Making a case for keno

May 21, 2002 4:44 AM

Video keno has always played second fiddle to video poker, especially in Las Vegas’ "neighborhood" casinos ”” Station, Coasts, Arizona Charlie’s, Sam’s Town, etc.

But despite the growth in the variety and number of video poker games (multi-game, Double Double Bonus, etc.) video keno remains the game of choice for a relatively small though loyal legion of players.

The reason for this unwavering devotion? Video keno offers the possibility of hitting a significant payoff with a minimal investment.

How significant? For a bet as small as $1, keno payoffs can run into the thousands of dollars, just like in the live games played in the keno lounges.

For instance, the top award for hitting 10-out-of-10 spots on a 25-cent video keno machine pays $10,000 (with maximum four coins bet), and as much as $120,000 or more on progressive machines.

But the lottery-like jackpot is only part of the allure. Video keno games typically offer a sliding scale of payoffs so there’s a reasonable chance of hitting a lesser or "consolation" jackpot. Unlike some poker machines, you don’t have to hit the top award to make a big score.

Continuing with our 10-spot game as an example, the odds of catching all 10 spots are an astronomical 8.9 million-to-1. Obviously, it’s not nearly as difficult to catch less than 10 spots. Yet the smaller payoffs can offer good value.

The odds of catching 9 spots, for instance, drops to 163,000-to-1, but the payoff is a solid $4,500. The odds of catching a more realistic 8-out-of-10 spots is only 7,400-to-1, yet the payoff is a respectable $1,000.

The 8-out-of-10 payoff illustrates another reason keno players reject video poker ”” video keno offers a better rate of return, given the odds of hitting the jackpot, in many cases.

Without delving into the perplexing mathematics of probability theory, consider this comparison. The top award on a video poker machine is usually for a natural royal flush, which typically pays $1,000 for five quarters bet (a payoff of 800-1). But the actual odds of hitting that royal are about 40,100-to-1.

Note that this is the same jackpot a keno player gets for hitting 8-out-of-10 spots. The difference is that the odds are significantly less ”” 7,400-to-1 versus nearly 40,100-to-1.

Simply put, this means that in the number of games it takes to hit one royal flush (at five coins per game), you should be able to hit at least five 8-out-of-10 keno jackpots (at only four coins per game).

Some video keno games pay off better than poker machines

Another comparison will further illustrate the attractive nature of video keno payoffs. The odds of hitting 7-out-of-7 spots is about 40,900-to-1, nearly the same as hitting a royal flush. But the keno payoff is a healthy $7,000 (for four coins bet), more than eight times higher than the five-coin poker payoff!

Players frequently want to know, which is the best ticket to play ”” 10-spot, 8-spot, 6-spot ”” to optimize their chances of winning. Obviously, that depends on a variety of factors. But the game with the lowest house advantage is a 5-spot, which pays $810 (with four quarters bet) for hitting 5-out-of-5 spots, which has a probability of 1,550-to-1.

While the popularity of video keno has remained steady over the past decade, manufacturers have introduced more versatile if not overwhelming machines that are easier to master and more enjoyable to play.

One of the popular machines is Bally’s GameMaker and its Keno Plus spinoff. These use touch screen technology to move the game faster, as well as crisp graphics and better sound effects.

Keno Plus also offers variations to "regular" keno, such as Way tickets, King tickets and a Triple Bonus keno game in which jackpots are tripled during a bonus round.

The time tested favorite, however, is International Game Technology’s Players Edge keno machines. These feature the dual screens (one for payoffs, one for the game), and are reminiscent of IGT’s old Fortune keno machines, which for many years were the standard bearer for keno machines.

Another recent addition from IGT is its Multi-Game machines that feature regular keno and a Four Card Keno. The latter has become wildly popular with keno buffs because you can play four cards at once (during the same game).

For video keno purists, however, there’s nothing like the old, double screen IGT Fortune machines. If you don’t remember them, they were the rickety old machines that dumped coins on every pay-out ("credits" hadn’t quite caught on with these relics). The last of these classics can be found downtown at places like the El Cortez, Plaza and Western Hotel, but they’re practically extinct from the casino landscape. You might also find a few at Arizona Charlie’s West, the Nevada Place, as well as other casinos that haven’t completely tossed out their glorious past. It’s really a shame they’re disappearing from the landscape because many old-timers think these were the best keno machines of all.