This is sort of embarrassing to admit. I have been visiting Massachusetts on a regular basis for nearly 15 years (that’s not the embarrassing part), since the time I met my wife.
She is originally from up there, so between holidays and vacations we were probably there 3-4 times per year since 1998. It was only in the past few years that I found out Massachusetts offers a Keno-style game. I’m not talking about Keno-style Lotto (weekly/bi-weekly drawing) that most states offer. I’m talking about something similar to casino Keno.
There are 20 numbers picked from a possible 80. The player can play up to 12 numbers from 1-80 and is paid based on how many are picked. These games run for 18-20 hours per day, 7 days per week and generally every 4-5 minutes. You can play it interactively by sitting at a terminal or buy your tickets ahead of time and simply come back later to see how you did.
Not only does Massachusetts offer this, but they are the absolute titans of this style of Keno. In 2008, the total spend on Keno statewide was $740 million. There are only about 6.5 million people living in Massachusetts. This means the average resident spent $100 per year on Keno tickets!
No other state even comes close in per capita spend on Keno. It is so popular that in 2008 the Massachusetts Lottery began a second Keno game called the Daily Race game where players had to pick which horse would win a race. This was not like wagering on a horse race as no skill of horse or jockey was involved.
Essentially, a computer would pick the order of finish. Players would win or lose accordingly. This game never quite caught on with the players and it averaged only about $20 million in sales per year. For most states, this would not be a terrible number, but it amounted to less than 5% of sales in Massachusetts.
Enter John Feola of New Vision Gaming to introduce Jackpot Poker. A lifelong Massachusetts resident and successful casino game developer (Boston 5 Stud, Boston 7 Stud, Imperial Pai Gow), Feola had always hoped to pitch a game to the lottery.
John and I had worked on several games as possibilities to replace the Daily Race Game. The games always revolved around cards as it seemed like the lottery should take advantage of the poker craze that was sweeping the country.
I’ve written about Headstart Hold’em before in this column, which generated some interest, but it was another game John created that really caught their eye. It is really so simplistic, it is almost amazing no one thought of it before.
Instead of the usual 80 possible numbers, we start with 52 (just so happens to be the number of cards in the deck). The player picks 5 numbers from 1 to 52. When the game begins, the computer monitor begins to reveal the cards in random order, with one card corresponding to each of the 52 numbers.
Essentially, each card in the deck is assigned a random number from 1 to 52 and the five cards that correspond to the 5 numbers the player chose become his hand. The player is then paid according to the poker rank of his hand. The player must be dealt at least a Pair of Jacks or better to be paid.
Here’s the pay table:
|Four of a Kind||200|
|Three of a kind||4|
|Pair J's or Better||2|
Keep in mind this is for the lottery, and not for a casino. So, if you compare this to a 5-card stud sidebet, the paytable will look a little low. Lotteries frequently pay out about 70% and this is no exception. The payback is 70.61%, with a hit frequency of just over 20%.
What is interesting about the payouts is that the contribution rates of the top 6 hands are all in a tight range. The contribution rate is the frequency of the hand multiplied by the payout of that hand.
A normal casino pay table will usually have a pyramid structure to the contribution rates where the top hand may payout the most but adds by far the least to the overall payback. Here, the top 6 hands all contribute between about 2.75% and 4.5% of the payback each.
Of course, people don’t tend to play the lottery looking for a $25,000 payout. Jackpot Poker also offers a, well, jackpot payout. If you wish to play the Progressive Jackpot, the player can make an additional $1 wager that will make him eligible to win the Progressive Jackpot if he is dealt a Royal Flush.
I have not been provided the details of how this Progressive grows, but the Massachusetts Lottery has set the minimum payout to $100,000 and, obviously, this will grow as no one hits it.
Jackpot Poker recently went live on June 17, so it is brand new. For proper disclosure, I do have a financial stake in this game’s success. Fortunately, it is off to an excellent start. In its first full day of operation, its revenue was right around $250K. Its predecessor game’s best day in its multi-year run was only about half of that, and it averaged less than a third of that per day in 2013.
It is an idea so incredibly simple, yet it puts a whole new level of excitement into the Keno parlor. Maybe the casinos should give it a try instead of the old pick 20 from 80 Keno system.
Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is www.gambatria.com. Contact Elliot at [email protected].