How to Play Keno
Arguably one of the oldest games in the world, keno has evolved a lot over the centuries and has a long and varied history.
Keno isn’t the most popular game in the world but it does have its niche market of fans, often in specific geographic regions, and so there are a number of places where you can still enjoy the game, particularly online.
As with most games, there are conflicting reports of where keno originated, with different cultures laying claim to its roots, though in some cases these are very early versions which have since been adapted or have gradually died out.
Keno has drawn comparisons to a number of other games over the years, with its number based foundation and general simplicity drawing comparison to the lottery in all its forms, and also bingo - though arguably even more simplified. Nevertheless, bingo fans might want to give keno a try.
Rules of the Game of Keno
Betting on Keno is simply choosing between 1 and 15 numbers from a board of 80, and hoping that as many of them are drawn as possible.
Only 20 numbers will be drawn per game, and the payouts vary depending on two things:
- How many numbers you bet on.
- How much you bet per game.
Once your numbers and bet level have been chosen, the winning numbers will be drawn and you will be paid out accordingly. Online this will be done automatically whereas in a real life game it will be done manually.
It really is that simple.
Step by Step Example
Gameplay is incredibly simple for Keno, but if you don’t know what you are looking at when you first load the game you might accidentally make bets you don’t want to, so let’s walk you through it. The image above is a good example of a regular Keno game.
In the middle you have the numbers you are betting on; you can simply click/tap on the number you want to choose, and click/tap it again to deselect it. Alternatively, you can use the randomiser which is highlighted in green above.
Hitting any number 1-15 will randomly select that many numbers from the board, a bit like a lucky dip lottery ticket. Your numbers will remain fixed for each game unless you change them, they do not usually reset.
Here you can see we have our numbers and now the payouts are showing up on the left, but we are only betting the minimum of 25p per game.
In this particular version of the game you can wager up to £100 per game, which is a little much for us, but let’s see what happens if we up our stake to £2 per game.
A big difference in payouts as you can see. Now the chances of getting all 15 numbers are 1 in 428,010,179,098.40 - so don’t get your hopes up, but you can still win decent money matching fewer numbers.
Here you can see the odds of matching all numbers, where ‘3 Numbers Odds’ means matching all numbers on a 3 number bet, and so on:
|1 Number Odds|
|1 in 4.0|
|2 Numbers Odds|
|1 in 16.63|
|3 Numbers Odds|
|1 in 72.07|
|4 Numbers Odds|
|1 in 326.43|
|5 Numbers Odds|
|1 in 1,550.57|
|6 Numbers Odds|
|1 in 7,752.84|
|7 Numbers Odds|
|1 in 40,979.31|
|8 Numbers Odds|
|1 in 230,114.60|
|9 Numbers Odds|
|1 in 1,380,687.65|
|10 Numbers Odds|
|1 in 8,911,711.18|
|11 Numbers Odds|
|1 in 62,381,978.23|
|12 Numbers Odds|
|1 in 478,261,833.14|
|13 Numbers Odds|
|1 in 4,065,225,581.67|
|14 Numbers Odds|
|1 in 38,910,016,281.65|
|15 Numbers Odds|
|1 in 428,010,179,098.40|
Adjust your expectations then, and always check the paytable before each new bet.
Once you are ready to play just hit the big ‘Bet’ button and depending on your game speed the game will select 20 random numbers and display them like along with any winnings you might have, as you can see below.
Any matched numbers have turned orange, and the orange bar also shows us where we are on the paytable. Winning numbers that we did not select have been removed from the board and below it all of the winning numbers are displayed. To the right is our game/winnings history.
As you can see, we matched 6 numbers on a 25p bet, so we win a whopping 75p!
After that it’s just a case of going again or trying a different set of numbers.
Keno Strategies: How to Win
Firstly, it is crucial to remember that all keno strategies have the same chance of success due to the fact that the numbers are drawn completely at random. The game has 3,535,316,142,212,174,320 different winning combinations when drawing 20 out of 80 balls, so there is plenty of random to go around!
No strategy then is right or wrong or better than another, they should just be seen as different ways to approach the game with a plan in mind. An ‘approach’ is perhaps a more useful word than strategy actually, because the following ideas serve as a way to mentally organise the way you play rather than offering any advantage.
That said, here are a few approaches that some players like to use:
- Cold Numbers: Bet on numbers that have not yet been drawn, the logic being that they are therefore more likely to come up next.
- Hot Numbers: Bet on numbers which have been drawn frequently, with the opposite logic being that since they keep being drawn they are more likely to be drawn again.
- Squared Numbers: Bet on squared numbers like 36 (6x6) or 64 (8x8) etc. There are other types of ‘pattern’ betting like this; it’s really just finding numbers with something in common to give your choices some meaning.
- Pairs: Self-explanatory, but you can take it further and bet in groups of three or four. The idea is that if you have bet on 2, 3 and 4 then if one doesn’t come up maybe the next one will.
Despite these approaches or methods though, it is key to remember that none of them have any kind of mathematical advantage and the odds stay completely the same. Over a period of time and many different draws, it’s definitely be possible to work out the probability of a certain number being drawn based on historical data, but this information would be worthless in reality because the game runs on an RNG, so the odds are still going to be completely random.
Alternative Keno Bets
Believe it or not, keno has quite an array of bets that can be made outside of the normal game, particularly online.
These are bets on certain outcomes rather than on specific numbers. Not all versions of the game will include these but those that do might include the following:
- Straight Bets: This is considered the standard form of keno bet; the player chooses their numbers and they will get paid based on the amount of matches they get. Some online casinos actually pay out more if none of the numbers come up then if 5 or 6 do.
- Top/Bottom Bets: In this instance, a player will wager on the numbers being drawn either higher or lower than 40, and in some cases players choose all of their numbers above or below this figure.
- Odd/Even Bets: With these types of bets, players will usually make a wager that more odd or even numbers will be drawn. Sometimes players even choose all odd or even numbers.
- Combination Bets: These types of bets refer to where players are able to wager on a certain group of numbers and typically involve combinations of two or four numbers. Should each of the numbers that are in the combination be selected then the player gets a bonus payout.
These can be a good way to make your game a little more dynamic, but they are not offered on all games so don’t rely on them being available.
The most common version of Keno allows players to mark 1 to 15 numbers on their cards, but there are a selection of versions which cater for 20 numbers to be chosen. This increases the chances of winning as there are still 80 numbers on the board, and this usually a selling point in order to draw more players to the platform offering that game.
Different platforms also have a variety of wagering and payout structures that may differ from our example, so it is advised to get a feel for the game by absorbing the rules first which will also give you an idea about the odds.
Online keno has moved on in recent years in a bid to make the game more exciting and interesting for players, adding improved graphics, animations, and music as a way to keep players interested. Plus, just like some slot games, there are also a number of themed variations.
Monkey keno is essentially the same game as normal keno with a theme or a ‘skin’ as it is known in the industry. No - not a banana skin!
Instead of standard number marking and drawing, this game sets monkeys to work popping up and throwing numbered coconuts onto the table which act as the numbered balls. There are no features so to speak but the game does feel very different to normal and has a much more light hearted vibe.
The added sound effects and animations add a lot of extra entertainment value as well but the game itself is unchanged. You can bet on 1 to 15 balls (or coconuts) and the payouts will adapt to your decisions.
This is another themed version except it is set in a chemistry lab. It is also a little more old school in its design as it has been around for a while, but it's fun if you can get past the sketchy graphics.
The balls appear from a tube coming out of a very technical looking machine which also houses the number board. When you match numbers this helps to fill a test tube with red liquid that rises and settles at the level of your winning amount.
It’s an amusing take on the game for sure and certainly adds interest, but the fundamentals don’t change in any way - it’s still standard Keno but it happens to be wearing a scientists lab coat.
This variation does have an extra feature in the form of the lucky multiplier wheel, and it also has a maximum of 10 picks per game instead of 15 so the payouts are adjusted accordingly.
Each bet you make can reveal up to 3 ‘lucky’ numbers from those you have chosen - if you bet on 10 numbers it guarantees 3 lucky numbers - and if all three of those lucky numbers are matched your payout is multiplied by the amount you spin on the wheel.
This can be as much as 100x so it can really give you a boost even on lower payout, but even with smaller multipliers you are getting extra for nothing so it's a great and welcome feature.
Golden Scarab Keno
This one comes with four different progressive jackpots linked to other games on the provider’s network, so you can potentially win a great deal more than would usually be possible from a small bet.
