Best maximizing keno returns in Downtown Vegas

November 18, 2014 3:08 AM


the two best plays for maximizing player return are the $1.15 Special Rate at the El Cortez and the Deano rate at The DWhat can you expect on a typical keno trip? I am sure this is a question asked by many players, especially those new to the game.

To make things simple we will assume the customer plays a $1 6-spot ticket at a downtown casino, which will pay $1 for 3-of-6, $4 for 4-of-6, $80 for 5-of-6, and $2,000 for a SOLID 6 hit.

A similar calculation can be done for way tickets but it will take longer as there are more possibilities.

One must know the frequency expected for the different hits. This is available in most keno books or can be calculated (knowledge of factorials necessary). The odds for a 6-spot ticket will be broken down for hits of 3, 4, 5 and 6 spots. We omit 0-, 1- and 2-spot catches as these do not receive any money.

A 3-of-6 hits an average of one game in nine. A 4-of-6 hits an average of one game in 36; 5-of-6 hits on average one game in 324, and SOLID 6 on the average one game is 7,754 games.

Now these are long term averages. In any given series of games any thing can happen. But for today’s column we are looking at what you can expect on a given trip.

As a general rule multiplying the return average times the money spent gives you a good idea. For example if the casino returns 75 cents on the dollar and you play 200 tickets of $1 each during your trip, the average return would be 75% of $200 or $150. However, since various pays are given for various hits the short run results are quite likely to be different.


Let’s say you play 200 games. Most trips you will not hit a 6-of-6 (though you might and kudos to you if you do), thus we do not include the 6-of-6 pay in the calculations. But over many trips (i.e. 40 trips, 10 years of quarterly trips averaging 200 games a trip) you will hit it once.

Now getting back to our example of 200 games played. This is a bit tricky as the odds are 323:1 to hit a 5-of-6. Based on this you will hit a 5-of-6 two trips out of three, but remember this is only an average.

There is no such thing as a hit being due. If you have done 323 games without hitting a 5-of-6 your odds are still 323:1 on hitting a 5-of-6 on the next game.

Here is what I do in this situation: since it is more likely it will be hit than not I include it in my expected return.

Now a 4-of-6 is hit, on average, once every 36 games, thus in 200 games you are likely to hit it six times. Once every nine games, on average, a 3-of-6 hits, so in 200 games expect it about 22 times.

Thus we have our raw data. Take all these expected hits times their frequency in the number of games you play and add the money totals together, giving us (22 X $1) + (6 X $4) + 1 X $80 = $126. (Note: rules in math specify you do the multiplication before the addition.)

Thus on a typical trip your most likely outcome will be a loss of about $74. Of course this is a rough average; you may hit 6-of-6 and be close to $1,000 ahead. You might not even hit a 5-of-6 and lose about $154 for the trip.

But this tool is just to tell you what to generally expect. The more games played, the closer to the averages will be the result. This is NOT the gamblers’ fallacy that if something does not happen it is more likely to happen as games are played. Every game the odds are still the same regardless of past results.

If a loss of $74, on average, is too much then play a 50-cent ticket (allowed in most downtown casinos, especially if you play multi-race tickets) and the average loss is $37.

Of course if you hit 6-of-6 for 50 cents you only receive $1,000. Some will say this is better as the $1,000 win is not taxable while the $2,000 win is taxable. This is not true. You are responsible to pay taxes on your wins whether or not the casino files paperwork on the win. If you itemize deductions, you may subtract gambling losses (do not have to be the same game or location) from gambling winnings.

On the other hand, if you can afford to lose say $150 on average, you can play $2 a ticket, or if you have the time play more games at $1 a ticket.

Today’s column is just to give you an idea of what to expect on a given trip. To figure more exactly the expected values for a given number of games would involve Binomial Theorem calculations.

By the way, if any of the calculations seem beyond you, take a look at the section of keno books that explain how to figure the odds and wins on various tickets.

People spend time to clip coupons and check the sales for groceries, you should do the same for your gambling money and get the best value. Try to play with lower house edge tickets when available.

As mentioned previously, the two best plays for maximizing player return are the $1.15 Special Rate at the El Cortez and the Deano rate at The D. These tickets return about 85%, on average, of money wagered. This means your average losses will be less due the higher return.

Remember, very important, always make sure to SELECT the numbers that come up in the game you are playing. This is way better than SELECTING numbers that don’t come up.

Best of luck; tell me how you do!

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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