How can winning ever be boring?

Mar 15, 2004 11:35 PM

A few weeks ago, I had just hit a nice video keno jackpot, and while waiting for the W-2 paperwork (the payoff was, thankfully, more than the $1,200 ceiling ”¦ much more), the floor supervisor said she couldn’t get into keno because it was so boring.

Her game of choice was video poker and, while I always respect people’s preferences, I disagreed that video keno is boring. Moreover, she would have to hit a royal flush on a dollar machine to get anywhere near the jackpot I had just one on a quarter machine!

Nevertheless, like most people who live in Las Vegas, my first game of choice in the casino was once video poker. When I moved to Las Vegas in the late 1980s, I was attracted to the game because you could play at your own pace, it was fun and it seemed to contain an element of skill.

I started out playing Deuces Wild poker because of the somewhat reasonable possibility of hitting the Four Deuces every now and then. The "mini jackpot" of 1000 coins seemed like a nice consolation prize, considering hitting the Royal Flush was such an infrequent event.

Using the same kind of thinking, I moved on to Joker Poker, in which there was about the same odds of hitting the Five of A Kind, also for 1000 coins. Plus the joker ensured a lot more four of a kinds, which would help fill those buckets with quarters. While playing joker poker, I had a fair amount of success, hitting a few progressive jackpots on the machines at the El Cortez.

It wasn’t long, though, before I began experimenting with video keno, also at the El Cortez, although I also played at places like Stupak’s Vegas World, the Stardust, Silver City Casino, Arizona Charlie’s, the California Hotel, to name a few.

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. Let’s use the royal flush as an example. The odds of hitting a royal on a jacks or better and a deuces wild machine are about 42,000-1 (they’re slightly higher on a joker machine because of the 53rd card). 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!).

Obviously, there’s a lot more math involved when you take the entire game into consideration, and factor in the various hits, but bottom line for me was this: why would you chase an 800-1 jackpot when you can pursue a 7000-1 prize with about the same chances of hitting it? The answer was an easy one.

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. You have to remember, when you’re dealing with large odds, especially when they get into the thousands or tens of thousands, it may take awhile to beat the odds.

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.

Here are a few examples: 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.

Another way of looking at it: for every royal flush that’s hit, there will be six hand-pay jackpots for hitting seven of eight on a keno machine! While playing an 8-spot, hitting six of eight numbers, which have odds of about 422-1, results in a $98 payoff with four quarters bet. Those odds are close to what the odds are to hit a natural four of a kind, which pays less than half as much on a jacks or better machine.

Incidentally, the odds of hitting a solid eight are about 230,000-1, but they’re not insurmountable. At the El Cortez, I hit the first two 8-spot progressives (on nickel machines!) for payoffs of $6400 and $7900, and have subsequently hit a few solid eights, but most of my most recent wins have come on Four Card Keno games (more on this later).

I also play a lot of 9- and 10-spot keno. At the time of this writing, I’ve only hit one solid nine spot, but have cashed numerous eight of nine jackpots at $4,700 (for four quarters bet). The odds of hitting eight numbers are about 30,600-1, which are about 25% 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.

The 10-spot offers similar attractions: catching eight of 10 is attractive with a payoff of $1,000, but because the odds are about 7300-1, it doesn’t offer the value of hitting a seven of eight, whose odds are actually less (6200-1) while the payoff is actually more ($1,652).

Even though I usually play the higher-number games, that doesn’t mean I totally neglect the smaller number games such as 5-spot, 6-spot or 7-spot keno. Occasionally, I play these games, but because they don’t offer the "intermediate" jackpots I’ve always felt they were an all or nothing proposition. That is, either you’re going to hit the six out of six, or you’ll walk away with nothing.

With the advent of multi-card games such as Four Card Keno and Multi-Card Keno (20-card keno), I’ve been playing a lot more seven spot games. It seems like the process of "clustering" seven-spot tickets together greatly enhances your chances of hitting a solid seven.

The five and six spots, however, actually offer the great value, and playing those games steadily will result in some nice - and relatively frequent - jackpots. In fact, the five spot offers the best value of any keno game: The payoff of 810-1 is better than the royal flush’s payoff (800-1), but the odds of hitting a solid five are only 1550-1! Remember, the odds of hitting a royal are about 41,000-1, so this difference can be interpreted to mean that for every royal flush, you should hit 26 solid five spots!

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. Unfortunately, they don’t have monster progressives for five- and six-spot games, not yet anyway.

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. In fact, as an experiment, I’ve tried to play the same numbers, and it’s like blood letting: you slowly watch the life slip out of your veins, until you’re ready to yell, "Stop the bleeding!"

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. Can you imagine IGT sending out a game, in which all it took to win the big jackpot was a little bit of patience and deep pockets? I don’t think so.

Next week, we’ll get into the nuts and bolts of playing, and how the Cluster Method has paid off for me.

(Linda J. Zahm is the author of Cluster Keno: Using the Zone Method to Win at Video Keno. For a copy, send $19.95 to Cluster Keno, P.O. Box 46303, Las Vegas NV 89114, or pick up a copy at Gamblers General Store or Gamblers Book Shop in Las Vegas.)