Each jackpot is worth a different amount but the top one can be hundreds of thousands of pounds, and they all trigger randomly so any game could be a winner. There's nothing you need to do, the game itself will take care of the jackpots, and a tiny amount of each bet you make will go towards those jackpots which is how they get higher.
The game itself is no different to normal, with 15 picks possible per bet and the winning numbers rolling out of sandstone catacombs with great sound effects. It's all very thematic.
Starship Keno Multiplier
Another variation which utilises multipliers, this one in set in deep space and has a distinctly sci fi feel to it.
After you have chosen your numbers (up to a maximum of 10), six random multiplier spots will be allocated across the board. If they land on your numbers and those numbers come in then your payout is multiplied.
Matching 2 multiplied numbers gives a multiplier of 2x, but matching 6 of them is worth 10x.
Online Keno Versus Offline Keno
There are a number of similarities and differences between online keno and offline keno, though there is no doubt that each version has their own unique selling points.
With online keno, one of the advantages is that it is extremely convenient since you can pick it up and put it down whenever it suits you. It’s also much more efficient and you can even set the game speed on some version.
Also, once you have chosen your numbers this is automatically logged with the game so you don’t have to re-select them each time. Another advantage is that once the winning numbers have been drawn the game presents the results and tells you instantly how much you have won, if anything.
If playing offline, this whole process would be manual, which means that you would have to select and then check each number yourself and work out how much you have won, which is time consuming.
Playing offline, such as in a land based casino for example, can also have advantages. Some people like to soak up the atmosphere and feel the buzz and anticipation of each number being drawn, which can heighten adrenaline and add to the enjoyment.
Also, in a land based casino there is always help on hand if you are not quite sure what you are doing in terms of the betting process. Should you win, you can collect your winnings instantly as most casinos have specialist keno booths where you present the ticket and be paid. Plus, there’s something fun about physically receiving your winnings. If playing online, it may take a few days to process your withdrawals from your online casino account to your bank account.
Keno on Mobile and Tablet
The increase in the development of mobile technology has given birth to a considerable rise in the amount of people using mobiles and tablets to play keno over their desktop.
The game lends itself well to this style of play; keno is almost tailor made for technology especially the function of choosing which numbers you want. They are presented in a grid and you simply make your choice by tapping the screen, which really couldn’t be easier from a user perspective.
While many online casino games might need to streamline the user journey for their mobile offering compared to desktop, keno requires very little alteration because it is already so simple. This has allowed developers to focus on the aesthetics and the design which combined with the easy navigation makes it a highly functional yet visually stimulating mobile experience.
Tablets are just as good if not a better option. The same ease of transportation with the bigger screen gives the player an arguably better visual experience with all of the same benefits as playing via mobile. It’s a happy medium.
Furthermore, a lot of online casinos have mobile-only bonuses these days which means you qualify for promotions that you wouldn’t usually get if you were playing the game via desktop.
History of Keno
The earliest traces of the game of keno are believed to date back to 300 years before Christ, to ancient China during the Han Dynasty where it was understood to have been created and ideated by a man named Cheung Leung, widely accepted as the ruler of the Han Dynasty according to various sources.
The story goes that the citizens of Leung’s city refused to continue giving financial aid to the army during a conflict and refused to help with any of the war efforts, partly due to the fact that they feared for their own survival and also because their money was running out.
Leung, being somewhat ahead of his time, found a solution devising the game of keno in an effort to try and raise money for the army. In doing so, he was able to provide the army with enough aid and resources to be able to defeat the enemy and also save his city from ruin at the same time.
It is believed that Leung created the game based on an ancient poem from “Book of a Thousand Character Classic”, which included one thousand differing characters, with the words all rhyming, and which was also were used as a way to teach children how to talk.
Leung utilised 120 different characters from the original poem and placed them out on a board in a format much like the traditional ‘lotto’ grid that we all know today. After this, players would subsequently place bets as to where the tiles would land when they had been thrown onto the board. Players had the permission to put on up to a maximum of 10 wagers and also used what was known as a quill (pen) so that they could mark each of their bets.
Keno Funds Great Wall of China
Following Leung’s success, the game of Keno spread to other villages, towns, and cities across China, and legend has it that much of the proceeds from keno were subsequently used for the construction of the Great Wall of China. The game soon adopted the nickname of the “Great White Pigeon Game”, because white pigeons (or in other words, homing pigeons) were used as a way of conveying the results of keno to other cities. It was so popular that men would stay up at night waiting until the white pigeons arrived with the results.
