Knowing Tamburin will aid keno strategy

March 29, 2016 3:08 AM


People often say keno is a poor bet due to the high house advantage. The staffing requirements are higher in keno as is the game space, thus a higher house edge is warranted.

What many fail to realize is due to slow game speed the expected losses are no worse than any other casino game.

If you play $5 a hand at blackjack and are an average player, the loss will run about two bets an hour, on the average, for a total of $10. A good basic strategy player will lose about one bet per hour. A card counter that is proficient regardless of the number of decks can gain one bet an hour.

Keep in mind these are averages.

In craps, if you stick to pass, don’t pass, come, don’t come with odds and never increase your bet until reaching the max allowed on the odds, playing at a $5 table will yield about 60 decisions an hour if betting every roll and 20 just taking the pass/don’t pass.

With a 1.4% house edge your losses will average about $1.50 per hour betting pass and $4.50 on just come wagers, never increasing your flat bets to more than the $5 house minimum. If you average $10 flat bets, double the expected losses.

The odds allowed will have no average effect on wins or losses. The bet is 100% neutral as there is no advantage for the house or the player. Read Henry Tamburin’s excellent book on craps, “Take the Money and Run.” He goes in to a system to increase the odds with each successive win.

Playing this way you absolutely minimize the house edge and have an opportunity for a large win on a good roll. Of course most of the time the table will be choppy and you will lose at a gradual rate.

Most of the time playing this way, even on a “cold” table, you will lose more slowly than the majority in playing with the lowest house advantage possible. A table has been hot or cold but what has happened in the past has absolutely no effect on the future.

In keno, let’s say you play the same base bet of $5 per game. There is an average 6 to 20 games per hour. With a house edge of 25% you would average a loss of $7.50 to $12.50 per hour.

Seems worse than blackjack or craps, but not really – especially downtown as you can find tickets with lower house edges, as low as 15% (“Deano” rate at The D). Then your average loss per hour becomes $4.50-$7.50, quite comparable to the other games.

You may say figuring out the odds and percentages is too difficult because you slept in math at school. No worry. With a smartphone you can go to multiple sites, plug in the pays for the game (you may have to convert them based on $1 ticket) to know the house edge.

I strongly suggest the Keno Calculator at This site by Professor Michael Shackleford of UNLV contains insights of all gambling games and is well worth your time to look up and read what he has to write about your particular game.

Thus, for your gambling dollar keno is as good as most other games. Of course, give your slot card or account number with each ticket purchased so you get credit for comps and offers.

As you play even more keno and read further about the game you will learn to estimate the percentages, or approximately calculate them. Basically, if you know the hit frequency for the various number of spots you can calculate the percentages with just a paper and pencil.

Let’s use a $1 four-spot paying $1 back if you hit 2-of-4, paying $2 hitting 3-of-4 and paying $160 for 4-of-4. If you look up the frequencies they are approximately as follows rounded to the nearest multiple of 5: 4-of-4 hit is once in 325 games; 3-of-4 once in 25 games; and 2-of-4 once in 5. If we develop strategy cards this information will be provided.

A cycle is the average number of games to hit a ticket solid, in this case 325 games. Now you divide the frequencies. For every solid 4-of-4 hit you will average 13 times that you hit 3-of-4 and 65 times that you hit 2-of-4.

You are playing $325 at $1 per game per average cycle. On the average you will get back $160 once, $2 on 13 occasions and $1 every 65 times. Adding them up totals $251. Thus you average $251 out of $325, which means per cycle you get back a net of $251 and the casino keeps an average of $74. Divide 74 by 325 to calculate a 23% house edge.

Email me if you feel keno strategy cards would be helpful. Meanwhile have fun, check out the suggested websites, read the pay books in detail at the casinos.

Do not be afraid to ask the keno writers for help. Best of luck to you!

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. Email: