Keno will have you seeing spots

Feb 23, 2010 5:01 PM
Winning Strategies by Elliot Frome |

Hopefully, they’ll be the right spots!

For some reason, every couple of years, I have felt compelled to write a column about keno. I was really going to skip over it this time in the rotation, though. With the explosion of Texas Hold’em, many keno parlors in Las Vegas have been turned into poker rooms. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if there was more than a handful of keno parlors left. I did some research and was surprised to find there are still a few dozen of them. This was still not going to be enough, until a friend Qsent me a report about State lotteries that run keno.

I didn’t realize that 13 states currently run some form of keno as part of its lottery programs. For the most part, these keno games run similarly to their counterparts in Las Vegas. What I found the most amazing is that total sales in 2008 for these 13 states of their keno games was an absolutely amazing $2.6 billion! These states account for roughly one-third of the U.S. population. So, I guess it might make sense to write an article about keno at least every two years (maybe I should do so more frequently!?).

You can’t get much easier than keno. The board consists of the numbers from 1 to 80. You can pick anywhere from 2 to 20 numbers (depending on the keno parlor and/or state). When the draw occurs, 20 numbers are picked. You get paid depending on how many of the drawn numbers you picked. A draw occurs every several minutes, so the pace is rather slow.

To make up for this, the payback is usually rather low as well. Generally speaking, keno has the lowest payback of any game in the casino. Over the past decade or so, video keno has come to exist as well – played on a video poker style machine. These tend to offer slot-like paybacks. So, they are much higher than their live counterparts, but given the speed at which you play, you may find it does more damage to your bankroll.

What you won’t find disclosed too often is the payback of keno. Given that the payback will depend on the number of spots you choose to mark and the specific payouts for each variation, there could literally be thousands of different paytables. However, using combinatorial math, the probability of any possible winning combination can easily be calculated. If we multiply the payout of this winning combination by the probability of this combination and then add up all of these, we get the payback of that paytable for that number of spots selected.

In simple terms, we can calculate with 100% certainty the payback of any possible ticket for any possible paytable.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that when you do this, you may think you made a mistake when you see how low some of these paybacks are. As a result, I certainly can’t suggest you take up playing keno. But, with every game, I suggest you go in with your eyes wide open and know what the paybacks are. Also, if you go through the process of calculating the paybacks, you may find that they vary greatly between picking 3 or 4 spots vs. picking 6 or 7, which might lead you to at least alter your thinking a bit.

In order to help you in either the keno parlor or your local keno lottery, we’ve developed a template that lets you calculate the payback for any keno ticket. It should be noted that this template ONLY works if the total possible numbers are from 1 to 80 and that 20 numbers are drawn. The base template goes up to picking 10 numbers. If you want for higher amounts, let me know and I’ll create one for you.

If you’re interested in your own keno Payback template, send $3 (check or money order) for the first copy and $1 for each additional copy to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Elliot Frome