Dec 12, 2005 1:48 AM

Obviously, there are plenty of poker players out there, many of whom are not quite ready to give up their game of choice but are curious about the growing popularity of video keno.

Actually, my first love was video poker. When I moved to Las Vegas, my specialty was joker poker, partly because it offered the chance to hit a "mini jackpot" with its five of a kind (1,000 coins), as well as the standard royal flush (4,000 coins).

Plus the joker ensured a lot more four-of-a-kinds, which would help fill those buckets with quarters. While playing joker poker, I had a fair amount of success, hitting a few progressive jackpots on the machines at the downtown casinos.

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, admittedly 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 looked appealing, I did some research and found that video keno was a game worth pursuing.

The key attraction to keno has always been the payoffs, many of which reached the realm of lottery jackpots.

Equally important, the payoffs looked closer to the actual 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 (with maximum five coins bet).

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 a healthy 7000-1. On a quarter machine that means \$7,000 for a maximum 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 7000-1 prize with about the same probability of hitting it?

Admittedly, hitting either a royal flush or a solid seven is not an everyday occurrence, and it’s even possible to play for weeks and weeks and never hit either one. You have to remember, when you’re dealing with large odds, especially when they get into the thousands or tens of thousands, it may take awhile to beat the odds. That’s why I usually play the higher number keno games, eight-, nine- and 10-spot keno, because they offer more opportunities to hit minor 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 6200-1, 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!

In addition, 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, after the casino installed a bank of new keno machines, 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.

I also play a lot of nine- and 10-spot keno. Quite frankly, I’ve never hit a solid nine spot, but have cashed many eight of nine jackpots at \$4,700 (with maximum four quarters bet). 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 4700-1 (as opposed to the royal’s 800-1). The nine-spot also offers a seven-of-nine payout of \$335 and, with odds of 1690-1, 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 (6200-1) while the payoff is actually more (\$1,652).

Many keno players tell me they concentrate on, almost exclusively, the five and six spot games. Of course, these games offer great value, and playing those games steadily will result in some nice — and relatively frequent — jackpots.

In fact, the five spot offers the best value of any keno game: The payoff of 810-1 is better than the royal flush’s payoff (800-1), but the odds of hitting a solid five are only 1550-1! Remember, the odds of hitting a royal are about 41,000-1, so this difference can be interpreted to mean that for every royal, you should hit 26 solid five spots!

I suppose I play the higher numbers in hopes of eventually hitting the top line payoff. And, because I’m frequently doing so on a progressive bank of machines, those rewards can be huge. Unfortunately, they don’t have monster progressives for five- and six-spot games, not yet anyway.

But, hey, if a player can win and win consistently, playing a five or six spot, play on! There’s never a substitute for winning in the casino. It sure beats the alternative!