Catching a progressive is worth the chase

March 12, 2002 6:04 AM
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Progressive keno tickets can be a very attractive proposition for the keno player. Typically, a progressive ticket offers a higher top end pay out per dollar wagered than a corresponding straight ticket, with perhaps slightly lower mid-level pay outs. A typical progressive ticket progresses the meter only on the top pay out, but this is not a requirement. A progressive ticket may offer more than one progressive meters; an example would be a nine spot with meters on the catch of 7, 8, and 9 spot catches. Although I’ve never seen one, there’s no reason why a keno game couldn’t offer a progressive meter on a catch of zero on a 20 spot ticket, with standard pay outs for all other catches. It might be interesting.

Progressive tickets differ also on the method of progression. The simplest progressive ticket (and the type most common in pre-computerized keno) is incremented by time. An example might be a five spot ticket whose meter is incremented $5 per day until it is hit and reset. A second method of progressing the meter is based upon the gross write of the whole keno game. This method was also common prior to computerization, and typically incremented the meter once per day. The most logical method of incrementing progressives is by using a percentage of the write of the progressive ticket itself. Thus the meter rises only in ratio to the amount of action on the ticket. There are several other possibilities: I can imagine an 8 spot progressive, for example, that progresses the 8 out of 8 meter each time a 7 out of 8 is hit. Or a 9 spot that progresses every time Bonds hits a home run. Such schemes may need approval of the gaming control board, but I see no reason why they wouldn’t be approved.

If you are a player, and you plan to play just a few dollars, the method of progression is of little interest to you; Your only interest is in the amount displayed on the meter. If you know how to calculate keno expected values, your expectation on a progressive ticket is simple if you just plan to play a few games. The problem arises when you have a large bankroll and you hope to pursue the big jackpot. It is easy to imagine this situation: You come upon a progressive jackpot that on it’s face offers a positive expectation for you, and you start playing the ticket. You play a thousand games, spend a thousand dollars without hitting the ticket, but someone else does. The meter is reset, the ticket now presents a house edge of 30 percent, and you are stuck $1,000! This is keno’s equivalent of a “bad beat” in poker!

Well, something is wrong with this picture. The math is fine, you started off making bets with a positive expectation, but now you’re really in a hole. Obviously, your calculation did not compute the real expected value of the ticket over time, but merely it’s expected value at one moment in time. How do we calculate the real expected value of a progressive ticket? Come back next week!

If you have a Keno question that you would like answered, please write to me care of this paper, or contact me on the web via email at kenolil@math.net. Well, that’s it for now. Good luck! I’ll see you in line!