Going from poker to keno was easy choice

January 14, 2008 4:17 AM
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I am often asked how I began playing video keno when the game of choice, for most locals, is video poker.

Well, like most people who live in Las Vegas, my first game of choice in the casino was video poker. When I moved to Las Vegas in the late 1980s, I was attracted to the game because you could play at your own pace, it was fun and it seemed to contain an element of skill.

I started out playing Deuces Wild poker because of the somewhat reasonable possibility of hitting the Four Deuces every now and then.

I’ve even read somewhere that full-pay Deuces Wild is actually the "best" video poker game because of high payback percentage to players.

In any case, the "mini jackpot" of 1,000 coins seemed like a nice consolation prize, considering hitting the royal flush was such an infrequent event.

Using the same kind of thinking, I moved on to Joker Poker, in which there was about the same odds of hitting the Five of A Kind, which also paid 1,000 coins. Plus the joker ensured a lot more four-of-a-kinds, which would help fill those old buckets with quarters.

While playing Joker Poker, I had a fair amount of success, hitting a few progressive jackpots on the machines at the El Cortez.

Incidentally, with all the fancy casinos in town, the El Cortez somehow offered the ambiance of "old Las Vegas." My parents always stayed at the El Cortez when the came to town.

 It wasn’t long, though, before I began experimenting with video keno, also at the El Cortez, although I also played at other "old school" places like Stupak’s Vegas World, the Stardust, Silver City Casino, and the California Hotel, to name a few.

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 the results. But because the payoffs looked appealing, I did some research and found that video keno was a game worth pursuing.

The keno payoffs looked enticing because some of them are in the realm of lottery payoffs. Equally important, they simply 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.

A comparable video keno jackpot (in terms of odds) would be hitting seven out of seven numbers, with a probability of about 41,000/1. Yet the keno payoff is an eye-opening 7000/1! 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 factoring in the various hits. However, the bottom line for me was this: Why would you chase an 800/1 jackpot when you can pursue a 7000/1 prize with about the same chances of hitting it? The answer was an easy one.

For the math freaks among us (gulp!), I’ll get more into the math of the game of video keno next week.