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Debate over video keno program rages on

Jul 20, 2004 3:26 AM

Last week’s column created a firestorm of comments, mainly from keno players who didn’t want to believe a video keno game could be determined by a computer program that hits only when it is "ready" to pay off.

As I pointed out, the comments were attributed to someone supposedly with manufacturer experience. While I don’t have any "proprietary" knowledge of how the game works, I would suggest it’s a different game than live keno.

I feel this way because of the tons of experience I have playing the game, plus a fair amount of common sense.

Here are a few factors that have convinced me that the video keno game is not run the same way as a "live" game.

First, the action of the numbers just doesn’t follow the totally random nature of a live game. Of course, anything can (and is supposed to) happen when numbers are chosen at random, but it just doesn’t happen in a computer game.

For instance, one of the most common complaints I hear from players is this one (I’ve experienced it myself, as well): As soon as I leave some numbers, the machine fills in those very same numbers!

If you’ve never experienced this unlucky phenomenon, then you simply don’t play video keno.

I can recount countless times I’ve played an entire (eight spot) column, perhaps for hundreds of games, and never hit more than six out of the eight. But as soon as I reset, erase and pick new numbers, seven or even eight of the eight numbers rush to fill the vacated spots!

Is this just poor judgment on my part? Should I have just played a few minutes longer?

I’m sure we’ve all asked those questions of ourselves, and maybe even agonized over the possibility of a missed jackpot. But stop torturing yourselves! It’s not likely you would have hit those numbers even if you’d kept playing until the lights went out.

This kind of "anecdotal evidence" supports the theory that keno is an "output device" that simply displays the results of a random number generator’s selection of an outcome.

In other words, there would be a computer program that determines the outcome, say, for a 10-spot ticket — no hits, two spots, three spots, six out of 10, etc. — and then directs the game to fill in the numbers that correspond to the outcome. Thus, if you mark an entire 10-number row, such as the bottom line, you will only get the number of hits prescribed by the computer program. The numbers don’t just fall at random, like they do in a live game.

That’s not to say the game isn’t random. It would not be possible to pass regulators if the outcome of the games weren’t random. But that doesn’t mean the device is an actual electronic version of live keno.

Here’s Exhibit B our case that machines don’t actually "play" an electronic game of keno. A few years ago, I was a regular player at a downtown casino that had the old, upright machines I have enjoyed playing.

And over the course of several months, I enjoyed steady success, hitting decent jackpots week in and week out.

Then one day, I came in and found all the machines shut down with their lights off and front door open. I asked what was going on and they told me they were changing the computer "boards," which contained the computer chips that ran the games.

Well, after that point, the machines’ payoffs dropped to a trickle. Whatever change they made to the program subsequently cut down on the payoffs to players.

Live keno wouldn’t be affected like that. You’d experience ups and downs over time with live keno, but there’s no way a video version should drop off completely. Not unless the game can be programmed to pay less often. Which seemed to have happened. Many people that played there also believe this is what happened, and they no longer play in that casino.

And why shouldn’t they? Why play if you can’t win?

(L.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.)