Taking a look inside the enigmatic keno machine

Dec 16, 2008 5:02 PM
Cluster Keno by L. J. Zahm |

There’s was an interesting comment from a reader on our website regarding the operation of keno machines. Here’s most of what the player had to say:

"Keno games are supposed to be totally random in the numbers. If so, how can a casino tighten up the machines unless they are like regular slot machines? I see machines blocking numbers 8, 10, 12 in solid blocks but never in my grouping. I am becoming a believer that these machines are fixed and it does not matter what numbers you play, it will only pay out when it wants to. At least I know that live keno is random. Please post your comments."

The notion of how a video keno machine works is often the hot topic among players.

But after all the opinions have been expressed, theories delivered and explanations suggested, we all end up feeling like frustrated human beings struggling to explain our own mortality.

One of the most technical explanations of how a video keno game works was delivered to me from a reader who claims to have received the information from a former technician of a major slot manufacturer.

Now, I don’t endorse this explanation or suggest that it is a true reflection of how keno machines work. But I thought it might prove interesting, if not worthwhile, to our readers. Here is the explanation, in the reader’s own words:

These machines are designed and programmed to do one thing. Pay the house a certain pre-determined percentage of every dollar gambled, and I have been assured that if the machine has not registered enough intake of money to enable it to pay out a major jackpot, it will not hit no matter how many times or how often you re-set your numbers. These machines have a three phase program written into them.

Phase one … there isn’t enough money to pay a jackpot. This is when the machine will somehow manage to miss your numbers most of the time, hitting small pays just often enough to keep the "it’s due" type of player feeding it.

Phase two is the real kicker. When the machine has enough money to pay out a jackpot without hurting the house "hold" it actually switches over to a second program that is truly run via a random number generator. At this point the machine is actually running an honest RNG program, and your numbers may or may not hit depending on how lucky you are. This is when your true odds of hitting a jackpot based on the number of spots picked come into play. The more numbers picked, the longer the odds. (One note here: Almost all these machines except those connected to a progressive jackpot, pay the same maximum jackpot for an 8-, 9- or 10-spot. So why play a 10-spot when an 8-spot pays the same and your odds of hitting one are exponentially better?)

The third phase programmed into the game is the one you hope you’re lucky enough to have running when you put your money in and pick your numbers. Everyone from the Gaming Control Board to the manufacturer will deny this even under the pain of death, but just remember it is a computer and it can be programmed to do anything you want it to do. And it is the only way that a machine manufacturer can guarantee the house that they will make their percentage in profit. When these machines switch over to the third tier of the program, it reads that the machine is holding far in excess of what it is programmed to earn for the house, usually from 15 percent to 18 percent. It’s just way too close to the maximum 25 percent hold mandated by state gaming regulations. Now it doesn’t matter what numbers you pick, they are going to hit!

Interesting stuff, wouldn’t you say? Beyond that, I don’t have a clue whether this is an accurate explanation of a video keno program. And, of course, the game manufacturers aren’t talking.

What’s important is playing the game a certain way, which hopefully results in some nice payoffs. And let’s hope all our tiers are "tiers of joy."