El Cortez regains its keno crown

Jan 4, 2005 2:41 AM

It tickled my heart to see someone hit the top keno progressive at the El Cortez last week. I must confess I used to chase that jackpot — and hit a lot of medium jackpots in the process — but could never line up 10-out-of-10 spots for the grand prize.

Nevertheless, the El Cortez remains one of my favorite places to play, even though a lot of the old Fortune keno machines — the ones with the dual screens — have either been removed or retrofitted with stingy computer chips.

The lucky jackpot winner, however, rang up the Big One while on one of these machines, and it’s good to know that not all of the old warhorses have been put out to pasture.

These old machines — with their distinctive beep, beep, beep sounds and coin-only operation — actually introduced me to video keno several years ago.

Once I’d figured out how I wanted to play, I put together a fantastic year, most of which took place at the El Cortez.

That year is chronicled in my book, Cluster Keno, as I explain in detail how I captured each jackpot. As a tribute to the El Cortez and to the winners who did what I couldn’t do, here’s a recap of that fateful year of keno.

Oddly enough, my year of winnings is the answer to the $64,000 question. Literally, because that’s the amount of W-2 jackpots that I accumulated in the course of one year, exactly 365 days. To be completely precise, the figure was $64,378.50.

Here’s a rundown of the most significant jackpots and how they occurred:

”¡ $6,416.45: This was my first big jackpot, and it occurred on a 5-cent progressive keno machine. The payoff was for hitting a solid 8-spot (there were also progressives for 9-spot and 10-spot keno). The method of play was simple: I made it a point to play the same machine daily, and I always bet a solid column of eight numbers. I think there were some key points that served as valuable lessons in hitting this jackpot.

First, I consistently played the 8-number column. But, more important, I moved from column to column. That is, I might play the entire 8 column (consisting of 8, 18, 28, 38, etc.) for a few games, maybe half a dozen, but then I would move to the, say, the 3 column and play those numbers for awhile.

Over the course of playing, I tried to stay on the same numbers for much greater lengths of time, but it always proved futile. The first lesson was to move around and not stick on the same numbers without "resetting the machine" (erasing the numbers and starting again, but with the original numbers).

The second key point was trying to play the same machine at every session. One advantage of playing a progressive bank of machines is that you know whether the top award has hit. And, while there’s no guarantee you will hit it if you continually play the same machine, the odds seem to be in your favor that you will, eventually.

”¡ $7,000: Exactly a week after the nickel progressive, I hit this 7-of-7 jackpot on a 25-cent, IGT Fortune machine, one of the old timers noted above. It’s notable that I hit this jackpot trying out a theory of mine — that it’s possible to hit multiple jackpots on the same machine if you’re dropping down in the number of spots picked.

Briefly, I had hit 7-of-9 twice on the machine ($335 each time) and was accumulating a couple of buckets of quarters. So I dropped down to a 7-spot, and it didn’t take long, perhaps 15 minutes, before the machine hit the solid 7-spot.

While I was playing 9-spot games, I was marking a solid 2 by 4 box of 8 numbers, with a 9th "orphan" to either the left or right of the box.

When I switched to playing 7-spot games, I played a few 3 by 2 boxes of 6 numbers, with a seventh orphan just underneath the box. When the top award finally hit, I had changed the configuration to an "H" pattern, that is, two sets of three vertical numbers joined by the orphan

”¡ $7,953. 95: This is significant because this is another nickel progressive on the same bank of machines. Since I won the first nickel progressive, I had been playing other machines, mostly quarter machines. But I returned to the nickel machines when I saw how high the progressive jackpot had soared (it started at $5,000).

Once again, I hit the solid 8-spot playing an entire column of numbers. But I made it a point to sit at a different machine than on the one that I had hit the first progressive. Incidentally, I believe I was the first person to hit the 8-spot progressives since the machines were installed. Persistence can pay off!

”¡ $4,700: This was the first time I hit 8-of-9. It occurred on the older IGT Fortune machine, my machine of choice at the El Cortez. I hit several over the course of the year, most of them being 9-spots composed of nine numbers of the 10-number rows.

As noted this, and several to come, were hit while playing nine of the 10 numbers on an entire row (the horizontal numbers). Typically, I would choose 9 straight numbers, leaving an empty spot at either the left (the "1" column) or right (the "0" column) edge of the row.

”¡ $4,700, $1,340, $4,000: Obviously, this was quite a morning! It started off with an 8-of-9 jackpot on an IGT Fortune keno machine. I then moved my play to a Bally GameMaker machine and hit 7-of-9 playing $1 keno for the $1,340.

After a break from the machine, say, about a half hour playing other games, I returned to the same GameMaker and hit 8-of-10 for the $4,000 payoff.

I know a lot of readers want me to talk about specific winners; maybe this is helpful. In any case, I’m on my way to the El Cortez!

(L.J. Zahm is the author of Cluster Keno: Using the Zone Method to Win at Video Keno. The book is available at the Gamblers Book Club and Gamblers General Store in Las Vegas.)