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Hit the video spots!

Sep 23, 2003 4:01 AM

Like most people who live in Las Vegas, my first game of choice in the casino was video poker. It wasn’t long, though, before I began experimenting with video keno.

What caught my attention about video keno was the somewhat astounding jackpots that you’d see on those old two-screen keno machines, with the payoffs on the top screen and the game layout on the bottom.

Now, the game itself had very little appeal ”” what could be more boring than marking your numbers, and then waiting through the "beep, beep, beep" of the machine as it sang out its numbers. But because the payoffs looked appealing, I did some research and found that video keno was a game worth pursuing.

The keno payoffs looked enticing because some of them are in the realm of lottery payoffs, and equally important they simply looked closer to the actual odds than the poker payoffs. For instance, the odds of hitting a royal on a jacks or better and a deuces wild machine are about 42,000. However, the standard payoff is only 800-1 or $1,000 on a quarter machine.

A comparable video keno jackpot (in terms of odds) would be hitting seven out of seven numbers, with a probability of about 41,000-1. Yet the keno payoff is a healthy 7000-1. On a quarter machine that means $7,000 for a bet of four coins (a single coin returns $1,750!).

Admittedly, hitting either a royal flush or a solid seven is not an everyday occurrence, and it’s even possible to play for weeks and weeks and never hit either one. That’s why I usually play the higher number keno games, 8-, 9- and 10-spot keno, because they offer more opportunities to hit minor jackpots, while offering the always-present chance of hitting the Big One.

Hitting the minor jackpots, or consolation prizes as I used to call them, is important, because they are the ones that can keep you going, or even make you money, until you can land the big one.

For example, the 8-spot has a nice payoff for hitting seven out of eight numbers: $1,652 for four quarters bet. And with odds of 6200-1, the chances of catching seven of eight is nearly seven times greater than hitting a royal flush.

I also play a lot of 9- and 10-spot keno. The odds of hitting eight numbers out of nine are about 30,600-1, which are about 25 percent lower than the odds for a royal, but the payoff is still a superior 4700-1 (as opposed to the royal’s 800-1). The 9-spot also offers a seven of nine payout of $335 and, with odds of 1690-1, can often be hit at a sitting.

To recap, I play the higher numbers in hopes of eventually hitting the top line payoff, but also because there are the minor awards, or consolation prizes, that pop up frequently enough to keep things interesting. And, because I’m frequently playing on a progressive bank of machines, the rewards can be huge.

In playing video keno, no matter how many spots you choose, it’s important to differentiate the game from live keno. There’s an old adage in the keno lounge that states you should pick your numbers then "wait for them to come to you." Coupled with that is the admonition to never "chase" your numbers.

That’s probably good advice in the keno lounge, but it’s never worked for me at the keno machine. I could play the same numbers over and over until the cows come home and have nothing — except an empty wallet — to show for it.

I’ve found that sticking with the same numbers without switching is a loser. Which would seem to make sense, if you keep in mind that the keno game is the product of a computer software expert, whose job is to design a game that makes money for the casino.

When I started playing about 10-12 years ago, I exclusively played the upright, two-screen IGT Fortune keno machines. These were the old warhorses that plodded along, dumping out coins on every payout, and waking the dead with its jackpot ringer that was reminiscent of the doorbells in the 1950s. Most of those old machines have been retired, but you can still find some in places like downtown (El Cortez, Western, Plaza) and some of the locals oriented places like the Nevada Palace, Arizona Charlie’s, Gold Coast, Palace Station, plus a few more.

You have to be careful, though, because some of the Golden Oldies have been retrofitted with different computer chips that have reduced the payouts. I made that painful discovery several years ago. Some of the other keno machines that have paid off are the Keno Plus games from Bally and IGT’s Game King. In recent months, I’ve taken a fancy to Game King’s Four Card Keno, but more about that game and others next week.

(L.J. Zahm is the author of "Cluster Keno: Using the Zone Method to Win at Video Poker." For a copy, send $19.95 to Cluster Keno,