Keno bail out

Apr 20, 2010 7:07 AM

In response to an article about cashing in on low-level keno jackpots and leaving the casino with money ahead, I received a note from a reader who wants to know if there is a keno game that might give the "best chance" of hitting a "decent" jackpot.

By "decent," the reader meant a jackpot that fell midway between the lottery-like payoffs of catching 7-out-of-7 or 8-out-of-9 and higher, and the smaller "feel good" payoffs such as catching 6-out-of-7 or 7-out-of-9.

For a player with a bankroll of $100 playing four quarters at a time, this would translate into a jackpot of $800 to $1,000.

The question is a good one, because as we’ve seen in recent months, hitting those upper-level, W-2G jackpots have become increasingly more difficult, and most players would like to walk away with more than a 40 percent or 50 percent return on their starting bankroll.

After giving it considerable thought, I think that playing 10-spot video keno, with an eye toward catching 8-out-of-10, which pays $1,000 for four quarters, would be my "bail out" keno game.

Theoretically (that is, mathematically), this might come as a surprise, since the odds of hitting 7-out-of-8 are lower (6232-1 versus 7384-1 for 8-of-10), while the payoff is higher, $1652, for catching 7-of-8.

However, it’s been my experience that, if I’ve played for quite a while, just missing on catching 7-of-7 and 8-of-9, I can often catch 8-of-10 if I switch to playing 10-spot cards.

This experience is even underscored when I play Four Card Keno, and mark four 10-spot tickets that overlap.

The patterns that seem to work the best are marking two adjoining rows of 10 numbers (such as the bottom two rows), and "criss-crossing" the two cross-over patterns: the first five numbers in the top row coupled with the second five numbers in the bottom row, and the first five numbers in the bottom row coupled to the second five numbers in the top row.

Another candidate is the 5-spot card, which we discussed a few weeks ago. Mathematically, the 5-spot is the best bargain, with an $810 payoff for catching a solid 5-spot at odds of 1550-1. But, for myself, I’ve always played the larger tickets because they always offer the outside chance of catching more numbers, resulting in a true lottery-like payoff.

I realize that the 6-spot ticket is the game’s most popular card, but its odds of catching a solid six (7752-1) are higher than both 8-of-10 and 7-of-8.

Regardless of what games you decide to play, it’s important to know the payoffs before you begin playing. On "bonus" games such as Cleopatra and Cave Man keno, the paytables are drastically reduced, and you’ll receive just a fraction of the amounts discussed above.

In fact, I recently received a note from a reader who couldn’t believe how poor a particular pay table was, compared to "standard" payoffs.

Here is her account, which hopefully may alert readers to the possibility that video keno pay tables may vary from casino to casino, even if they are on the same machine.

"My friend loves to play keno machines … and she has hit 7 of 8 a few times, which pays close to $400 with one coin.

"Early one morning we were at (another casino) where she decided to play keno. Over the past few weeks she has invested over $500. She started with $20 and a short time later, almost out of credits, she hit 7 of 8 while playing two quarters per card. Expecting a payout of close to $800 the machine only paid $125 on two quarters.

"To make it short, the payout on quarters is $125 for 7 of 8 and $175 for 8 of 8 with two coins bet. But the amazing part is the payout on hitting 10 of 10 with two quarters is $200!

"We had the technician and slot manager over and they all said the payout is on the machine and it is up to the customers to choose which machine they want to play.

"Not happy with their explanation, we asked for a gaming agent. After a couple of hours a young lady showed up. Her response was basically the same: the casino has the right to post any pay scale as long as it was paying the proper percentage. I asked her wasn’t it a little strange that a jackpot of 8 of 8 and 10 of 10 only pays a couple hundred dollars? Their reasoning is that on the payback on 5 of 8 pays more than other machines and that justifies the lower jackpot (and it also allowed the machine the state’s minimum payback requirement).

"They already made it clear that my friend will not be compensated for the lower payout. How would you feel if you hit 7 of 8 or 8 of 8 and expecting a big jackpot instead settle for couple hundred dollars?"

I’d feel horrible … and probably foolish for not checking the pay table ahead of time. The odds of hitting 8 out of 8 is about 230,000 to 1, and to be paid a paltry $175 for two quarters (a payoff of only 350-1) is borderline criminal.

All I can say is to be sure to check the pay tables before playing. I’ve never seen a keno machine with such a poor table here in Las Vegas. But I’ve seen machines in general, usually in oddball places such as motel lounges and the like, where the machines have drastically altered pay tables.

No one wants to finally beat the odds, then get short-changed on their reward.