WO 2003060844 A2
A video poker machine includes a display screen and a processor. The processor deals a winning hand of cards, which the screen displays, and randomly selects a bonus prize if the winning hand is a bonus hand. Alternatively, the processor randomly selects a bonus prize regardless of wether the processor deals a winning hand or wether the winning hand is a bonus hand. Such a bonus round can increase the profitability of the poker machine. Specifically, the availability of a bonus increases the appeal, and thus the take of the machine. By selecting an appropriate bonus hand and appropriate odds of winning in the bonus round, this increase in take can increase the machine's profit as compared to the profit of a conventional machine having the same payout schedule but without a bonus round. Moreover, this increase in profit can typically be achieved without a player's knowledge and without violating any gaming laws.
POKER WITH BONUS ROUND AND RELATED METHOD
CLAIM FOR PRIORITY
 This application claims priority from U. S. Provisional Patent Application Serial No. 60/343,550 filed on December 21 , 2001 , which is incorporated by reference.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
 In recent years computerized video poker has become a popular form of entertainment. A conventional video poker machine typically includes a computer system that includes a computer processor for executing a program that controls a display screen, a credit receptacle, and a payout dispenser. The video poker machine also typically includes a means of player input such as pushbuttons that allow the player to select a wager from available credits (if any credits are available) and to select which cards to hold and which to discard. The computer program also controls the features of the game play and, via the display, presents a player with an opportunity to wager credits against known odds of being dealt one of a number of possible winning hands.
 Unfortunately, as discussed below, the profit margin of a video poker machine is typically limited by the inherent nature of poker itself. Theoretically, there are two major techniques for increasing a machine's profit margin. The first technique is to increase the machine's hold percentage, which is the percentage of the machine's take — the machine's take is the total amount of money that players wager — that the machine does not pay out for winning hands, and which is thus equal to 100% minus the payout percentage. But as discussed below, increasing the machine's hold percentage may reduce the machine's take, and thus reduce the machine's profit. The second technique is to increase the machine's take. One way to increase a machine's take is to increase the appeal of the machine so that more players play it. For example, the machine may allow wild cards or provide some other features that increase a player's chance of winning. But although such features may increase the appeal, and thus the take, of the machine, they often reduce the machine's hold percentage to an extent that does not increase, and may actually decrease, the machine's profit.  Consequently, a need has arisen for a technique that increases the profit of a video poker machine.
Overview of Conventional Video Poker
Table I is an example payout schedule for a conventional video "draw poker" machine. This payout schedule is typically conspicuously located on the machine so that players can see it.
Credits(e.g., coins) in: 1 2 3 4 5
Payout: 1 2 3 4 5 Pair of Jacks or Better
2 4 6 8 10 Two Pair
3 6 9 12 15 Three of a Kind
4 8 12 16 20 Straight
5 10 15 20 25 Flush
8 16 24 32 40 Full House
25 50 75 100 125 Four of a Kind
50 100 150 200 250 Straight Flush
250 500 750 1000 4000 Royal Flush
 To start play, a player deposits one or more credits into the machine, and a display shows the number of credits deposited and available for wagering. As discussed below, a winning hand will increase the number of available credits by the number of credits won, and a losing hand will decrease the number of available credits by the number of credits wagered. ι
 The machine then prompts the player to wager one or more credits up to a maximum number of credits (here five credits per Table I) by pushing a button or via other input means.
 When the player makes his wager, the processor randomly selects ten cards from a single deck (five for the initial hand and five reserved for draw). The specifics of how the processor selects the ten cards are well-known in the gaming industry, and, therefore, are not discussed further.
 After the player makes his wager, the processor deals the initial hand of five cards. The remaining five cards make up the draw.  Once the player sees his initial hand of five cards, he discards the desired number of cards (zero to five), and the processor replaces the discarded cards with the same number of cards from the draw. If the resulting hand is one of the winning hands from Table I, then the processor increases the displayed available credit count accordingly. For example, referring to Table I, if the resulting hand is two pair and the player wagered two credits, then the processor increases the displayed available credit count by four credits. If, however, the resulting hand is not a winning hand, then the processor decreases the displayed available credit count by two credits. After the game is over, the player may choose to play again by placing another wager (by depositing additional credits or using the available credits) or may choose to have the machine payout his winnings in the amount of the available credits displayed.
