Beat the keno odds

Nov 6, 2006 5:59 AM

In recent weeks we’ve received a number of reader comments about video keno, and how they enjoy the game and would like to learn more about the various versions in the casinos. That’s great to hear!

The reason I’m encouraged by the response is because keno has traditionally been perceived as the casino’s stepchild — a slow-moving, nickel-and-dime game for low-stakes gamblers and penny-pinching tourists.

Nevertheless the game has remained popular with players who don’t want to spend a lot of money, but want a shot at a significant payoff.

How significant? For a bet as small as 20 cents, video keno payoffs can run into the thousands of dollars. Of course, the odds are often huge, but if you spend any time in the casino, you’ll see the jackpots being won.

As an example, I used to play the nickel progressive keno machines at the El Cortez. Maximum coins is four (20 cents), but the payoffs run into the tens of thousand for the 9-spot and 10-spot games, and typically in the $6,000 to $8,000 for hitting a solid 8-spot.

In fact, I hit the first two 8-spot progressives (about three months apart) for payoffs just under $8,000 each! The winning sessions (which are documented in my book) usually included buy-ins of $30 to $40 in nickels (at the time, I plugged the coins in rather than insert bills — call it old fashioned, but it seemed to work).

Because keno machines allow players to bet many games in a short period of time, players can cut into the typically astronomical odds. Moreover, if you don’t want to spend a lot of coins, players a chance to play for as little as a nickel a game (a penny in some downtown casinos!), so players can also "last" significantly longer with a given bankroll, thus increasing the chances of hitting a jackpot.

What are the odds of hitting? Surprising to most players, keno odds are comparable to video poker odds, while the payoffs are actually significantly higher.

For instance, the top jackpot on a poker machine is a royal flush, which usually pays 800-to-1 ($1,000 for five quarters bet). The odds of hitting a royal are about 40,100-to-1 on a jacks-or-better machine and slightly higher on a joker machine (the extra card increases the odds).

Of course, keno payoffs vary with the number of spots picked. But using a 7-spot ticket as a comparable example, the odds of hitting 7-for-7 are about 40,900, nearly the same as the royal flush. But the keno payoff is 7000-to-1, more than eight times higher than the royal payoff!

Another way to illustrate the more attractive keno jackpots is to take a 5-spot, which pays a top jackpot of 810-to-1, virtually the same as the poker’s royal flush. But the odds of hitting 5-for-5 are only 1550-to-1, which means the comparable keno jackpot occurs 25 times more frequently than the royal!

The keno jackpots also out-pay the poker jackpots for hands other than the royal flush.

The higher payoffs at significantly lower odds has not gone unnoticed by players, who in the last five years have made video keno the second most popular game behind video poker in many "locals-oriented" casinos such as Palace Station, Gold Coast, El Cortez and The Orleans.

Manufacturers, in keeping with the demand for better products, have introduced more versatile keno machines that are easier to use and more enjoyable to play.

In previous columns I’ve mentioned IGT’s Game King because of its various keno games, including the hot Four Card Keno.

Another favored machine is Bally’s Game Maker, a touch-screen machine that actually has a library of games (poker, joker poker, deuces poker, video slots, etc.), although the keno game is the most popular with its crisp graphics, sound effects and touch-screen control.

Game Maker’s keno is so popular, in fact, that it spawned another machine, Keno Plus, devoted entirely to keno games. In addition to "regular" keno, the machine features Way Tickets keno, in which you can group numbers for greater possible payoffs, and Triple Trouble Keno, a keno game with a bonus payoffs of three times the "regular" awards.

Next week we’ll take a closer look at the entire keno board, and how Cluster Keno shrinks it to a more manageable size. That is, it should be easier to pick 16 or 20 numbers and hope maybe half of them will land in the "zone," with your card or cards getting the bulk of the hits.