Crucial to check if keno has a good return

May 05, 2015 3:08 AM


Crucial to check keno returnMany of you out in the keno lounges may not be know how to see if a ticket has a good return. Here is an easy way to check. You just need a basic keno book that has odds-to-one for each hit.

First we must determine a cycle. A cycle is the average number of tickets that must be played to achieve a SOLID (catching all your numbers) hit on a given number of spots played. The next idea is figuring the number of times the lesser hits (less than solid hits) will occur on average during the cycle.

We take the average number of hits to hit a solid pay and divide that by the average number of plays needed to get the number of less-than-solid hits for each given catch for which you are paid. That gives us the frequency of that particular catch on average.

We then multiply the pay for each particular number of spots hit by the frequency, doing this for any number of spots that get paid.

Let’s give it a try. I have selected a pop 80 rate 5-spot, which is a common rate downtown (under different names) at the California, Fremont, The D, El Cortez, and also Jerry’s Nugget near downtown.

Played for 80 cents you would win $800 for a solid 5-of-5 hit, $6 for a 4-of-5, and you would get your 80 cent bet back for 3-of-5.

A cycle for a 5-spot ticket is 1,551 games as the odds for a solid 5 hit are 1,550:1. The odds of hitting 4-of-5 are 82:1; 3-of-5, 11:1. To find out how many times you would hit (on average) a 4-of-5 divide 1,551 by 83 to get approximately 19 per cycle. Doing the same for a 3-of-5 hit, dividing 1,551 by 12, you would average 129 hits during a cycle.

The next step is to see what an average cycle would cost (playing 1,551 tickets), which is the ticket cost (80 cents) times the average number of tickets needing to be played for a solid hit (1,551). Thus $ 0.80 X 1551 = $1,241 (rounded).

Let’s now add the pays multiplied by their appropriate frequencies: One pay per average cycle of $800 = $800 (5-of-5); 19 pays per average cycle of $6 = $114 (4-of-5); 129 pays per average cycle of $ 0.80 = $ 103 (3-of-5).

The above pays total $1,017 in an average cycle.

We now divide the average win by the average bet and get $1,017/$1,241 = 0.819 or about 82%, which means a house edge or hold of 18%.

Keep in mind these are averages over eternity; in a given session, trip, or year(s) of playing the results may be better or worse.

Due the fact the solid hit comprises $800/$1017 = 0.787 (79%) of the payback, playing 5 spots most times will be a loss of a portion of your keno bankroll. But the time you hit 5-of-5 solid you will come out way ahead.

These figures can also be used to see what comps your play is worth. It used to be a player would get comped 30% to 40% of his or her expected losses. To be fair to both sides (casino and player) all comps should be included whether they be mail offers, meals, rooms, drinks, events, etc.). Thus for your expected losses every cycle ($1241 - $1017 = $224) you should receive about $78 in comps.

Over a three-day stay, if you always have a ticket going (The Cal and El Cortez have a 24-hour game) and play an average of two tickets per game ($1.60), you would play about 1,500 tickets. Thus if the casino gives you casino rate for your stay you have been comped quite fairly.

Of course if you also play table games and slots the greater action can get you free stays and meals, depending on how much you play. Play at a level you can afford to lose, have a good time and be sure to give your card or account number to the keno writer so your play can be tracked.

Be on the lookout for added value promotions from the slot clubs, keno, and table games department in the form of drawings, specials, and giveaways. The Cal, El Cortez, and Jerry’s Nugget are very good in this regard.

Don’t have a keno book to get the odds and frequencies? Go to the Gambler’s General Store/Book Club at 800 N. Main Street downtown and get yourself a book. On my last trip to the book store I picked up a simple little book called “Keno, Learn to Play and Win” for $1.99 plus tax. It has all you need to know to do the above calculations.

If you have any ideas for a column, email me at the address below. Best of luck to you; hope you are in the game when the numbers flash on the board!

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