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Keno - How to Play


Photo Courtesy of (Angel Fire Press)

Old Mapes Casino Keno Ticket

Photo Courtesy of (Angel Fire Press)

Learning how to play keno takes only a few minutes. The game is easy to play and can be a lot of fun during meals because many casinos offer Keno runners who pick up Keno tickets from players in restaurants and take them back to the Keno counter and process them for the next game. There is no charge for this service although tipping is allowed if you wish. Don't be afraid to learn another casino game like Keno!

Keno is most often played with a plastic and metal cage filled with 80 ping pong balls. Each ball is numbered from 1 to 80. Many casinos still offer single games that can be played for as little as $1. Players mark a ticket with a keno crayon and choose as many single numbers as they wish. You must present your completed ticket before the start of the next game. After the game starts, 20 numbers will be chosen. You may choose just a single number, or many numbers. Payoffs depend on the number of correct numbers chosen and the amount wagered.

Keno was first introduced to Nevada Casinos in the 1930's. Based on a Chinese lottery, the game was played in mining and railroad camps with two drawings per day. The Palace Club in Reno Nevada lobbied the state legislature to allow the game and then sped-up the process of attracting action and paying winners so there could be continuous games all day. Played for just a nickel or a dime per game and offering up to a $500 prize, the game caught on as an exciting and inexpensive form of entertainment. The Bank Club followed soon after with its own Keno game.

Because the early games took several employees to run, the clubs devised a payoff schedule that paid out approximately 72 percent, 28 percent being held for expenses and profit. Although costs have fallen slightly, casinos still offer very similar odds. Top prizes have risen to the point that even small clubs offer a maximum payoff of $50,000 or higher. Progressive games offer even higher payoffs.

Because the house retains such a high percentage, Keno is sometimes regarded as a bad bet. However, the game is designed for entertainment and offers very high payoffs for a small wager. The small cost of playing can be a nice excursion from blackjack or craps. Some players 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.

You can get a booklet explaining ways to play, minimum wagers and maximum payoffs at the Keno counter or right at your table in the casino restaurant if they offer keno service. Keno personnel will be happy to show you how to mark your card and answer questions. Some casinos have more than one game and signify them with colors, such as the "red" game and the "green" game.

To Play Keno
  1. Mark your favorite numbers on a blank Keno ticket with an "X" using a Keno crayon
  2. Mark the total numbers selected and the amount of your wager in the right margin of your ticket
  3. Hand your ticket to the Keno runner or Keno clerk at the Keno desk. They will return a copy of your ticket to you - make sure it is correct
  4. Watch the Keno game on the display board and make sure you present your wining ticket to one of the Keno employees before the start of the next game. If you have chosen to play multiple games you may wait until the end of your last game. Tickets presented too late are void
Sample payoffs

You are said to have a solid hit when all your numbers come up. If you choose 8 numbers, you win if you hit 5, 6, 7 or 8 numbers. However, the highest payoffs are for solid hits.

Sample Payoffs on a $1 Ticket
  • Pick and hit 1: $3
  • Pick and hit 2: $12
  • Pick and hit 3: $42
  • Pick and hit 4: $115
  • Pick and hit 5: $820
  • Pick and hit 6: $1480

You may choose up to 20 numbers at most Keno games. You may also play different "ways" on a single ticket. For instance, you might choose three numbers and circle them, and also choose four different numbers and circle them. Your ticket may now include a bet for a three-spot and a bet for a four-spot. You can also include all the numbers and play a separate seven-spot. When playing "way" tickets, most casinos offer an even lower amount you can bet per "way."

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