Keno runners an endangered species

Jul 29, 2008 7:02 PM

by Kevin Stott |If video really killed the radio star, then is technology now killing the keno runner in Las Vegas?

Ten years ago the keno runner – apparently we’re not saying "keno girl" these days – was a big part of the unique fabric of the casino scene in Las Vegas. What was once a staple of restaurants, coffee shops and all-you-can-eat buffets, the keno runner has almost disappeared from the Vegas landscape.

But if you look really, really hard, you can find that these keno runners aren’t exactly like Bigfoot and that more than a handful actually still do exist in a number of casinos in Southern Nevada.

Over at The Jokers Wild Casino, 9200 N. Boulder Highway, in Henderson, keno runners still offer that old-fashioned ambience to diners at The Court Café.

"A lot of them (patrons) really like it," said keno runner Gigi of the service aspect of the old school Las Vegas game. "And it’s a fun job."

Kim, who like co-worker Gigi, works as a keno runner both at The Jokers Wild and its sister casino in Henderson, the Eldorado, totally agreed.

"I think they enjoy having us come to their tables," Kim said.

And when asked if anyone has had any major wins on her shift, Kim said, "I’ve had a big one," but was discreet in that Las Vegas kind of way about revealing "just how big?"

The Bellagio, 3600 S. Las Vegas Blvd., also has 10 keno runners employed who service both The Buffet and Café Bellagio (next to the Botanical Gardens). Like most casinos which have gone away from the old Hand Cage – that spinning metal ball cage which rolls numbers into a slot where they are validated by a person – the Bellagio uses an automatic ball draw.

Peggy Mirabito, Keno Department Manager at the Bellagio, said their patrons just "love the service. I think they (the customers) enjoy having the runners come out to their tables."

But Mirabito added the changes in keno over the last decade have led to a decline in what many casinos call "live keno."

"I liked it when we had (keno) lounges, the bigger games," Mirabito commented. "And we had more business, too."

Another Strip casino with keno runners still is TI (formerly Treasure Island), 3300 S. Las Vegas Blvd., which offers the service in its restaurant The Coffee Shop.

The Imperial Palace, 3535 S. Las Vegas Blvd., offers live keno in its lounge (with the actual balls in a glass bowl) and employs nine keno writers/supervisors. The manager, who chose not to be identified, said these employees are not keno runners per se. She also said the Imperial Palace offers the automatic ball draw version of keno for patrons in The Tea House.

All in all, the advent of video keno along with the fading away of keno lounges and the onslaught of technologies like random number generators have helped to make the keno runner and the "live " games almost obsolete.

But like the cigarette girl and the 99-cent shrimp cocktail, the keno runner is still out there, just getting increasingly harder to find.

And like the cocktail waitresses, the sports ticket writers, the valets and the bellhops, these keno runners depend a lot on tips, so don’t forget they are providing a service and should be compensated if you’re satisfied with the quality of service you received.

If you know of any other casinos still employing keno runners, drop a line to [email protected].