Seek out lowest house edge tickets for playing keno

May 13, 2014 3:09 AM


El Cortez top venue for Keno Tournaments. Keno betting tips and strategy Las Vegas Casinos There are players who worship percentages, and even in Keno want to play the lowest-house-edge tickets. This is an excellent long-run strategy. 

Add the prize money for the winners and the free rooms and other tournament complementaries, and you are the favorite to come out ahead. This may not happen in a particular tournament but over a period of playing many tournaments this strategy definitely has its merits.

We will use the excellent El Cortez $1.15 rate, which returns an average of 85 percent, along with the 40-cent rate for the 5-spot (78 percent return) to have a ticket that comes out in an even amount, making it excellent for tournament play.

Play a ticket with groups of 4, 3 and 2. Play the 9, the 7, the 6, and the 4 (there is one of each possible) for the $1.15 special and the 5 at the 40-cent rate. Total ticket cost is $5 (4 X $1.15 + 1 X 0.40 = $5.00). Thus, there are 100 chances to hit it big with this ticket.

The tournament at the El Cortez allows up to 20 games per ticket. Thus, choose five opportunities over the 30-hour tourney period and go for it! The beauty of this play is in good smaller plays with good SOLID hit pays.

The $1.15 El Cortez special rate pays on 4-of-9 and 3-of-7, thus pays are frequent to bring you back some money even if you don’t hit it big. The house PC is very low: the 9 returning 85 percent, the 7 returning 86 percent, the 6 returning 86 percent, and the 4 returning close to 83 percent. This is excellent for keno. The 40-cent 5-spot returns 82%..

Along with your expected share of any tourney winnings and all the freebies for being in the tournament your expectation is better than break even. Of course, this is over many tournaments (go for them all, time, budget, and schedule permitting) as you will have your highs and lows in tourney play. But the smartest gamblers always look for the lowest house edge and keno is no different in this regard.

You may think keno percentages are still too high but the game speed (slow) slows your possible losses, with still a chance for a big win. For those who think game speed does not matter, consider an example. Let’s compare Keno to Blackjack.

A typical blackjack game in Vegas – with four decks, the dealer hitting soft 17, and blackjack paying 3-to-2 (never play a 6-to-5 blackjack game, regardless of the number of decks as the house edge is way higher) – returns about 99.5 percent with PERFECT play.

But even “good” players do not know the nuances of “perfect play” (i.e. playing an A-7 vs. various dealer up cards being a good example, as you need to stand against a 2; double down against a 3 thru 6; stand against a 7, 8; hit against a 9, 10 or face card. Against an Ace, stand if the dealer does NOT hit soft 17 and hit if he does).

The average “good” player will lose about 1 percent of their action. In an hour you will play about 60 hands. At a $5 table minimum you play through 60 X $5 = $300 per hour, thus your losses will average about $300 X 1 percent = $3, but if you are the average player you lose about twice this, $6 per hour.

In a keno tournament you will have a draw about every 6 to 10 minutes, depending on time of day, number of writers, number of tickets and players, wait for verification of large wins. Thus a 10 minute average gives you six plays an hour. Using the above ticket with an average return of about 85 percent gives you an expected loss of 75 cents/ticket or for six tickets (one hour of playing) of about $4.50/hour, on a par with the mix of blackjack players.

Game speed is VERY important in figuring out expected returns in gambling though it is rarely mentioned. The slower speed of keno thus makes it very comparable to other casino games. Besides, you have a chance at some very large wins as well. This makes it a great game. You can also get up, walk around, have a bite, not have to endure the chimney next to you (El Cortez has a smoke free keno area), and have the chance to take home a prize!

Go for it, and best of luck!

Pesach Kremen is a former UNLV Masters Gaming student, has won and placed in multiple local keno tournaments, and has written several academic papers on Keno. You can reach him at

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