The Greatest Gambling Game Guide to Keno

Keno: A High Level Overview

Keno is a casino game similar to a lottery game. In keno, players place wagers by selecting numbers from one to 80. After all players have made their wagers, twenty numbers (in most variants) are drawn at random. This is performed with either a ball rolling machine like what is found in bingo, or with a random number generator when playing online.

Every casino will set their own series of payouts. These payouts are typically referred to as “pay tables”. The players are paid based upon how many of the numbers were chosen, how many numbers of those chosen were matches, and what the wager is. More detailed information about this process is drilled down into below.

There are a massive variety of pay tables for keno, dependent on the casino. Typically, keno has a larger house edge than other table games offered by a casino. This is the case for both land-based and online casino offerings. House edges in keno range from under four percent to over 35 percent, while the average house edge for non-slot casino table games (blackjack, craps, roulette, etc) is under five percent.

History of Keno

The origin of the word “keno” has its roots in Latin or French. In French, “quine” means five winning numbers. In Latin, “quini” means five each. Surprisingly, though, by all historical accounts, the game has its originations in China. Legends say that the creation of the game saved an ancient Chinese city on the brink of war. Additionally, it is said that the profits raised from the persistent gameplay assisted in the development of the Great Wall of China.

The Chinese lottery has no formal documentation before the mid 1800’s, when the Macao government decided to grant licensure to operators of the lottery. According to some sources, the results of these massive keno games were delivered to smaller villages by carrier pigeon. At this point, the game was called either “boc hop pu” or “puck-apu”.

Chinese played keno via sheets printed with the first 80 characters of the thousand-character Chinese alphabet. From these Chinese characters, the winning combinations of values were selected. In time, immigrants from China introduced keno to the United States after assisting in the building of the First Transcontinental Railroad in the 1800’s. By the mid-to-late 1800’s, keno had already taken ahold of larger cities, and in Houston, Texas, its current name was developed.

How to Play Keno

There are two versions of keno that can be found at most real-world brick and mortar casinos: live keno and video keno. In live keno, players utilize paper and markers to indicate positioning (similar to modern day bingo). After all players involved have made their spots known, numbers are drawn every few minutes from a spherical hopper filled with numbered balls, again just like bingo.

In video keno, the players utilize a touch screen to select their combinations of numbers. After all numbers are selected, a machine draws numbers using a random number generator. This is a similar process to how keno numbers are drawn in online version of the game.

Keno itself is very static regardless of whether players play live, video touchscreen, or online.

Keno Basic Rules

The standard game of keno is played on a board with 80 numbers. The main objective of keno is to select numbers that the player believes will be picked during the drawing portion of a round. Again, very much like playing bingo, but instead of placing numbers as an “answer”, players are placing numbers as a “question”.

Most online casinos and most land-based casinos allow players to select up to fifteen numbers. This selection criteria varies though, with some casinos allowing only ten to twelve, and others allowing as many as 20 numbers to be selected. It is all dependent on the casino software or rulemaking, but typically the maximum allowable selected numbers are 20.

The amount of numbers a player selects determines the number of hits needed to obtain a payout, as well as the full amount of the payout itself. These rules are constructed as such:

  • The smaller the number of numbers selected, the fewer hits are needed to receive a payout, and the more each hit is worth. However, fewer numbers means less money can be won overall.
  • The greater the number of numbers selected, the more hits are required to receive a payout, and the less each hit is worth. However, more numbers typically mean more money can be won overall.

Here is a real-world example from a popular online casino to explain this concept in greater detail:

  • Select a single number. If this is done, only one hit is needed, and the hit pays three credits.
  • Select two numbers. If this is performed by the player, two hits are needed, and the hits pay 15 credits.
  • Selecting three numbers from the player means two hits pay two credits, and three hits pay 45 credits.
  • Selecting four numbers from the player means that two hits pays one credit, three hits pays five, and four pays 155.

Keno number selection works on somewhat of a sliding scale. The more numbers a player selects, the more hits that player needs at a minimum to be paid at all. The more numbers a player selects, the less each hit is worth in value. More spots need to be covered for larger payoffs. The more numbers a player selects, the more covering all the player’s chosen numbers are worth. Some sites allow incredible payoffs when a good percentage of the selected numbers are hit.

Players can choose their numbers, or many touch screen and online casinos have quick pick options where the casino randomly selects ten numbers for you. The most numbers that we have noticed being randomly auto-picked for players is ten.

After the numbers have been selected by the player, they will also need to select how much they would like to bet on each round. The options range quite a bit, and generally are between a penny and twenty dollars. This works in a similar fashion to slots, where players select how much they would like to wager per line.

At this point, it is time for the player to draw numbers. There are usually options to either play one, play five, or play ten numbers. These represent the drawing rounds, and each round requires a separate bet. So, for example, if a player bets one dollar, they will bet one dollar and will sit through a single drawing round. If that player selects to play ten, they will wager ten dollars and sit through ten rounds of drawing.

