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Keno or Yes?
 
by Frank Scoblete

Many casino games can be traced to antiquity; still others are associated with specific historical moments in time and place. Today’s casino game of Keno is one such, with its roots in Chinese prehistory and history, as well as having a specific historical significance for Americans. In China, a game very similar to Keno has been played for several thousand years—by emperors, warlords, merchants and peasants—even communists have been known to try to make some capital from picking “the numbers” although such activities are frowned upon by the party bosses (known in Chinese as party poopers). The name of the Chinese game was/is Kino.

In the 1800’s, when the American west was being conquered and then connected to civilization, and the railroads were being built, cheap labor was imported from China, and with it was also imported the game of Kino. It was so popular with the Chinese laborers that soon enterprising Americans, seeing the incredible profits that could accrue from winning said laborers hard-earned pay, took over the game, changed its name to Keno, and set up “Keno parlors” throughout the west. Keno was known as the “Chinese Lottery,” and like any lottery it was a boon to its owners and a bane to its players. At one time just about every town in the west had its Keno parlor.

Still, for those of you who enjoy playing lotteries, or local charity chance books, or if numbers are your thing, the casino game of Keno might hold some interest for you. It is indeed the equivalent of a lottery but much faster! You don’t have to wait a few days for the results, just a few minutes. Of course, like the lottery, Keno comes in with very high edges for the house—25 percent, more or less, depending on the casino where the game is being played and the type of wagers being pursued.

The players’ tickets are numbered one through eighty. You can choose to play between one and twenty numbers on a given ticket. The numbers to be played are “X’ed” out in crayon (back to childhood we go!). To win a multi-number bet, you often don’t have to select all the numbers, just some of them. Here are some of the most popular betting options at Keno:

Types of Bets at Keno
• Straight Ticket: A player can mark one, two, or more numbers on a ticket.
• Split Ticket: Player can bet on two or more groups of numbers on a single ticket by circling the groups to be played.
• Way Ticket: Combining several groups of numbers on the same ticket.
• Combination Ticket: The player selects two or more groups of numbers and indicates how the groups are to be combined to form many tickets within one ticket.
• King Ticket: One number is selected to be used with all the other groups that have been indicated.
• Multi Race Ticket: This is a ticket that indicates that it will be played for two or more sessions in a row.

Sometimes I receive mailings from individuals who are selling systems to beat Keno. They claim that they have found patterns to the numbers that can be exploited by their “super-seven Keno buster” or their “Keno pyramid” method or their “ping-pong power play.” The costs of these systems are—to say the least—exorbitant. The claims of the systems are—to be frank—bogus. Is there a magical system for beating Keno? Sorry, no. The system sellers are scamming us. The Keno numbers are selected randomly, either by air-driven ping-pong balls (just like many state lotteries) or by computer. The fact that some numbers may have hit several times and other numbers may not have shown their faces for quite awhile is no indication that a number will continue to hit or is due to hit. Picking numbers is sheer guesswork.

So why play Keno? First, it offers a relaxing atmosphere. Keno lounges are usually pleasantly appointed places, with comfortable chairs. You can drink a cup of coffee, pick your numbers in a leisurely fashion, and not worry about other players telling you what to do or what not to do. Played properly for small stakes, Keno, even with its abominably high house edges, will not drain your gambling bankroll any time soon as it is the snail of casino games.

And like anything in life, there is a better or a worse way to approach a Keno game. Walter Thomason, in his excellent book 109 Ways to Beat the Casinos (Bonus Books, $13.95), gives some great advice when it comes to Keno. “Don’t select more than eight numbers on a straight ticket. The odds of hitting all eight are 230,000 to 1—but the odds of hitting all nine out of nine numbers are 1.3 million to 1! Bet way tickets rather than straight tickets. The odds are the same, but you’ll hit more payoffs.”

The 5-Step Keno Strategy
1. Play the minimum amount allowed, which is usually a dollar or two, as the house edge is very big at Keno—25 percent more or less. Luckily the game is slow, maybe one game per 6–10 minutes.
2. If you are betting on several numbers, always have them in some kind of small or large sequence as you’ll note how often numbers run in sequence (but the game is still random!). This can be done on “way” tickets as well.
3. Use Keno as a break from more adrenaline producing games when you want to stay in the action but you need a little rest from betting serious money.
4. Video Keno, while much faster than regular Keno, has much better paybacks—more like your typical slot machine. However, you can play video Keno so fast that the speed makes up for the decrease in the house edge. My advice is to stick with the slow game and relax, have a cup of coffee or read a paper between games.
5. Avoid betting the multi-race ticket. Don’t get caught up in Keno mania, the desire to hit your “lucky” numbers. Some people obsess that if they play the same numbers over and over, sooner or later these numbers will hit. They then fear not to play lest their numbers hit when they aren’t on them. To forestall Keno mania, don’t play the same combination of numbers all the time. Mix them up and try, do try, not to remember which numbers you played in previous games. Bet one game at a time only!

This story was first published in the Winter 2002-2003 issue of Gambling Times Magazine.

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