Video keno can be catching!

Jun 10, 2003 6:14 AM

In Las Vegas, video keno is a favorite game among local players, even though the majority of casino customers prefer video poker. Yet, video keno has a substantial and loyal following, and its popularity is spreading into venues such as Mississippi, California and elsewhere.

And no wonder! You can win as much as $2,500 for just a quarter and $10,000 for four quarters. Plus, with denominations in the one penny, nickel and dime range, players don’t need a large bankroll to get started.

Regular "live" keno moves at the rate of about 12 games an hour. It can’t be played faster, because of the time it takes to write up tickets and the time needed for all of the keno runners to complete their rounds.

With video keno you can set your own pace, up to 12 or 15 games per minute! And, of course, the more games you play, the more chances you have of winning.

The older video keno machines have two screens. The upper screen shows you what you can win for the number of coins played and the number of spots selected. The more numbers you mark, the higher the potential payoff, but more catches are required to win. With each additional coin or credit played, the amount you can win increases proportionately.

The lower screen is laid out much like a paper keno ticket, with 10 columns and eight rows displaying numbers 1 through 80. The numbers you select and the numbers picked by the machine are indicated on this screen.

The newer versions of video keno have only one screen, comparable to the lower screen of the two-screen version. The payoffs are displayed when you touch the box marked "paytables." Video keno payoffs will vary from casino to casino and sometimes from machine to machine, so it’s always a good idea to be sure you’re playing a machine that will give you the maximum payoff for your coins.

Both versions have colorful screens. Some individual machines have interesting sound effects followed by a loud ringing sound when a jackpot is hit. This is to call attention to the fact that someone has won and to encourage others to play.

Video keno is very easy to play. First, drop in one to four coins (there are nickel, quarter and dollar machines.) Next, press the erase button to clear the screen. Then, using the light pen attached to the machine, touch the screen to mark your lucky numbers.

The newer machines don’t use a light pen; you simply touch the numbers with your fingertip. You may pick from one to 10 numbers. Now you’re ready to play and to win. Press the "start" button. The computer will pick 20 numbers at random and they will light up. Hopefully the numbers you picked will be among those 20.

After each game you may continue with the same numbers or erase them and choose new ones. Earlier versions of the game would drop your winnings after every game. The newer machines store your winnings in the form of credits, which you can collect at the conclusion of each game.

Some machines will hold up to 1,000 credits, but most top off at 400. If you exceed these amounts, the machine will drop the difference. If the bell starts ringing, take a deep breath. It’ll be a few minutes before a "floor person" comes around to hand-pay your jackpot.

In addition to individual keno machines, there are machines that are linked together to offer a progressive payoff. These take a portion of the money played on each machine and add it to a progressive jackpot. To win the progressive jackpot, you must play the maximum number of coins and mark the required number of spots. I have seen progressives for six, seven, eight, nine and ten spots.

Video poker is by far the most popular of all casino slot machines. And the percentage of play held by the casino in video poker machines and in video keno machines is about the same. However, the possible payoffs (not counting progressives) are much higher in video keno.

For example, the top payoff on most poker machines is 4,000 coins or $1,000 on a quarter machine and that’s for five coins. On a keno machine you can win $2,500 for one quarter and $10,000 for four quarters.

There are a lot of misconceptions about keno in general and about video keno in particular. One is that the casino can tighten or loosen the screws on a machine to affect the payoff. Not so! Each machine is equipped with a computer chip that has a certain percentage of "hold" built in. This ensures that over the long haul the casino will retain a set percentage of profit from the operation of that machine. The gaming commission must approve each chip and its "hold" cannot exceed the legal limit. For most video keno machines, that hold is about 7.5%.

A keno machine played at the maximum of eight games per minute with one quarter played will process $120 an hour. At 7.5%, that computes to a $9 an hour "hold." If that machine is played for 12 hours each day, in one year it will yield a profit of $39,420 to the casino.

Some people play slower than others and some play more coins than others, but in the long run the percentages will hold up. For the casino it’s a "no-brainer." No casino would jeopardize its license by tampering with machines already set to pay them the percentage they want.

One of the most amusing games can be found on the Bally Keno Plus machine, called Triple Trouble. The concept behind this keno game is that you pick your numbers in the standard manner, choosing up to 10 spots, as you would in a standard game.

But the game features a bonus round that kicks in when three of the famous Bally "Devils" appear on screen (all three have to pop up in order to enter the bonus round). During the three ensuing, automatic games (you can’t re-set your numbers once the bonus round kicks in), all payoffs are tripled.

To compensate for the possibility of paying back "too much" to the player, the pay tables on many of the rewards are reduced.

Nevertheless, it makes for some exciting play when the red devil comes up and you have a shot at some nice payoffs during those three games.

Another keno variation that has developed quite a following is Caveman Keno, which is among the choices on IGT’s Game King. In addition to its molar-rattling sound effects, Caveman Keno features a novel screen with prehistoric volcanoes, landscape and ”” hopefully for the player ”” dinosaur eggs.

The eggs are the key, and they function in much the same manner as the red devils in Bally’s Triple Trouble.

Here’s how the game works: The player chooses from 2-10 spots, just as in regular keno. The computer will then draw three numbers at random (among those that the player did not pick). These three numbers will be marked with a dinosaur egg.

If the player has hit enough spots to win something, that award is multiplied by a factor depending on whether the egg numbers match the 20 numbers chosen by the machine.

The multiplying factor is 1 if the number of egg matches is 1 or less, 4 if two eggs match, and 10 if all three eggs match.

As you can see, the bonus feature is similar to the devils in Triple Trouble, but you don’t need all three to appear in order to gain a multiplier.