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The week of March 1 offers a keno tournament at the California, one of the best run keno games in Las Vegas.

It usually pays to 20 places, participants are given free room and meal coupon books and about $10,000 in prize money is handed out. The buy-in is $500 and you can even use a credit card to pay your entry fee and any rebuys.

The Cal posts the results about hourly and offers two rates for most tickets (regular and Island rate) with a few additional specials like the Aloha 6-spot and Maui, which may come in useful for tournament play.

Generally the Island rate will offer the most bang for your buck, but there are times the Regular rate might work out better based on how much a solid hit pays.

If it is near the tourney end and you are down by $190, the Island rate will pay $150 for 4 out of 4 if you play it for $1. The Regular rate will pay $200. High-end pays are often more important than worrying about the house percentage as you play against the casino and other players. Thus even though the Regular rate has a higher house edge the amount of prize money you can win by placing higher easily outweighs this small difference in house percentage.

There are times when you may want to play just the $3 minimum and have a ticket with 12 ways at a quarter a way where you do not have enough ways to allow for 20-cent play. The Cal is generally pretty understandable when the difference in required minimums is outweighed by the number of ways.

Technically you need to play 100 ways if you want to play ways of less than a quarter. If you play a 25-way ticket at 20 cents a way for $5 this has been OK in the past. Always check the tourney rules before you start.

Let’s say another player hits a solid 7 at $1 for $16,000. Knowing that the odds are over 40,000-1 may encourage you to try for second place if hitting less than 7. Say one person has won $16,182 and the next best score thus far is $3,682. I would shoot for second.

Playing a $4 five spot at The Island rate would give you a $4,000 win with odds of 1551-1, considerably easier than bucking over 40,000-1. You could play a ticket of 8 kings and play sevens only at the Regular rate. This reduces the odds of a solid 7 to just over 6,500-1.

There are eight 7-spots possible thus the ticket will cost you $8. The max payout per game is $100,000 so why bet more when you cannot collect more? You could also try one 8 at $1.60 (Island Rate) and eight 7s at 80 cents. If you hit seven of the eight you would get $2,400, for the 7-of-8, $14,000 for 7-of-7 and $1,600 for the seven 6-of-7s.

A payoff of $18,000 would put you in the lead should you hit this ticket. If lightning strikes and all 8 hit you would only get the House limit of $100,000, but the true pay should be $172,000. I do not like playing tickets where you cannot get all your winnings but sometimes a decision has to be made as to which place is your true target.

If first place needed a smaller win, play just the eight 7s at 60 cents and the 8 at 80 cents for the Island rate. If you hit all 8 you would have a win of $16,000 and $84,000 for the eight 7-of-7s. The house is unlikely to give you less than $100,000 as long as there are no other big winners.

If all other wins total $1,000 the casino would rather say you won $100,000 than $99,009.90. Should there be another substantial winner such as a $10 6-spot ($20,000) then both wins would be prorated.

Bring proof of your social security number. If you are sharing the buy-in, the IRS does have a form to split the tax liability but you must ask for it the moment you hit the jackpot otherwise they will assign all the paperwork to the primary visible player.

Any win is taxable. Speak to your tax professional as to the best way to keep records of your play. Tourney winnings will not be prorated as this is considered separate from the $100,000 limit. If there is a tie for a particular place the prize money is divided among the winners.

The rules of the tourney will prohibit a player from playing more than $10 a way per game or straight ticket to make it fairer to all. The Cal used to have a player who would regularly bet $50 five-spots and actually hit them for $50,000 a pop. Duplicate tickets are usually not allowed.

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 [email protected].

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