 Referring to Table I, this payout schedule is designed to provide a video poker machine with a predetermined hold percentage of approximately 4%. Typically, gaming laws require that a video poker machine payout a predetermined percentage of its take over time. With the payout schedule of Table I, this predetermine payout percentage is approximately 100% - 4% = 96%. If the machine pays out less than this predetermined percentage, then the gaming commission may require the owner to remove the machine from service. Conversely, if the machine pays out more than this predetermined percentage, then the machine's profit may decline. Consequently, because the pattern of play, which is often unpredictable, affects the payout percentage, the machine's processor is programmed to alter the odds of winning as necessary to maintain the machine's payout at the predetermined percentage. That is, the processor compensates for the pattern of play so as to maintain the payout percentage at a substantially constant level over time.
 As stated above, it is difficult to increase the profit of a video poker machine by increasing the machine's hold percentage. One way to increase the hold percentage is to reduce the payouts for one or more of the winning hands. But because the machine displays the payout schedule — gaming laws typically require such a display — players will tend to play other machines having higher payouts. Therefore, even though this payout reduction increases the hold percentage, it often reduces the machine's take, and thus the machine's profit.  Also as stated above, it is difficult to increase the profit of a video poker machine by increasing the machine's player appeal as compared to the player appeal of other video poker machines. For example, one can increase the player appeal by adding features that increase the player's chances of winning or that increase the payouts for the respective winning hands. But as stated above, although such features and increased payouts may increase the machine's take, they typically reduce the machine's holding percentage to an extent that reduces the machine's profit as compared to a video poker machine having the payout schedule of Table I. That is, the increase in the take is typically not enough to offset the decrease in the machine's hold percentage. SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
 One aspect of the invention is a video poker machine that includes a display screen and a processor. The processor deals a winning hand of cards, which the screen displays, and randomly selects a bonus prize if the winning hand is a bonus hand.  In another aspect of the invention, the processor randomly selects a bonus prize regardless of whether the processor deals a winning hand or whether the winning hand is a bonus hand.
 Such a bonus round can increase the profitability of the poker machine. Specifically, the availability of a bonus increases the appeal, and thus the take of the machine. By selecting an appropriate bonus hand and appropriate odds of winning in the bonus round, this increase in take can increase the machine's profit as compared to the profit of a conventional machine having the same payout schedule but without a bonus round. Moreover, this increase in profit can typically be achieved without a player's knowledge and without violating any gaming laws.  Because of the number of video poker machines played throughout the world, even a slight increase in a machine's profitability can amount to vast sums of money for the owners of many such machines.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS  The foregoing aspects and many of the attendant advantages of this invention will become more readily appreciated as the same become better understood by reference to the following detailed description, when taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, wherein:
 FIG. 1 is a front view of a video poker machine according to an embodiment of the invention.
 FIG. 2 is a schematic block diagram of the video poker machine of FIG. 1 according to an embodiment of the invention.
 FIG. 3 is the display screen of FIG. 1 displaying an initial hand of cards according to an embodiment of the invention;  FIG. 4 is the display screen of FIG. 1 displaying a resulting bonus hand of cards according to an embodiment of the invention; and
 FIG. 5 is the display screen of FIG. 1 displaying a bonus round of play according to an embodiment of the invention.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION  The following discussion is presented to enable a person skilled in the art to make and use the invention. The general principles described herein may be applied to embodiments and applications other than those detailed below without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention. The present invention is not intended to be limited to the embodiments shown, but is to be accorded the widest scope consistent with the principles and features disclosed or suggested herein.
 FIG. 1 is a video poker machine 10 that implements a bonus round according to an embodiment of the invention. The machine 10 includes a conventional display screen 12 for displaying cards (not shown in FIG. 1) and other game information. For example, the screen 12 may be a cathode ray tube (CRT) or a liquid-crystal (LCD) display. The machine 10 also includes a conventional input device 14 — here five buttons 16a - 16e — for allowing a player (not shown) to enter information such as the amount of his wager and which cards he selects for holding and which for discarding. Alternatively, the buttons 16a- 16e may be touch-screen buttons that are displayed on the screen 12, or the device 14 may include additional buttons (not shown) or other input components. In addition, the machine 10 includes a conventional credit receptacle 18 for receiving wager credit. For example, the receptacle 18 may accept coins, tokens, bills, debit cards, or other means of payment. As discussed below in conjunction with FIGS. 3 - 5, the machine 10 implements a bonus round that can increase the profit of the machine as compared to the profit of a machine implementing the same payout schedule with no bonus round. Specifically, the bonus round can increase the take of the machine 10 by increasing the machine's player appeal without excessively reducing the machine's hold percentage. That is, even if the bonus round decreases the machine's hold percentage, the increase in take is sufficient to increase the machine's profit despite the decrease in hold percentage.
