practiced in a wide variety of suitable ways. While the provided flowcharts may be comprehensive in some respects, it will be readily understood that not every step provided is necessary, that other steps can be included, and that the order of steps might be rearranged as desired by a given gaming operator, as desired.
FIG. 6 shows a flowchart illustrating a method 600 of using a reusable cashless instrument in a gaming system according to one embodiment of the present invention. The process 600 begins at step 602 when the ticket is accepted into the ticket acceptor. At step 604, the validity of the ticket is determined, which can be accomplished by reading the ticket and, in particular, by the recognition of various features including identifiers, such as the validation number, bar codes, and the like. In one embodiment, a local gaming machine processor performs this determination. Preferably, a central system server and/or database are used for such a validation. If valid, the ticket is stored in escrow at step 606; otherwise, if invalid, relevant personnel may be alerted and/or the ticket may be captured at step 618 in some embodiments. At step 608, it is determined whether or not there is any value associated with the ticket. If there is value associated with the ticket, the user is allowed to play at step 610. If not, the user is asked if he or she would like to add value to the ticket at step 612. If the user does not wish to add value, the ticket can be stacked in the machine at step 616. If the user wishes to add value, then value is added at step 614 and the gaming device is credited at step 610.
In some embodiments, the provided systems and methods would not ordinarily provide for players or patrons to have tickets with no associated monetary value, such that an alert may be provided if a ticket having no associated value is offered by a patron within the system. For example, all gaming machines and devices within the system can be adapted not to provide any player or patron with a reusable ticket or other suitable cashless instrument having no associated monetary value. In the event that a player having provided a reusable ticket or other cashless instrument runs out of credit on a gaming machine or device, or otherwise loses all money associated with a particular ticket, then the associated gaming machine would simply keep the zero value ticket and stack the ticket internally.
In some embodiments where a reusable ticket is held in escrow during game play, the account balance or monetary value associated with a particular reusable ticket is preferably not updated until the user cashes out, such that server traffic is reduced. In other embodiments where a reusable ticket is held in escrow during game play, the account balance stored in the database can be updated at predefined intervals during game play, such as while a relevant reusable ticket is held in an escrow area of a gaming machine during play of that gaming machine. In still other embodiments, the account balance stored in the database can be updated every time the credit stored in the computer readable memory of the machine changes.
FIG. 7 shows a flowchart illustrating a method 608 of determining value associated with a ticket. In particular, at step 702 the MGC accesses the server and database on the central system. The validation code of an accepted reusable ticket is referenced with the central database and validated at step 704. If the validation code is not valid, or there is a problem for any other reason, relevant personnel may be alerted and/or the reusable ticket could be captured at step 710. If the reusable ticket is determined to be valid, it is then determined if the associated account on the system has a positive monetary value or balance at step 706. If the associated account has a positive monetary balance, then credit can be appropriately provided or updated in the gaming machine or device at step 610. If the associated account does not have a positive balance, then the user can be asked if he or she would like to add value to the reusable ticket at step 612.
FIG. 8 shows a flowchart illustrating a method 614 of adding value to an account. Specifically, payment is accepted into the machine at step 801. In some embodiments, where there is only one ticket validator, the type of payment accepted is determined at step 802. If the payment is a cash bill or coin, the cash bill or coin is validated and its denomination determined at step 804. Credit stored in the gaming device is then updated at step 610. If the payment is another ticket, then the ticket currently held is escrow is stacked at step 808. At step 810, the new ticket is placed in escrow. At step 604, it is then determined whether or not there is any value associated with the ticket. If not, then the ticket can be stacked within the gaming machine at step 812. If there is a positive balance associated with the ticket, then credit stored in the gaming machine or device is then updated at step 610.
In some embodiments, existing hardware from disposable paper ticket cashless systems can be used. In such hardware, the ticket acceptors are already capable of or can be adapted to accept and scan both cash and tickets. As stated above, in other embodiments, there can be two or more acceptors, one for cash and one or more for tickets. Currently, the ticket acceptors are additionally capable of holding one ticket in escrow. In other embodiments, there may be multiple escrows. Hence, in current configurations, when a user inserts a cash bill or ticket into the ticket acceptor, the ticket acceptor must stack the ticket held in escrow in order that the cash bill is able to pass through or that the new ticket can be held in escrow. Furthermore, current hardware includes two stacks, one for incoming payments and one for outgoing payments. In this way, the escrow saves on tickets by slowing the rate at which the incoming stack is filled and also at which the outgoing stack is emptied. In some embodiments there are incoming and outgoing stacks for both tickets and cash bills. In other embodiments there may be only one stack for both incoming and outgoing tickets. In some embodiments there could be a mechanism to alert relevant personnel when the incoming stacks are full, or nearly full, or when the outgoing stacks are empty, or nearly empty.