Each round of drawing is independent from the others. If a player failed to obtain enough hits on their selected numbers for a payout in the first round, the hits received in forthcoming rounds would not change things. Most casinos, both land-based and online, hand scoreboards that track which numbers have been hit. Online, hits and payouts for each round are tracked accurately.

After drawings are done, players are paid what they are owed, boards are cleared, and the process starts over again.

Keno Variants and Keno Side Bets

There are a ridiculous number of “variations” of keno. Each state and each casino and each software company have their own versions of keno that they utilize. Some of the most popular examples of keno variants are: Zero-Spot Bonus, Kansas Lottery, Michigan Lottery, Instant Keno, and Fuzzball Keno. Let’s take a quick look at what is different with each of these variants when compared to the basic keno playing style outlined above:

  • Zero-Spot Bonus: Some casinos will pay out $500 to $1,000 for a result of zero hits on a $5 wager. This is a very rare occurrence (the result), and should be rewarded.
  • Kansas Lottery-style Keno: Twenty numbers are drawn at random, once every four minutes. The games run consistently from 5:00 in the morning to 2:00 the following morning. The payout table for a ten-spot game would be as follows:
    Match Number Keno Prize Match Number Total with Bulls-Eye
    10 $100,000 10 $300,000
    9 $2,000 9 $12,000
    8 $250 8 $1,250
    7 $50 7 $150
    6 $10 6 $30
    5 $1 5 $6
    4 $2
    3 $2
    2 $2
    1 $6
    0 $5 0 $5
    • In Instant Keno Multiplier, tickets generally cost between twenty-five cents and twenty dollars. This is a very interesting variant, as players receive a few free spaces, like in bingo, where if hit can earn a multiplier based on whatever amount was already won during that game. What’s nice with this is that there is no need to spend extra to hit on these free spaces.
    • Fuzzball Keno is similar in nature to the above. Tickets cost ten cents to twenty dollars. Players can win even if they don’t hit enough numbers, though. For example, players receive some credit for missing all spots. However, nothing is gained from hitting only one to two spots. The next payout table is at three spots. This process, like other keno variants, has a sliding scale. The more numbers a player selects, the stronger the gap grows between payment for hitting nothing, and payment for hitting something.

Both the lottery-style keno games and variants listed above are played online most of the time. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the massive Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut offers a game called Keno Mega Ten. This is a national progressive-jackpot keno variant, with payouts reaching into the millions of dollars. Tickets cost $1.50 each, and it functions very similar to the lottery/bingo hybrid being discussed.

There are a ton of variations like the above in not only live casinos, but also online variants. Each casino might have separate variations of keno based on their unique offerings. An example of this is Drake Casino, which current offers four different types of keno variants:

  • Instant Keno, a standard keno game variant, but with three speeds from slow moving to rapid fire. Instant Keno does not have multiple-round options.
  • Club Keno, where if a player or group of players are drawn a star ball, they all get double the payout.
  • Crazy Keno, which is a 40-ball instant play keno variant similar to the above but on a larger scale.
  • Traditional Keno, which is exactly what you’d expect.

Keno Strategies: Do Any Exist?

Simply put, there is no way to beat Keno. There’s no method to gain a solid advantage, as every part of the keno process falls upon the random number generation to select the numbers and determine player hits. This being the case, there is not strategy that can be used in keno to gain an advantage over the house!

This is disadvantageous, as keno has one of the highest house edges in all casino games, both slot and table. The house edge ranges from four percent to a whopping 35 percent for some of the casino variants. This is all dependent on where the game is being played. However, most of the keno variants have house edges of over 20 percent.

In 2001, a survey was performed on all live keno options at Las Vegas casinos. The return values were returns between 65 percent and 80 percent, which is a house edge of 20 percent to 35 percent. These odds are positively horrid. When the same survey was repeated ten years later, the results were worse, with a house edge closing in on 50 percent! When the same survey was performed in San Diego, the returns were between five percent and 16 percent, which is better but still awful in comparison to almost all other game options.

The San Diego test was performed with video keno machines versus live keno, which is multiple times faster. Players will end up playing more rounds, which with those house odds will result in more money lost overall. A much better option for those liking the concept of keno would be video poker.