 FIG. 2 is a schematic block diagram of the video poker machine 10 according to an embodiment of the invention. The machine 10 includes a control circuit 20, which communicates with the screen 12, input device 14, and credit receptacle 18 and which includes a conventional processor 22 coupled to a conventional memory 24. The processor 22 controls the overall operation of the machine 10. Specifically, the processor 22 implements at least one type of video poker game on the screen 12 by executing at least one program stored in the memory 24. The program dictates the attributes (e.g., the payout schedule, the bonus schedule, and the game rules) of the video poker game. Consequently, one can change the game attributes by changing the program. In one embodiment, the processor 22 is programmed to implement five-card-draw poker with the payout schedule of Table I and the bonus schedule discussed below in conjunction with FIG. 5.
 Referring to FIGS. 3 - 5, the operation of the video poker machine 10 of FIGS. 1 - 2 is discussed according to an embodiment of the invention. Each of FIGS. 3 - 5 shows the display screen 12 at various stages of a poker game. For purposes of discussion, it is assumed that the processor 22 is programmed to implement five-card draw poker, to pay out winnings according to the schedule of Table I, and to enter a bonus round when a player (not shown) achieves four of a kind.
 Referring to FIG. 3, the processor 22 (FIG. 2) causes the screen 12 to display the number 30 of available playing credits, and a player (not shown) initiates game play by using the input device 14 (FIG. 1) to wager a number 32- here five - of the available credits. Each credit typically represents a convenient amount of money such as $0.05 (nickel), $0.10 (dime), or $0.25 (quarter) although it can represent any amount of money. If the player wishes to wager more than the available credits, he can purchase additional credits via the credit receptacle 18 (FIG. 1). In this example, the player has wagered a maximum five credits (Table I) such that he is eligible for the bonus round, which is discussed below.
 In response to the player (not shown) wagering a number 32 of credits, the processor 22 "deals" an initial hand 34 of cards in positions 36a-36e, and causes the screen 12 to display the hand, which in this example is the jack of diamonds, four of diamonds, four of hearts, queen of clubs, and four of clubs. More specifically, in response to receiving the wager via the input device 14, the processor 22 randomly selects ten cards from a single deck as discussed above, and generates a random number having a value between 0 and 1 for the bonus round as discussed below in conjunction with FIG. 5. The processor 22 then deals the first five of the ten selected cards to generate the initial hand 34, and maintains the remaining five cards in reserve for the player to draw from.
 Referring to FIG. 4, the player (not shown) decides which cards to hold and which to discard, and presumably will attempt a four of a kind so that the processor 22 will cause the machine 10 (FIG. 1) to enter a bonus round of play. More specifically, because the initial hand 34 (FIG. 3) has three "4's" and the player presumably wants to enter the bonus round, he uses the input device 14 (FIG. 1) to discard the jack and the queen in the respective card positions 36a and 36d. Alternatively, the player uses the input device 14 to hold the "4's" in the positions 36b, 36c, and 36c. The processor 22 may suggest via the screen 12 which cards the player should hold and which he should discard, although the player is free to hold whichever cards he wishes.  Still referring to FIG. 4, once the player (not shown) selects which cards to hold and which to discard, the processor 22 causes the screen 12 to display "held" atop the held cards, and generates a resulting hand 38 by drawing replacements for the discarded cards, in order, from the five-card reserve.  Because in this example one of the drawn cards (position 36d) is the four of spades, the resulting hand 38 is four of a kind (here four "4's"), which is both a winning hand and the bonus hand. Consequently, the processor 22 may cause the screen 12 to display a winning-hand banner 40 and an entering-bonus-screen banner 42 or a similar display to indicate entry into the bonus round.  Referring to FIG. 5, because the resulting hand 38 (FIG. 4) is the bonus hand, the processor 22 (FIG. 1) enters the bonus round and causes the screen 72 to display a bonus wheel 50 and optional banners 52 and 54. The wheel 50 includes wedge-shaped segments 56 that each have a bonus prize written therein. In one embodiment, the wheel 50 has eight segments 56a - 56h, which respectively indicate the following bonus prizes: "125", "250", "400", "800", "1600", "3200", "6400" (the numbers indicate respective numbers of bonus credits), and "Jackpot". Because the lowest bonus prize is 125 credits, the player will win at least the same amount he would have won under the payout schedule of Table I. Alternatively, the wheel 50 may have more or fewer than eight segments that indicate different bonus prizes. Also, multiple segments 56 may indicate the same bonus prize, and some segments may indicate no bonus prize at all.
