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Keno: Live and video

5 January 2010

Casino games do not always easily coexist in live and electronic versions.

Video blackjack has never built much of a following, while the live version is the most popular table game in U.S. casinos. Mechanical or video versions of roulette and craps have been tried, with little success. Video poker has become a casino staple, but it's so different from live poker that it might as well be considered a completely different game.

Then there's keno.

It can be played in a lounge, with players marking cards as they try to guess which numbered balls will be forced out of an air blower. Some would say the live version, most common in large, land-based casinos, is a game to savor; others find it mind-numbingly dull. Either way, the pace is slow, sometimes with fewer than 10 games per hour.

Though the game has its devotees, many players use live keno as a diversion, stopping to relax over a drink in the keno lounge, or playing a couple of games over a meal in the casino coffee shop, where keno runners pick up marked tickets and bets, and later return to pay off winners.

The electronic game, the only version available in many jurisdictions, is anything but relaxed. A player who wants to use the same numbers over and over can get in as many trials as any slot player — hundreds per hour.

Still, they're basically the same game, derived from the Chinese Lottery. Early in keno's American history, each number was assigned the name of a racehorse. That led to the name "racehorse keno," and to each game being known as a "race." Horses' names were removed in the early 1950s in Nevada, then the only state where the game was legal, because of a new tax on off-track betting. With a tax in the picture, casino operators didn't want their game misconstrued as horse wagering.

Both versions start with 80 numbers. Twenty are drawn, either through the forced air blower in most live games or by a random number generator in the electronic version.

The player tries to guess which numbers will come up, though he doesn't necessarily try to guess all 20. He can mark a single number (a one-spot ticket), or anything up to all 20 numbers in live keno. Early video keno machines limited players to 10 spots, though today's machines allow for more complexity, complete with bonus events. The more spots marked, the larger the payoff if the ticket hits.

There are partial payoffs if some of the player's numbers hit. Payoffs vary among casinos, but a player might find a four-spot ticket that for a $1 wager pays back $1 if two numbers hit, $5 if three numbers hit and $120 if all four are drawn, for example.

My introduction to keno came on the live game, where I quickly learned that a single ticket can be marked as a straight ticket, way ticket, king ticket or combination ticket. On the straight ticket, a player marks the number of spots desired and makes a single bet. In our four-spot example, the player would mark his numbers, write "1 / 4" on the side of the ticket, and would be eligible for any four-spot payoff.

But the player also could draw one circle around two of the numbers and another around the other two, playing each of the circled two-number combinations as a two-spot, and all four numbers as a four-spot, essentially making three bets on the same card.

When a player circles a single number of the group he has marked, he is playing a king ticket. The single number is the king, and is used in all combinations. If he adds a fifth number to the example above and circles it, the player might mark "2 / 3, 1 / 5," meaning the king is used with each of the two-number combinations to form two three-spots, as well as with all other numbers to form a five-spot.

I've been known to pass time while dining in a casino coffee shop by circling four numbers related to my birthday — month, day, first two digits of the year, last two digits of the year. By circling, each number is a king. Then I mark 1/4, 4/ 3, giving me one four-spot and four three-spot combinations.

Most video keno machines don't have this flexibility. But video keno has its own advantage: It pays better. Surveys of live keno tickets in Nevada casinos have found payback percentages from below 70% to near 80%.

Pay tables also vary on the video game, but they're competitive with other slot machines, usually around 90% at the quarter level.

As for strategy, there really isn't one. Play birthdays, anniversaries, lucky numbers. As long as the numbers are random, your choice makes no difference.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski