Live keno can be successful in all casinos with marketing

May 27, 2014 3:09 AM


My ideal breakdown for setup Almost all of the MGM properties, with very fine casinos and hotels, do not have a live Keno Game (the notable exception being Excalibur with a very well run game).

To be truthful, they inherited some properties that had already eliminated keno. Often the feeling is the space would be better used by slot machines or other games, as keno is not seen to be contributing enough to the bottom line.

Does it have to be that way? Ask the Boyd properties, Station properties (Green Valley just brought back a live keno game), or an independent hotel such as the El Cortez, which has an excellent game with nine different rates plus MegaKeno.

The following attributes are common to all successful games in town:

1) Excellent keno management and knowledge of the game.

2) Good options for the player.

3) Reasonable House advantage for the game.

4) Keno promotions and tournaments.

5) Player tracking for comps.

6) Keno writers who know more than just how to enter tickets into a computer.

Live keno can be successful in all casinos. The trick is proper marketing and knowledgeable personnel.

First, the keno lounge should be easily visible and well signed from all areas of the casino. Keno boards should be up in all areas of the casino so, regardless of which game you are playing, you can track your keno tickets.

Eighty percent of the population doesn’t smoke, thus most of the keno area should also be non-smoking. The game should also be in a high traffic area, not some corner of the casino that got flooded in the last Vegas flash flood. Remember – location, location, location.

Next, there should be reasonable house percentages. Some casinos pay 60 percent-65 percent on their tickets while others pay 75 percent-85 percent. Tickets should not have a hold greater than 30 percent. Even though players may not know how to compute keno percentages, 65 percent paybacks will lose business the same way dollar slots returning less than 90 percent will lose business.

People are used to losing but they want to have a good time, and not feel they are being robbed. Better to have a player regularly visit a casino and lose $500 per visit than lose $2,000 one time and never return. Managers often forget the ripple effect. If the odds are terrible, word gets around. If people had a good time, word gets around.

Well thought out promotions can help a keno game, but the mathematics of the promotion should be checked carefully to be sure the keys to the count room aren’t being given away. Several years ago a casino offered double on all four-of-a-kinds in video poker. Even the bad players had a large edge here and the casino involved lost its donkey many times over.

The idea of a promotion is to make it attractive to both the player and the casino such that the player feels he is getting good value and the casino still brings in guests and adds to their bottom line.

This does not mean the promotion cannot have a slight edge to the players. With a tourney prize fund, free rooms, and proper play a player can gain an edge in tournaments. But rare is the player who will not buy food, go to the gift shop, or a show, or play other games during his stay. It all contributes to the casino’s bottom line. The player will have a good time and the casino will realize revenue from several sources.

Ongoing promotions are good, too. Some casinos (notably Boyd casinos formerly from the Coast group and some Station casinos) have weekly mini-tournaments. The Atlantis in Reno runs an excellent weekly mini-tournament as well. Special ticket promotions during slow hours help, too, like buy a 21-game ticket and get a comped breakfast.

Next, and extremely important, is writer knowledge. This aspect of customer service cannot be over emphasized. There is more to being a writer than taking in money and tickets and entering them into the computer.

Knowledge of how “ways” are calculated is extremely important, especially when it comes to assisting a customer who wants to play an involved ticket. Mathematical ability is paramount to figuring out what a ticket might pay should a given number of spots hit. While the writers cannot be expected to know the exact odds, having a general idea would not hurt.

Knowing 6-spots are hit every day while 10-spots are often an annual occurrence is helpful. Being able to explain how groups of numbers combine to form ways is paramount. The better casinos have excellent keno writers who understand this very well.

I have seen casino classes in blackjack, roulette, craps, poker, and even pai gow, but cannot recall seeing a keno class. These should be scheduled with an incentive (i.e coupon for 10 games for the price of 8 to all participants).

Keno books should be in the casino gift shop similar to books on other games that are there now. I have not seen keno strategy or help cards such as exist in other games, but if there is enough interest I will see what I can do about making these available in the future. Please send me an email to the address at the end of the column if interested. The old Fitzgerald (now The D) had an excellent Keno Guide for the players; maybe The D can republish it. The Peppermill in Reno has a good explanation of how way tickets work in its keno paybook.

The next responsibility is on the player. Have your tickets ready before you step in line. Do not smoke in line. Have your money ready. Make sure you have followed the casino rules (usually in the paybooks) as to minimum amounts per ticket, number of ways, or amount per ticket or per way. Some tickets have a maximum or only one rate. Have your ID and social security card available in case you hit a large win. If you do hit that large win and have received good service from the writers do not forget the tip.

If there are other players in line, when it is your turn do not try to chat with the writer. Others want to get in the game as well. Asking the writer for help on the ticket is OK as it is relevant to the game. Asking if he is a fan of the Cincinnati Mohawks hockey team if others are waiting is out of place.

Let’s enjoy one of the best games in the casino. If everyone does their part – the casino bosses, the employees, and the players – a good time will be had by the player, the employees will enjoy their jobs, and management will be satisfied with the keno revenue.

Remember, play with your head, not over it.

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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