FIG. 9 shows a flowchart illustrating a method 900 of redeeming credit from a reusable cashless instrument gaming system for monetary payment. At step 901, a desire to redeem credit is indicated. At step 902, the account balance stored on the server or database is updated to match the local gaming machine credit. At step 904, a reusable ticket is dispensed from the ticket validator of the gaming machine. At step 906 the reusable ticket is taken to a cashier. The cashier may be an actual person who then uses a cashier terminal to determine whether or not there is value associated with the reusable ticket. In other embodiments, the cashier may be an automated cashier terminal wherein the ticket is inserted into a ticket validator. If the account balance corresponding to the ticket is not above zero, the ticket is stacked at step 922. If the account balance corresponding to the ticket is above zero, the user is queried at step 910 as to whether or not the user would like to cash out the entire balance. If the user would like to cash out the entire balance, the user is paid the entire balance at step 912 and the reusable ticket is stacked at step 914. If the user would like to cash out only a portion of the balance, the user is paid the desired monetary amount at step 916. The account balance corresponding to the reusable ticket is then updated at step 918 and the ticket is reissued to the user at step 920.
FIG. 10 shows a flowchart illustrating a general method 1000 of using reusable cashless instruments in a reusable cashless gaming instrument system adapted for accepting wagers, playing games based on the wagers and granting monetary payouts based on the results of the games. In particular, at step 1002, a first reusable cashless instrument or ticket is provided. This reusable cashless instrument or ticket preferably has a unique validation code designated thereon, an associated first monetary value and no monetary designation stored or encoded thereon. At step 1004, this first reusable ticket is accepted into a reusable cashless instrument reading device, such as a ticket validator that might be incorporated within a gaming machine. At step 1006 the first reusable ticket is read, which preferably involves the reading of a unique validation code or codes on the ticket, and at step 1008 the read validation code is compared with a plurality of validation codes stored on a server, database or other location. Such a comparison can be made, for example, to determine data such as the actual monetary value associated with the first reusable ticket, and such a determination is accomplished at step 1010.
At step 1012, an appropriate amount of credit is provided on the accepting gaming device to match the actual monetary value associated with the first reusable ticket. As noted above, an alternative could be to provide a partial credit and a reissuance of a ticket with the credit balance. At step 1014, the first reusable ticket can be stored at an escrow area or other location within the accepting gaming machine or other gaming device. Once the reusable ticket has been accepted, verified, credit provided, and stored, a variety of other steps may occur, with no particular order being preferred with respect to the steps involving a reissuance of the first reusable ticket or the acceptance and reissuance of other reusable tickets within the same gaming machine or device.
With respect to the first reusable ticket, step 1016 involves receiving a request to redeem credit or “cash out” on the gaming machine or device, such as after a player has won or at least has not lost an entire credit balance and wishes to leave. At step 1018, the monetary value associated with the first reusable ticket is updated to a second value different from the first value upon original insertion. It should also be noted that in some embodiments, the monetary value of the first reusable ticket could be set to zero commensurate with the provision of credit on the gaming machine. Such an action would be particularly appropriate in embodiments where reusable tickets are accepted and stacked immediately without the possibility of being reissued to the same player. At step 1020, the first reusable ticket is then issued to the player, who may be the same or a different player, whereupon the method may then end.
Alternatively, or in addition to steps 1016-1020, additional reusable tickets may also be implicated in additional method steps. At step 1022, the gaming machine or device retains and stores other reusable tickets in addition to the first reusable ticket. Preferably, these additional reusable tickets have been previously issued, such as before their acceptance at the gaming machine or device. Reading, comparison, determination and provision of credit steps may also apply to these other separate reusable tickets. At step 1024, monetary values can be associated to these other reusable tickets or cashless instruments. In some embodiments, these monetary values can be different than the monetary values previously associated with the reusable tickets. Finally, at step 1026, these other reusable tickets are reissued, such as from the gaming machine or device. It will be readily appreciated that some or all of these other reusable tickets, as well as the first reusable ticket, may be stored within the gaming machine or device at the same time, despite potentially different times of acceptance and/or reissuance.
Although the foregoing invention has been described in detail by way of illustration and example for purposes of clarity and understanding, it will be recognized that the above described invention may be embodied in numerous other specific variations and embodiments without departing from the spirit or essential characteristics of the invention. Certain changes and modifications may be practiced, and it is understood that the invention is not to be limited by the foregoing details, but rather is to be defined by the scope of the appended claims.