The odds of hitting big money in keno is almost on par with winning the actual lottery. For example, the probabilities of players hitting all twenty numbers on a twenty-spot ticket is about one in 3.5 quintillion. This is basically unattainable by anyone, ever. Here are the odds for all hits one to twenty:

Hits Odds
0 1 in 843.380 (0.11857057%)
1 1 in 86.446 (1.15678605%)
2 1 in 20.115 (4.97142576%)
3 1 in 8.009 (12.48637168%)
4 1 in 4.877 (20.50318987%)
5 1 in 4.287 (23.32807380%)
6 1 in 5.258 (19.01745147%)
7 1 in 8.826 (11.32954556%)
8 1 in 20.055 (4.98618021%)
9 1 in 61.420 (1.62814048%)
10 1 in 253.801 (0.39401000%)
11 1 in 1,423.822 (0.07023351%)
12 1 in 10,968.701 (0.00911685%)
13 1 in 118,084.920 (0.00084685%)
14 1 in 1,821,881.628 (0.00005489%)
15 1 in 41,751,453.986 (0.00000240%)
16 1 in 1,496,372,110.872 (0.00000007%)
17 1 in 90,624,035,964.712
18 1 in 10,512,388,171,906.553
19 1 in 2,946,096,785,176,811.500
20 1 in 3,535,316,142,212,173,800.000

As you can see, as the number of hits rises, the ability to hit on those numbers decreases drastically.

More on Random Number Generation

Random number generation is a computer software algorithm that selects various sets of numbers completely at random. These number sequences are translated by a machine, allowing the players to understand what results have happened. The random number generation process determines losses and wins. It can’t be influenced by tipping or the willingness to commit a crime. It is an automated process.

These random number generators are the controllers also of video poker machines, slot machines in live casinos, and online gaming such as roulette and blackjack. They are also used in digital versions of online casino games of chance, or card generation in games such as poker and blackjack when played through an online casino.

These sequences of random numbers are selected in splits of seconds. The random number generator run consistently in a video poker or a slot machine, regardless of whether the machine is being played or not. Each loss or win result is developed by this RNG system. Spinning of slot machine reels have no effect of what the outcome of an RNG is. This is the case for all casino games, including online roulette and online keno. The wonders of randomness, programmer style.

Randomness, Programmer Style

Random number generators have been programmed to be just that, random. But nothing can be perfectly randomized. Sometimes, the RNG is referred to as the pseudo-RNG. Simply put, playing online roulette through a digitized randomized number generator will result in the same non-pattern as a standard keno number selection. The difference comes in the player technically just playing a keno skin of a slot machine RNG.

Definitions of Commonly Found Keno Terms

  • Aggregated limits: The total amount of money that the casino is liable for paying out in a single keno round. If this limit is reached, players might need to accept reduced total winnings in the round. For games such as keno, where total payouts can become very high, aggregated limitations is a necessary feature for the casino to include to keep from losing too much money.
  • Balls: These are ping-pong style balls typically marked from one to eighty. These balls are drawn at random to determine the winners of a round of keno at a live casino. The balls in keno are the equivalent of dice in craps or the wheel in roulette.
  • Bankroll: A bankroll is the available sum of money that the player allocates to bet initially over the course of keno. The bankroll shrinks as players lose money, and grow as players gain and “reinvest” money.
  • Bet: The total amount of money wagered by a player in a single round of keno on one single ticket.
  • Caller: This is the employee at the live casino version of keno who calls out the winning numbers. Think back to the old “lottery girl” concept, and apply it to gambling inside casinos.
  • Closed: This is the time period right before the keno balls are drawn by the caller or through the random number generator. When the round of keno is in closed status, no new tickets can be written for new players.
  • Draw: the panel of twenty keno balls that are “drawn” in any given round. This displays the winning numbers.
  • Field: A solid collection of unmarked and circled spots on a keno game card.
  • Flashboard: The flashboard in digitized keno is a digital display showing which numbers make up the draw (panel of balls drawn in a round).
  • Goose: A slang term for the device used to mix up and draw the keno balls. Don’t be surprised as a player if you run into an incredibly large number of other keno players who are unfamiliar with this term.
  • Hit: The hit (mentioned many times above) is the winning number picked that is selected on a player’s keno card or ticket. This is achieved when a player’s spot matches the number of a round drawn by the caller.
  • House: This is a term for the casino, whether land-based or online.
  • House edge: The percentage of any given wager that the casino is statistically expected to retain over the long run when playing keno. A high house edge is bad for players but good for the casino. Conversely, a low house edge is good for players but bad for the casino. Keno has a house edge of approximately 30% on average, which makes it astronomically high compared to other table games and slots.
  • Mark: The mark appears on a keno ticket to show which numbers have been selected by the player. Often made with a black marker or crayon that is provided by the casino for that specific purpose.
  • Open: This is the opposite of closed, where at any point in time the casino is accepting additional keno wagers for the upcoming draw session.
  • Pay Table: The pay table is a diagram that explains how much a given
  • Punch-outs: a punch-out template is a template offered by the house/casino to players. A punch out matches an original Keno ticket, but all the numbers from the draw are punched out. This makes it significantly easier for players to quickly check for winning tickets. Just lay it over the original ticket and see which spots show through the holes.
  • Spot: This is a term for any numbers that the player has marked on a keno ticket.
  • Ticket: The piece of paper that players use to make their Keno wagers. It has a grid with eighty numbers (from one to eighty) and players can mark their spots and choose their bet size on this document. A copy should be given to the player after the wager is made.