***Updated: November 20th, 2020***
Modern Keno first arrived in ancient China over 1,000 years ago. Its origins are unknown but many interesting theories have been put forward, with one claiming proceeds funded the Han Dynasty War, while another has them paying for the Great Wall. No one will ever know if these rumors are true, although it sure is fun to believe them.
Clearly, there was no “single brilliant inventive mind” behind what is essentially pulling numbers out of a hat. Plenty of lottery games have existed for centuries, but this has constantly been one of the most beloved enjoyed around the world. In the 1800s, the lottery was licensed in China using 120 characters, however, when Chinese immigrant workers brought it to the U.S. west coast it was reduced to 80. Elaborate Chinese designs were immediately replaced by numbers so Americans could quickly evaluate results.
While Nevada’s legalization of gambling occurred in the 1930s, lotteries were not approved. Operators who wanted to offer the familiar Chinese Lottery game to California customers opted to call it Racehorse Keno, arguing to regulators the numbers were akin to those on racing saddlecloths. They maintained they were simply staging
fictional horse races and nothing more. Such a ridiculous story couldn’t have fooled anyone but authorities ended up looking the other way regardless. Eventually, legalization arrived and the whimsical name was shortened to Keno, although the tradition of using the term “races” has endured.
Nevada officials still weren’t completely comfortable with the idea of lotteries, so in 1963 a cap of $25,000 was placed on Keno jackpots. However, in 1979 the maximum was bumped up to $50,000 and finally in 1989, big money government-run lotteries swept across the United States and limits were removed entirely, allowing it to flourish to new heights.
A standard Keno card consists of numbers running from 1 to 80 in eight rows of ten, with players able to make anywhere between 1 to 20 selections. If at a brick and mortar establishment, this is done with the most low-tech method remaining in society: a crayon and a slip of paper. A video screen may also be used and participants have the option of obtaining a random assortment, if desired.
Draws are then held, usually on a pre-determined schedule, like a horse track post time. Live draws bring results from a container of balls, falling one at a time, while a video version uses randomly generated numbers to decide winning combinations. Twenty are chosen and each matching a customer’s selection is referred to as a catch, with final totals determining payout amounts.
Here is a video tutorial on how to play Keno from Michigan Lottery explaining the process of selecting numbers and details of action unfolding.
Those entertaining dreams of nailing 20 out of 20 and earning a life-changing sum of money might not want to know the actual math behind that happening. True odds of matching all 20 drawn is said to be 1 in 3.5 quintillion, which in ordinal form looks like 1 in 3,535,316,142,212,173,800. Good luck!
Action is always identical but a few slight variations can be found depending on destination. For example, some places require at least two numbers to be drawn, while others limit the maximum amount of choices. Typically, most Keno races are run with 1 to 15 selections in an attempt to protect the House from paying the huge jackpots that 18 or more out of 20 would necessitate.
Each has its own unique paytable but the obvious common denominator is they are extremely operator-friendly. The House edge is generally around 25%, so the simplest game on the floor is also one of the worst bets.
How To Play
There is absolutely no strategy whatsoever to playing because every ball carries a true 1 in 80 chance of being drawn. The only advantage participants have is to find the best paytable, which will of course still be heavily tilted towards the hosts. The terrible odds are why many simply use it as a way to get a little action in while taking a break from more mentally-demanding attractions.