From the third century, keno games of slightly differing varieties were prevalent in many of the provinces across China, with some even arranged by ‘gambling houses’. These had to be arranged with official permission from the governor of the province though, and he would receive a percentage of the profits.
For a number of centuries, the game remained one of the ways in which China was able to successfully raise funds for its infrastructure and defensive measures, but it eventually migrated.
Keno Goes West
There are claims that the word ‘keno’ comes from the French word ‘quine’ (a group of five), and was adopted as the game worked its way west across Asia and through Europe; however, there are conflicting reports and very little evidence to suggest that the game ever existed in France prior to the 19th century.
What is for certain, is that the game reached the Western United States at some point during the 1840s by way of Chinese immigrants, which is incidentally when Chinese food became popular in the country too. At this point though, it was still mainly Chinese immigrants playing the game.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the game gained popularity among non-Chinese groups in the US, under the name of ‘Chinese Lottery’. This is also when the characters were converted to numbers. This is also claimed to be when the name keno was attributed.
Race Horse Keno
With the arrival of the 1930s, the game saw another adaption courtesy of the gambling houses of Reno, Nevada. This was called Race-Horse Keno, and the main difference was that the names of horses were used on the tickets instead of numbers. This was to get around state laws concerning lotteries.
In 1951 though, the Nevada state laws changed and keno ultimately became known exclusively as a game which was played solely using numbers. That said, there are still games today that play on that bit of trivia as you can see in the image on the right.
From as early as the 1980s, keno was widespread in casinos around both Australia, South Africa, and America, though the casinos generally took a 25 percent house advantage which is widely understood to be considerable. The game is also offered by many lottery companies around the world with draws every week, for quite substantial monetary prizes.
The Future of Keno
The fact that the game of keno has been around for over 2,000 years means that the likelihood of it being around for the foreseeable future is quite high. Even though the game isn’t a headliner it still has its’ fair share of fans.
While there may have been a bit of a decline in keno participation at land based casinos, online casinos have witnessed an increase in take up in line with the rise in popularity of online bingo, which makes sense given the similarities.
Over the next few years there is arguably a huge opportunity to utilise the fields of machine learning and also virtual reality to enhance keno games. It could also be that behind the scenes, such advancements are already being made.
Regardless of how the game progresses, over two millennia of history has shown that it is the kind of game which has staying power as well as the potential to change.
While we have endeavoured to cover the game of keno in as much detail as we possibly can, we appreciate that there may be things that you still want to know so we have anticipated some questions below:
Is it Easy to Win Playing Keno?
There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer to this question, because when it comes to it winning at keno doesn’t require any skill, just luck. No one knows which numbers are going to be drawn, especially online, so it is both easy and difficult to win at Keno.
While there are a number of strategies that you can adopt, which are basically just playing styles that some people favour, these still do not make any difference to the overall result. It also depends on what you mean by ‘win. Matching 4 or 5 numbers for a small win is much more likely than matching all 10 or 15.
How Does Keno Differ from Bingo?
While there are similarities between the two games, they are both decidedly different games. For a start Keno only has one prize per game whereas most bingo variations have at least 3 chances to win per ticket.
Also, you can choose your own numbers playing Keno but in bingo these are decided for you. Plus, you have more control over your potential winnings with Keno because the payouts adapt to the way you want to bet, so it is overall a much more flexible game.
Lastly, you can get through a game of Keno much faster than a game of bingo, online at least, because the results can be shown instantly. With bingo, even if the balls come thick and fast you are still waiting for someone to win each stage before the game progresses and then ends.
Is Keno a Fair Game?
Unless you’re playing a version of the game that isn’t officially licensed, such as offline with friends where there is the possibility to ‘fix’ the game, Keno is absolutely fair. The online game is run by an RNG which nobody can manipulate so the balls are always drawn at random, so any theories or patterns people think they may be able to work out are pure hypothesis.
In terms of your chances of winning, well, Keno comes with a staggeringly high house edge a lot of the time. It can be as much as 35% with some games and bets, so your luck really has to be in if you stand a chance of winning.
Consider European roulette where the house edge is just 2.70% and you can see the gulf between them. This doesn’t make it unfair though, it just offers poorer odds.