 After the processor 22 (FIG. 1) enters the bonus round, it "spins" the wheel 50, and the player (not shown) wins the bonus prize identified by the segment 56 pointed to by a pointer 58 when the wheel stops. The processor 22 (FIG. 1) may spin the wheel 50 spontaneously or in response to player input via the input device 14, and in either case may cause the screen 12 to display a human or other character (not shown) who spins the wheel. The processor 22 stops the wheel 50 in a position that is predetermined by the random number generated as discussed above in conjunction with FIG.3, and is programmed such that the bonus prizes on the wheel 50 respective have desired winning odds.  Still referring to FIG. 5, the processor 22 causes the machine 10 (FIG. 1) to credit the won bonus prize to the player (not shown) by increasing the number 30 (FIG. 4) of available credits, expelling coins/tokens, by signaling an attendant, or in any other manner. Although the bonus prize is discussed as being in lieu of the standard (i.e., non-bonus) payout for four of a kind, the bonus prize may be in addition to the standard payout. For example, the machine 10 may payout 125 credits for four of a kind, and the bonus wheel 50 may have 0 credits as its lowest prize. Furthermore, the jackpot may be a stand-alone progressive jackpot or a linked progressive jackpot. The amount of a stand-alone progressive jackpot is typically related to the funds collected by the machine 10 (FIG. 1 ), whereas the amount of a linked progressive jackpot is typically related to the funds collected by a number of linked machines. Because machines in different locations can be linked electronically, a linked progressive jackpot is typically much larger than a stand-alone progressive jackpot. For example, the former may grow to be in the millions of dollars, whereas the latter may grow to be in the hundreds of dollars. Consequently, although it typically has much lower odds, a linked progressive jackpot is typically more appealing to a player than a stand-alone progressive jackpot, and, therefore, may increase the take and profit of the machine more than a stand-alone jackpot.
 Still referring to FIG. 5, the bonus round often increases the profit of the machine 10 by increasing the take of the machine. As discussed above, the hold percentage of a poker machine is predetermined, and, for the payout schedule of Table I, is approximately 4%. With the addition of the bonus round, however, the hold percentage will be lower; how much lower depends on the odds of winning the bonus prizes greater than 125 credits (the conventional payout for four of a kind). However, the increase in player appeal due to the bonus round increases the take such that the machine's profit is increased despite this decrease in the hold percentage. And because the payout schedule need not be altered, this increase in profit is transparent to the player (not shown). Furthermore, selecting four of a kind as the bonus hand helps maximize the player appeal. Specifically, the odds for a four-of-a-kind hand are one for approximately every 423 hands. These odds are high enough so that the lure of a bonus prize, and possibly a jackpot, will entice players to attempt four of a kind, but are not so high that the game becomes boring by entering the bonus round too frequently.
Referring to FIGS. 1 - 5, alternative embodiments of the video poker machine 10 are contemplated. For example, the machine 10 may enter the bonus round in response to a winning hand other than four of a kind, or may enter the bonus round in response to more than one winning hand. Furthermore, the machine 10 may enter the bonus round randomly regardless of whether a player achieves a winning or bonus hand, and this random entry may be in addition to entry for a bonus hand. For example, the machine 10 may enter the bonus round once every 10,000 hands (all hands or only hands where the maximum number of credits are wagered) on average in addition to entering the bonus round for a bonus hand. The machine 10 may implement such a random bonus round by generating two random numbers, one for entry in to the random bonus round and the other for random selection of the bonus prize. Moreover, the bonus round may include a bonus indicator other than the bonus wheel 50. In addition, the bonus round may be included on video poker machines that deal more or fewer than five cards or with other poker games such as table (non- machine) poker. In addition, the machine 10 may enter the bonus round when fewer than the maximum number of credits are wagered, and the bonus prizes may vary depending on the number of credits wagered.
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