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11 July 2015
By John Marchel
Keno is considered to be one of the oldest of all gambling games. Its history can be traced back almost 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty of China.
The original game required you to pick 10 Chinese characters out of a total of 120. Chinese laborers who came to the United States in the mid-1800s to build the railroads brought along the game, which was called Chinese lottery.
It thrived in many towns of the West but was very difficult for Americans to understand and play it. In 1936, Reno, Nevada Palace Club pit boss, Francis Lyden, revised Chinese lottery by introducing Arabic numbers, reducing the total numbers to 80, and adding racehorse names to the numbers to make it “legal” in Nevada.
At that time lottery games were illegal in the state but horse racing was legal. Lyden called it “racehorse keno.” In 1951 the United States Congress passed a law taxing off-track betting on horse races. Since the game’s original name, “racehorse keno,” might be construed as off-track betting, the name was shortened, and from that time on the game has simply been known as keno.
Because the house retains such a high percentage (starting at 27 percent), keno is sometimes regarded as a bad bet. However, the game is designed for entertainment and offers very high payoffs for a small wager. Some players will sit in the keno lounge and watch the numbers light up on the keno board, but many players like to play keno while they are dining.
The game itself is slow, about five or six games an hour, which is a very leisurely pace compared to other games found in the casino. There is a little bit of playing strategy. However, it is a game of chance. Numbers come and go; sometimes numbers repeat themselves for no good reason. Other times specific numbers will not show up for long periods of time. The best advise of all is not to “fall in love” with any specific number. Each casino, each day, and each session should be treated as a new and separate event from your last one.
Lots of people still pick their favorite single number or two numbers representing birthdays. These are not good selections. A one-spot win pays 3 to 1, but the real odds are 4 to 1. The same is true for a 2 spot.
Casinos will pay you 12 to 1 on a 2-spot win, which might sound good, but the true odds in this case are 16 to 1. When it comes to the 3 spot things start to look better. If you should hit two of the three numbers, you get your money back. Hitting all three will win you 42 to 1, and in some places even a little more.
A straight 3-spot ticket can be profitable. For example, using a bankroll of $60, you bet $3 on a 3-spot ticket for a total of 20 games. Hitting a few 2-spot wins gets you some funds back, but hitting just one 3-spot in any one of the 20 games gets you $126 to $132 back, which doubles your initial investment. It will take from three and a half to four hours to get through 20 games, which can be a leisurely and fun afternoon of gaming.
All and all, keno is fun to play, the slowest game in the game and for the amount wagered, it offers some big payoffs. But, like many other games in the casino, don’t give up your day job to become a keno pro.
BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW
• It was Bill Harrah’s casino in Reno, Nevada in the late 1940s where the first keno “runners” were employed.
• In 1989, the rules on maximum awards allowed for keno in Nevada changed so that there were no monetary maximum limits to the jackpots. Today there are games offering jackpots of one million dollars.
• The term “keno” comes from a French word, “quine” (pronounced “keen”), meaning “five winning numbers.”
• Before most Nevada casino keno games became computerized, customers would take their tickets to a keno writer, who would prepare the ticket for the game by use of a brush and ink to mark the ticket. Some computerized tickets of today still show the simulated brush stroke of the original keno writers.
• Each winning keno ticket must be turned in before the next game begins or the ticket becomes invalid.
• The odds of hitting 15 out of 15 numbers at keno are 428,010,179,098 to 1. That is the reason no one has hit 15 numbers anywhere in the world since the game was invented in 1936.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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