Learn to play the lightening lottery game keno using our extensive guide!
Keno is a thrilling alternative to the more relaxed pleasures of bingo. For casual gamblers looking for something to get the blood pumping, this rapid-fire numbers game from the United States could be just the ticket! Get your head around the rules with our expertly-written player guide.
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A game of keno runs on the same principles as bingo and lotteries in that players have to select a certain amount of numbers to play the game. The numbers are then drawn from a keno machine which is very much like the ball selectors commonly seen in UK bingo halls. In each game of keno there are 80 available balls, and 20 are called.
The difference between bingo (or lotteries) and keno is that players can choose how many numbers they wish to wager upon, from one to 20, although most keno games have a minimum of three. Once the draw has been completed, players give up their tickets in exchange for a prize as outlined by the casino’s paytable.
This game is very popular in US and Asian casinos. Players seldom stand around and watch the drawing of the balls, though. Instead, runners hunt around the casino offering ‘spot’ tickets for sale. These spots refer to the number of balls on the ticket that are chosen, so a ‘three spot’ ticket has three numbers. The players do not choose the numbers themselves if they go for this selection method.
Alternatively, players can pick up keno cards. These are cards with 80 numbered spaces printed on them. The player marks off as many numbers as they wish to select, up to the maximum of 20 (or 10 at some casinos) and then hands the card in at the keno booth or to a runner. They will receive a printed ticket in return stating that they are in on the draw, and with a list of their numbers.
A keno ticket usually costs the same, no matter how many numbers are selected. A player can also opt to play a number of consecutive keno draws using the same numbers.
The draw is then made and the numbers announced. Usually, the winning numbers are displayed on boards all round the casino, so a player can check their ‘lucky’ numbers as they are enjoying a few hands of blackjack.
Payouts depend upon how many numbers you hit, and how many numbers you originally selected. For example if you selected five numbers and all five come up, your payout is likely to be around 250-1. If, however, you’d selected 10 numbers, and only three hit, your payout will be 2-1.
The history of keno
Keno has a very interesting back story, although its veracity is somewhat debatable.
The game is alleged to have been developed around 200 BC in China. Emperor Cheung Leung needed funds for his latest conquest and decided to offer a lottery to his people as a means of raising revenue. This lottery became known as ‘White Pigeon’ as such birds were despatched throughout China in order to convey the lottery results to local villages.
This spurious tale has been expanded to include the notion that lotteries were used to help fund the building of the Great Wall of China. While it seems certain that lotteries or lottery-type games were played in ancient China, the link to modern-day versions of keno is hugely debatable.
All the same, keno has long been popular in China and migrated to the USA when scores of workers emigrated to the US to work on railroad construction in the 1800s. It has remained popular in the US and across most of Asia ever since.
Unfortunately, the cute origin story does not explain the name ‘keno’ which is not of Chinese origin. Etymologists surmise that ‘keno’ comes from the French term ‘quine’ which means ‘five winning lottery numbers’. It also strengthens the idea that keno is based on lotteries that were played in France and Italy in the 1880s.
Keno in popular culture
Films and TV Shows with keno as their theme are few and far between. However, if you watch Nevada-set dramas such as Vegas Vacation and Stealing Las Vegas you’ll find passing mentions of keno.
More overt references can be found in ‘Lucy Gets Lucky’, an episode of the hugely popular US sitcom I Love Lucy in which Lucille Ball visits Sin City, plays keno, and encounters Dean Martin, the Rat Pack legend who helped save Vegas in the ’60s.
A keno bar also provides the setting for a key scene in Hard Eight, the debut film of the acclaimed Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia There Will Be Blood). For it’s while playing keno that Philip Baker Hall’s old time gambler Sydney encounters Jimmy Gator, a slick villian played with his usual panache by Samuel L Jackson.
Statistics – the numbers behind the numbers game
In terms of statistics, it’s interesting that, although the maximum amount of numbers you can match in a game of keno is 20, there has never been a report of any player ever, anywhere, matching all 20 numbers. That’s not surprising as the odds of successfully landing 20 numbers out of 20 are 3,535,316,142,212,173,800 to 1.
To put that into perspective, if every person currently alive on the planet had played one game of keno every single second of their lives from the moment they were born, one single person would have matched all twenty numbers drawn in a game of keno … once.
In addition, if all possible keno tickets were lain end-to-end and used as a bridge, this bridge would comfortably span the width of our galaxy.
Keno at online casinos
Keno is typically offered at online casinos in one of two forms. The first, most popular type of keno game is as a online slots type game. The second, less popular type is in the form of a table game.
If you play the slots-type version, it’s simply a case of paying your stake, selecting how many numbers you want to choose, picking them, and then telling the game to go ahead with the draw. You will know how much you stand to win by the paytable that’s displayed and updated as you select your numbers.
There are a sizeable number of different keno-type games available from multiple providers. Most are very basic, but a few have a few extra features to make the game more entertaining.
A handful of games could be considered to be more authentic representations of casino-style keno, but these games are neither common, nor popular.
No ‘live dealer’ casinos feature keno.
Some providers offer a version for keno for mobile devices. It’s a very easy to game to port to mobile platforms, although most mobile versions of keno are very basic representations of the game.