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In Nevada it is not only possible to gamble in a casino, you can also play in your local bar or even your neighborhood supermarket. Convenience stores, gas stations, grocery stores and even some retail outlets will offer small alcoves housing video poker, video keno and occasionally even slot machines. Machines are literally everywhere in Nevada, and they’re big business even for small operators.

Most of these smaller operators have what is called a restricted gaming license, which limits the number of gaming machines on the property to 15 or less. Compared to an unrestricted license they are much easier and cheaper to acquire, making them perfect for small bars or side areas of stores where the owner couldn’t fit many more than 15 machines in anyway.

But having the ability to only offer a handful of machines poses some challenges larger casinos don’t have to tackle, mostly concerning liabilities on top awards. Huge jackpots can take forever to recoup if you can’t offer hundreds of machines, table games, hotel rooms and all of the other money-making amenities of a large casino. And since there are far too many restricted licensees to ignore, machine manufacturers have developed products specifically catering to the unique needs of these smaller operators.

Probably one of the most important and yet little-known concessions manufacturers made to restricted license operators has to do with keno paytables. I refer to it as the “convenience store keno” paytable.

If there’s one reason to check paytables particularly thoroughly when playing in a smaller venue, it has got to be the advent of convenience store keno. This paytable was developed by manufacturers specifically catering to the needs of the smallest of operators – typically convenience stores with only a few machines – and it can be a big unpleasant surprise to players who don’t bother to check paybacks before playing.

A typical top payout on video keno is 10,000 credits for each credit bet. The problem some smaller restricted licensees have with this is that even on a nickel denomination, a keno player can win $2,500 with a five-nickel bet. Not only is that more liability than they might want to take on, it is also over the taxable jackpot threshold of $1,199.

Many gas stations and convenience stores don’t offer anything above a quarter video poker royal flush payout of $1,000, so offering video keno at any denomination above two cents immediately puts them in the uncomfortable position of having to train employees and put procedures in place to handle tax withholding paperwork. That’s no fun, especially when it’s so infrequent for someone to hit a taxable jackpot that when one does finally hit, the attendant likely would mess up the tax paperwork anyway.

Video keno is too popular not to offer though, so the manufacturers came up with the convenience store keno paytable. It’s actually a rather loose video keno paytable with an average payback of better than 93% – quite uncommon for video keno where paybacks usually hover around 88% to 92%. The kicker will hit you right in the gut if you whack a top award before checking the paytable though, because even if you hit 10-out-of-10, your best possible payout will be 400-to-1. That takes your $2,500 payout on nickels and brings it all the way down to $100. Talk about an unpleasant surprise!

So how can this paytable cut the top award so drastically and yet still keep the overall payback at a comparatively loose 93%? Simply mark five through ten spots and each time none of them hit, you get your money back. It actually happens often enough to completely make up for the drastically butchered top award.

If there is a better display of how the frequency of hits and their relative probability affect payback percentages, I don’t know of one. This clearly shows that one credit for a common occurrence can more than make up for 9,600 credits on an extremely rare occurrence. Even though the top award is nothing compared to absolutely all other keno setup top awards, the overall payback to the player over the long term on convenience store keno is actually better than most other settings.

Although payback percentages are important, convenience store keno shows us they’re not the only thing to consider. Most video keno players I know would become physically sick if they hit 10-out-of-10 and only got paid 400-to-1. It might not happen often, but the risk of it happening just once is enough for most of us to avoid playing this keno setup at all costs.

And even though this odd paytable is rare and typically only used in the smallest of locations, every common video keno machine in use today has some form of convenience store keno paytable available to use if the operator programs it to do so, even if simply by mistake. So you’d better keep checking those keno paytables before playing. You want to make sure you’re on the right machine just in case your ship comes in; otherwise you might find yourself wanting to jump overboard!

(Editor’s Note: Brad Fredella is general manager of Stetson’s Saloon and Casino in Henderson, Nev.)

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