Keno attracts players by the numbers

Sep 12, 2005 12:18 AM

Although most of the new slot and video gaming machines will be kept under wraps until showtime at G2E, you can expect to find a variety of new video keno gaming machines on the expo floor.

Although keno doesn’t enjoy the widespread popularity of video poker (or even some slots for that matter), manufacturers recognize its popularity by releasing innovative variations that typically feature bonus rounds, bonus numbers and other enhancements.

We hope to review many of the new games in upcoming issues, but for now it might be helpful to describe the basic video keno game for those not familiar with them.

For many years I was an avid video poker player until I "discovered" video keno. What caught my attention about video keno was the somewhat astounding jackpots that you’d see on those old two-screen keno machines, with the payoffs on the top screen and the game layout on the bottom.

Now, the game itself had very little appeal — what could be more boring than marking your numbers, and then waiting through the "beep, beep, beep" of the machine as it sang out its numbers. But because the payoffs were appealing, I did some research and found that video keno was a game worth pursuing.

Keno payoffs are enticing because some are in the realm of lottery jackpots, and equally important, they are actually closer to the odds than the poker payoffs.

Let’s use the royal flush as an example. The odds of hitting a royal on a jacks or better and a deuces wild machine are about 42,000-1 (they’re slightly higher on a joker machine because of the 53rd card).

However, the standard payoff is only 800-1 or $1,000 on a quarter machine. A comparable video keno jackpot would be hitting seven-out-of-seven numbers, with a probability of about 41,000-1.

Yet the keno payoff is an eye-popping 7,000-1! On a quarter machine that means $7,000 for a bet of four coins (a single coin returns $1,750!). Obviously, there’s a lot more math involved when you take the entire game into consideration and factor in the various hits, but bottom line for me is this: why would you chase an 800-1 jackpot when you can pursue a 7,000-1 prize with you chase an 800-1 jackpot when you can pursue a 7,000-1 prize with about the same probability of hitting it?

Of course, hitting either jackpot is not an everyday occurrence. That’s why I usually play the higher number keno games, eight-, nine- and 10-spot keno, because they offer more opportunities to hit mid-range jackpots, while offering the always-present chance of hitting the Big One.

Here are a few examples: The 8-spot has a nice payoff for hitting seven-out-of-eight numbers — $1,652 for four quarters bet. And with odds of 6,200-1, the chances of catching seven of eight is nearly seven times greater than hitting a royal flush.

Another way of looking at it: for every royal flush that’s hit, there will be six hand-pay jackpots for hitting seven-of-eight on a keno machine!

Another thing: While playing an 8-spot, hitting six-of-eight numbers, which have odds of about 422-1, results in a $98 payoff with four quarters bet. Those odds are close to what the odds are to hit a natural four of a kind, which pays less than half as much on a jacks or better machine.

Incidentally, the odds of hitting a solid eight are about 230,000-1, but they’re not insurmountable. At the El Cortez, I hit the first two 8-spot progressives (on nickel machines!) for payoffs in the $7,500-$8,000 range, and have subsequently hit a few solid eights, but most of my most recent wins have come on other keno games.

I also play a lot of nine- and 10-spot keno. Quite frankly, I’ve never hit a solid nine spot, but have cashed some eight-of-nine jackpots at $4,700. The odds of hitting eight numbers are about 30,600-1, which are about 25% lower than the odds for a royal, but the payoff is still a superior 4,700-1 (as opposed to the royal’s 800-1).

The nine-spot also offers a seven of nine payout of $335 and, with odds of 1,690-1, can often be hit at a sitting.

The 10-spot offers similar attractions: catching eight-of-10 is attractive with a payoff of $1,000, but because the odds are about 7300-1, it doesn’t offer the value of hitting a seven of eight, whose odds are actually less (6,200-1) while the payoff is actually more ($1,652).

The newest machines feature many enhancements. We’ll take a closer look next week.