A Few Words about Keno

For those who have never played the lottery or any games of chance, Keno can seem like something of a mystery, but really it is not that hard to understand. Quite often, those who are new to the world of chance see Keno as just another form of the lottery or a variation of bingo. But Keno is neither of those and yet, both of them. Pretty mystical right?

What Keno is, for all intents and purposes, is a lottery-like game of chance in which numbers are selected in a numbered ball tumbler similar to what is seen in bingo halls and that it is quite often available at most modern casinos. Such is its popularity that most government lottery authorities offer it up as a legal game of chance within their jurisdiction.

The history of Keno is actually a long and slightly convoluted one. For starters, the word “keno” has roots either in the French or in the Latin depending on which expert you speak to. In French the word appears to be derived from the word “quine” which translates as “five winning numbers” whereas in the Latin it seems to come from the root “quini” which means “five each”. But most experts agree that the game originated in China. There is actually a legend that states that the game’s invention saved a city in ancient China from war. And another legend says that its popularity helped to pay for the Great Wall of China.

There is no official documentation of a Chinese lottery before 1847 which is when in Macao, the Portuguese government made the decision to grant licenses to lottery operators. And there are stories that the results of Keno games would be sent out to the rural villages via carrier pigeons. This apparently led to the naming of the game by the Chinese name for “white dove ticket” (rendered into English as báigē piào).

Back then the Chinese played the game with paper printed with Chinese characters from the Thousand Character Classic. These were usually the first 80 odd characters and from those the winning character would be chosen. After a period of time, the great Chinese immigration to the United States occurred so as to get work building the Transcontinental Railroad in the latter half of the 1800s. It was then that the Chinese immigrants introduced the game to the white Americans and name was westernized into puck-apu. And became known as the game of “Keno” in Houston Texas in 1866.

Today, the modern lottery versions of the game are used in many federal government run lotteries or in state government run lotteries almost everywhere around the world. The Keno games have variously altered formulas that are dependent on the desired pricing structure and also whether the game is to be a daily or a weekly game. Or even games with only minutes between the draws. Most typically the drawn numbers are broadcast on TV for the daily & weekly games, but for the faster minute to minute games they’ll be displayed on monitors at the point of sale.

Though there has been some debate on the subject, most experts with knowledge of probability state that the video keno machines quite often gives the customer a greater edge as opposed to the traditional keno game. Though, because live game payouts are able to be setup on the fly by the hosting casino, some of the live keno pay-tables have percentages that match or are set lower than those for the video machines which typically are fixed unchangeable pay-tables.

In a live casino, keno game they typically use a circular glass bubble that contains 80 balls which determine the number draw result. Each of the balls are printed with a number from one to eighty. Then, to ensure randomness during the draw, a blower fires air into the bubble which mixes up the balls. A casino representative known as the caller then yanks on a lever which opens up a tube. The balls then rise up one at a time into the rabbit ears which is a “V” shaped tube. Then the caller and a person known as a verifier record the numbers on each of 20 balls that are drawn. After that a special computer program for the game calculates all bets based on the numbers that were drawn.

Depending on the financial success of the casino there are actually a few ways that they mix up the balls and select them. The rabbit ear blower device, a random number generator (a digital number selection program), a blower system with balls that are encoded with bar codes or chips that are read by a computer program and lastly there is the bargain basement hand cranked cage that is familiar to anyone who has gone to a small bingo operation.

In the real world casino version of the game players make their bets by making a mark over the number choices on the keno ticket form from the selection of 80 number boxes that go from 1 to 80. After everyone has placed their wagers, the casino’s caller then triggers the machine and draws 20 numbered balls from it at random. It should be noted that some casinos just call the balls at preset times leaving it up to the players to have their bets in by those draw times.

Every casino sets its own pay scales for wins and they are called the “pay-tables” and the player gets their winning money based on the numbers drawn that match the numbers they’ve selected on their ticket and relative to the pay-table with regard to the wagered amount. People will find a wide range pay-tables that differ from casino to casino and the deviation of the house edge that’s set for those pay-tables. Also, each casino usually has a multitude of unique pay-tables not to mention various specialty bets for their clients to select from. And the house edge will be different at them all. No two are alike. You can actually find as many as 20 or 30 unique pay-tables to choose from with house edge ranging from below 4% to over 35%, but typically it’s between 0% and 5%.

A Keno runner, who are on the floor will carry a player’s bet ticket to the booth for authenticating and return with the official wager receipt. It is up to the player to check the details on the ticket for mistakes before the next draw. Any errors not caught are the players fault and the receipt governs any disputes. Everyone then watches the draw in unfold as the number selections light up on a board or a monitor. Then, if you have a winner it’s up to you to get to the booth and collect your winnings.


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