The game of Keno is often compared to Bingo, since modern games are very similar, with numbered Ping-Pong balls used to produce the winner. While Bingo uses individually chosen boards with a selection of 25 numbers, Keno is played by pre-selecting numbers from a total of 80, 20 of which will be randomly chosen by the casino.

Also like Bingo, Keno’s history dates back at least several centuries to when it started as a form of lottery. Fanciful tales of the game’s origin in China say it saved cities during time of war, and helped fund the building of the Great Wall. Whether these accounts have any validity, it is known that Keno games were first played just once per week, or once per day, and a set of winning numbers were chosen at random. It is also possible that winning numbers were dispatched from larger cities to smaller cities via carrier pigeons. If that is the case, then the original Chinese name: 白鸽票 báigē piào, which means “White dove ticket,” does make sense.

The Portuguese Government of Macao licensed the game for operators in 1847, but players still chose a set of numbers in lottery style, as was the case when the game was introduced in the United States by Asian immigrants in the 1850’s. By the time the game became popular in mining camps of the Old West, operators had changed the game to include a maximum payoff of $500. As Keno’s popularity grew, higher limits and more games per day became standard.

Online keno is extremely popular thanks to the large jackpot prizes on offer

How Keno Works

Today, players can choose anywhere from a single number, to 40 numbers (top or bottom) on a single Keno card. Keno can be played at casinos around the world, and large jackpots as high as $250,000 can be won for choosing as few as 8 winning numbers (on progressive games). Each game, players mark a paper ticket with a crayon denoting their wager, and the numbers they think will be drawn. After all Keno tickets have been presented and paid for, the game starts and 20 numbers are drawn.

These numbers are chosen from a round Plexiglas sphere, and shown on Keno boards throughout the casino. At some casinos the Ping-Pong balls are gone, replaced by computers using a random number generator. This same computer system is used in Video Keno machines and at online casino sites. Because Keno is labor intensive in a casino, the payoffs are set to reflect a house edge of close to 30%. However, Keno machines and online casinos are able to offer a much lower house edge, so players get a bigger bang for their buck, and a chance to win big.

Choosing Numbers at Keno

Playing Keno can be quite simple: choose a few numbers, pay for your ticket, and wait to see if you win. However, because there are 80 numbers to choose from there are also thousands of ways to play, and every Keno player is different. Some decide on a specific amount they want to win, then pick the number of spots it takes to win that amount. Choosing a single number (a one-spot ticket) usually pays 2 to 1. If you choose three spots, you’ll get your money back when two of your numbers come up, and win $42 if all three numbers are drawn. Obviously, the higher the number of hits, the higher the pay off.

Want a higher pay off? Play (and hit) more numbers! Playing an eight-spot and hitting every number can pay as high as $10,000. You can even play every possible eight-spot in a single game by playing what is called a 190-way eight spot. You can often play single games for as little as $1, and play as little as 10-cents for each “way,” meaning a 190-way ticket could be played for just $19. Hitting a 10-cent eight-spot may pay $1,000, but it is conceivable that a very generous online casino will have a much higher payoff, perhaps even $2,000 for the same ticket as those found at a land-based casino!

Playing Online Keno

Once you have credits in your online account (make sure you know if you are playing “real” money or in “practice” or “free” mode) you can choose which games to play. Keno is no different than other games, although there are likely to be two types of Keno offered online: standard Keno, and Video Keno.

Standard Keno is offered at many online sites in the same style as land-based casinos. Players navigate to the Keno lounge, choose as many numbers as they wish, and pay for their ticket. Then, the Keno game starts and the numbers are recorded for all players on the website. If you want to play multiple tickets each game, you can, but you’ll have to wait until each game is called to mark your new tickets. This type of game will often have an aggregate payoff, meaning the website will pay a maximum amount for all players, perhaps $50,000 – regardless of how many winners there are (this is standard at other casinos also).

Video Keno is a style where you play a single machine, and no other players are involved. The maximum payoffs are listed for each ticket you play. And, instead of one game every few minutes, you can play many games of your own each minute! The payoffs on Video Keno are likely to be higher for small tickets (like 3-spot, 4-spot, etc.), but the maximum is likely to be lower for big tickets, like the illusive eight-spot or higher, so you’ll have to choose your game based on several criteria, including total payoffs and speed. Or, you can play both standard and video Keno games at the same time.

Ticket Examples:

Standard Keno Pay Table

Number of Selections Payout
1 number 2 to 1
3 numbers You can win with either two hits (you get your money back), or three hits (about 41-1)
6 numbers You can win with anywhere from 3 to 6 hits, up to (1500 to 1) for all six
10 numbers You can win with anywhere from 5 to 10 hits, up to (100,000 to 1) for all ten

Keep in mind that the payoffs are different at every casino, whether land-based or online. If you search around you’ll see that some offer a better deal. Always consider your signup bonus and your play bonus in addition to the total payoffs, one online site may be significantly better than another!