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Be aware of, but not slave to keno pay tables

Feb 3, 2009 5:03 PM
Cluster Keno by L. J. Zahm |

Worst culprit for payback’s multi-keno

We recently received an e-mail from a reader commenting on keno machines’ payback percentages. I thought there were some astute observations so I’m including it here:

"You made a comment that playing Video Keno at 1¢ and 2¢ a card might not pay out as well as when playing 5¢ a card.

"Based on my admittedly limited experience playing mostly the IGT Video Keno machines in Vegas and the San Diego area, I’d recommend that players check the payouts before inserting their bills. The best payout I’ve seen is one that purports to provide a 94% rate of return, but I’ve seen that on only eight machines in the San Diego area.

"The payout that seems to occur the most often provides a 92% rate of return, which for me is the minimally acceptable. That’s also the one that the author describes as paying 4,700 credits for 8/9 and 335 credits for 7/9. Another payout I’ve seen, while it also provides around a 92% return, pays a push should one hit nothing, but drastically cuts the payouts at the higher pays."

Indeed, 92 percent machines should be the minimum acceptable, and most straight (non multi-card games) keno machines still return that much.

For instance, the 7-spot keno game returns 92.44 percent, while the 8-spot returns 92.31 percent, the 9-spot, 92 percent and the 10-spot, 92.55 percent.

These figures assume a full payout on the medium-range payouts, such as 400-for-1 on 6-of-7, 335-for-1 on 7-of-9 and 1650-for-1 on 7-of-8.

But these payoffs drop a bit when playing lower denominations, or when playing the multi-card machines, such as Four Card Keno and 20-Card Keno. On the latter, it’s not uncommon for 6-of-6 payoffs to drop to 335-for-1, and to 300-for-1 on 7-of-9.

But these statistics aren’t too critical when you’re shooting for a solid 7-of-7 or a nice 8-of-9 jackpot; the payoffs remain 7000-for-1 and 4700-for-1.

What the smaller payoffs do is increase the machine’s "breakage" factor. That is, it will take you longer (and presumably require a larger bankroll) to get where you’re going.

So you see, while payback percentage is important, it isn’t the only statistic we’re looking at. What’s key are the odds of what you’re trying to win, and therefore your ability to win. This is what matters.

The real difference between a video keno machine that pays 92 percent versus say, a video poker game that pays 98 percent, is the "breakage" factor. This means that the higher-rated machine has additional smaller payouts that would conceivably make your bankroll last a bit longer than at the lower rate.

What I base my play on are the stats I mentioned earlier – the odds of hitting a jackpot, relative to what the jackpot pays. For instance, the odds of hitting 7 out of 7 spots is actually less than the odds of hitting a royal flush, but the payoff (7000-1) is substantially higher then the royal’s award (800-1).

Here’s another way of looking at it: for every royal flush you hit on a poker machine (with a payoff of $1,000 for five quarters bet), the video keno machine will hit at least six 7-out-of-8 jackpots (with a payoff of $1,652 for four quarters bet!).

Thus, you might need a larger video keno bankroll in order to hit the jackpot than you would with a video poker machine. But, as pointed out above, the return would be well-worth it because the payouts are so much larger.