Last week I became involved in a "lively" discussion with one of our top casino columnist, someone who has decades of casino management experience.
The discussion was over how keno offered such a poor return for players. My pal pointed out that the "hold" on live keno is between 25% and 30% (yes, it’s true), but I was stressing the fact that video keno is more competitive with returns averaging around 92%.
There are also differences between live keno and video keno machines.
Here are a few factors that have convinced me that the video keno game is not run the same way as a "live" game.
First, the action of the numbers just doesn’t follow the totally random nature of a live game. Of course, anything can (and is supposed to) happen when numbers are chosen at random, but it just doesn’t happen in a computer game.
For instance, one of the most common complaints I hear from players is this one (I’ve experienced it myself, as well): As soon as I leave some numbers, the machine fills in those very same numbers!
If you’ve never experienced this "unlucky" phenomenon, then you simply don’t play video keno.
I can recount countless times I’ve played an entire (eight spot) column, perhaps for hundreds of games, and never hit more than six out of the eight. But as soon as I reset, erase and pick new numbers, seven or even eight of the eight numbers rush to fill the vacated spots!
Is this just poor judgment on my part? Should I have just played a few minutes longer?
I’m sure we’ve all asked those questions of ourselves, and maybe even agonized over the possibility of a missed jackpot. But stop torturing yourselves! It’s not likely you would have hit those numbers even if you’d kept playing until the lights went out.
The reason I believe this is because of a theory I once heard on the operation of a video keno game. The theory, which came from a regulator close to the electronic gaming industry, stated that a video keno game is an "output device" that simply displays the results of a random number generator’s selection of an outcome.
This would be very similar to the operation of a stepper slot machine, in which a computer program picks a result — two cherries, three spaces, one bar, two sevens, or what have you — and then "tells" the machine to display that result.
Thus the spinning of the wheels and lining up of the symbols on the reel strips is only an afterthought as the computer chip has already determined the outcome.
Applied to video keno, there would be a computer program that determines the outcome, say, for a 10-spot ticket — no hits, two spots, three spots, six out of 10, etc. — and then directs the game to fill in the numbers that correspond to the outcome. Thus, if you mark an entire 10-number row, such as the bottom line, you will only get the number of hits prescribed by the computer program. The numbers don’t just fall at random, like they do in a live game.
That’s not to say the game isn’t random. It would not be possible to pass regulators if the outcome of the games weren’t random. But that doesn’t mean the device is an actual electronic version of live keno.
Another tip-off that a video keno game varies from a live game is one I can describe from personal experience. A few years ago, I was a regular player at a downtown casino that had the old, upright machines I enjoyed playing.
And over the course of several months, I enjoyed steady success, hitting decent jackpots week in and week out.
Then one day, I came in and found all the machines shut down with their lights off and front doors open. I asked what was going on and they told me they were changing the computer "boards," which contained the computer chips that ran the games.
Well, after that point, the machines’ payoffs dropped to a trickle. Whatever change they made to the program subsequently cut down on the payoffs to players.
Live keno wouldn’t be affected like that. You’d experience ups and downs over time with live keno, but there’s no way a video version should drop off completely. Not unless the game can be programmed to pay less often. Which obviously happened. Many people that played there are also certain this is what happened, and they no longer play in that casino.
And why shouldn’t they? Why play if you can’t win?
Finally, I’ve received comments from people claiming to have been privy to the engineering of a video keno game, and they’ve stated that the machine goes through cycles in which the payouts are influenced by how much the machine is "holding."
That seems to be the strongest evidence. It’s hard to argue with an engineer!