How to play keno

Jan 5, 2020 2:00 AM

Keno has one of the highest house percentages against the player -- a minimum of 22 percent -- yet the game remains popular. The reasons are that it is an inexpensive way to gamble - you can play a keno ticket for as little as 40 cents (most casinos have a $1 minimum ticket); and there’s a possibility of hitting a lottery-like jackpot.

Anyone who plays keno should think of the game as a form of lottery or bingo and not a serious form of gambling. Therefore, any money bet on keno should be for fun, without any great expectancy of return.

Check Out More Casino Games Content Here

The Game

Keno is played on a blank ticket, which you obtain at the keno parlor or at other places throughout the hotel-casino. A player selects from one to 15 numbers out of a possible 80, and marks them on the ticket. The marks are called "spots," and the number of spots determine how much the ticket is worth.

The operator of the game turns on a machine that randomly selects 20 numbered balls out of the possible 80 and calls out the numbers. If the player’s numbers match most or all of the numbers selected, he wins a payoff based on how many spots he marked, how many spots he hit or "caught," and how much he bet.

Most casinos offer keno at the rate of $1 per ticket. Some hotels in downtown Las Vegas offer lower prices, while some Strip resorts have a $1 minimum. The accompanying chart gives sample payoffs for a 70-cent keno ticket.

If a player has a winning ticket, he must present it to the keno operator before the next game begins. Failing to do so voids his winning ticket.

Basic Strategy

The most common keno ticket played is the straight ticket, on which a player marks from one to 15 numbers and bets 70 cents or a multiple of 70 cents. Little thinking and planning is necessary to play a straight ticket.

But to maximize your chances of winning at keno, serious players should play a "way" ticket. It is called a way ticket because you place your numbers in groups that give you various combinations or ways of winning. With way tickets you can have more numbers working for you, and you don’t have to catch all of them to hit a good payoff. Basically, a way ticket consists of three or more groups of equal numbers. Each group of numbers is circled, and they are counted in different combinations, which increase the possibility of winning.

For instance, suppose you wanted to play 12 numbers. If you marked the numbers on a straight 70 cent ticket and caught eight of them, you’d win $150. Now let’s see what happens when you mark the same 12 numbers on a way ticket. Because all way tickets require three or more groups of equal numbers, we will divide the 12 numbers into three groups of four. We could have also divided the 12 into four groups of three or six groups of two. The choice is yours. We do this on the ticket by marking the numbers, as we did on the straight ticket, then circling the three groups. What we now have is something different from the original 12-spot straight ticket. Counting two groups of numbers at a time, we now have three groups of eight numbers, or the equivalent of three 8-spot tickets.

These combinations are easier to understand if you refer to the sample ticket. If we call the circled groups A, B and C, they can be grouped together in only three possible combinations: AB, AC and BC. The result is three groups of eight numbers, or a "three-way eight-spot." The fraction 3/8 on the side of the ticket indicates the three-way eight-spot. Because you now have three chances of winning, the cost of the ticket is three times a straight ticket, or $2.10, but the potential payoffs, as you will soon discover, far outweigh the additional cost.

Now if your same eight numbers hit, you are paid on the eight-out-of-eight payoff scale, or a whopping $12,500, instead of the $150 the eight out of 12 ticket would have paid.

This system of betting way tickets may sound complicated, but all casinos that offer the game supply booklets and schedules that can help you mark your tickets.