The History of Keno

Keno is a casino game that has steadily gained in popularity over the years. Keno is sometimes confused with bingo. While there are similarities, keno is slightly more advanced. In a traditional keno game, there are 80 ping pong-like balls that are numbered 1 through 80. Keno is even offered as a game in some state lotteries.

The origins and history of the game date back to China.

Keno originated in China

By most accounts, the earliest game that featured elements of keno was introduced nearly 3000 years ago. Cheung Leung, a ruler of the Han Dynasty, developed a game to help raise state revenues. He based the game on a popular poem of the day, “The Thousand Character Classic.” Even today, the poem is used as a tool to help children learn how to count. The poem consists of one thousand unique Chinese symbols. It is broken down into 250 phrases with four characters each. Leung’s game featured 120 of the phrases subdivided into eight characters to each subdivision. Any player that could correctly predict a subdivision would win the game. Eventually, funds from the game were used to help build the Great Wall of China.

Chinese brought the game to the West

Chinese immigrants were responsible for bringing the game to America in the late 19th century. The immigrants sailed across the Pacific to aid in the construction of the trans-continental railroad in the United States. By this time, the Chinese Keno game had been reduced to 90 characters and would soon reach the modern number of 80. Even though gambling was illegal at the time, the game was widely played by the Chinese immigrants in and around San Francisco. Americans were intrigued by the game but couldn’t understand the Chinese symbols. So, the Chinese characters were translated into numbers to allow American players to participate in the game.

Keno arrives in Las Vegas casinos

In 1931, the state of Nevada legalized gambling. However, keno was viewed as a lottery. At this time, lotteries were not authorized by the federal government. So, operators had to make a slight adjustment to get keno into their casinos. The casinos developed “race horse keno” to solve the issue. Each number was designated as a horse although the actual game had nothing to do with racing.

The keno payout limits have gradually evolved in Nevada casinos over the years. In 1963, the aggregate payout limit was $25,000. In 1979, the limit was raised to $50,000. Finally, in 1989, the caps were lifted. This enabled each casino to control their aggregate pay limits.

Keno isn’t a game that many professional gamblers will get involved in. The house edge can range form 4 to 66 percent. Still, the game is a staple at casinos throughout the world. Keno play sheets are scattered throughout the casino. The player doesn’t even have to be at the draw to participate. A play sheet can be turned in to a runner which enables the player an opportunity to participate in a keno game while they are doing something else in the casino.