Ugly pattern of losing continues in video keno

Jan 5, 2010 5:03 PM


Last week, I received an interesting letter from a California woman who is a long-time fan, like me, of 20-card keno.

She echoed many of the sentiments of Las Vegas video keno players, who contend that the machines simply don’t pay off as they have in the past.

The woman, Sharon, also raised some other interesting observations, based on years of play.

Here are some of her comments, with my responses added.

"I read your column regularly and I agree that something has been done to the 20-card Keno and other keno games at the Chumash Indian Reservation where I play. I play approximately five times per week and have for years. In the past year I would notice a period after new machines were installed when you could not win to save your life. I have patterns (like you) that I have developed over the years that I call my ‘bread and butter patterns.’ We recently had all new Game King machines installed and it seems those patterns have changed and you can’t hit them no matter how long you play or how many times you reset the machine. The casino tells me that they cannot adjust the amount the machine pays out but I have seen the inside of the machines when they open them to reset, and it definitely has numbers for the hold or payout percentages which can be selected."

Sharon, your observations, especially about keno patterns, raises the question of whether the keno game is based on the random selection of 20 numbers out of a possible 80 numbers, or whether the keno software program instead simply determines whether you win or lose.

If it’s the latter, then the keno game has gone the way of the stepper slot. Stepper slots are mechanical reel slots that have a computer program determine the final positioning of the reels, then makes them line up to reflect that outcome.

Thus, if the computer determines the outcome of the spin should be bar, blank and 7 on the payline, that’s what the magnetically-controlled reels will stop on.

It’s possible that the new keno machines work the same way. That is, the computer program will determine the outcome of the game, and the game will simply place the numbers accordingly.

Game makers may say that, since the outcome is random, it doesn’t matter that 20 numbers aren’t drawn randomly. I disagree for two reasons.

First, if these games are supposed to follow the same probabilities of a live keno game, as they’re supposed to in Nevada, then the criteria for determining the outcome comes into question, since it’s based on a cryptic software program that no one can figure out.

Secondly, removing the random draw of 20 numbers more dramatically affects 20-card Keno players. Here’s how: If you mark seven solid 7-spots "underneath" any given eight numbers, you should be able to hit a solid 7-spot (along with seven 6-of-7 payoffs) at the same frequency as you would catch seven of eight numbers.

It no longer seems to work that way. In fact, I’ve taken a whole row of 10 numbers and marked 20 different 7-spot tickets, only to have the game stop dropping numbers into that row. Now, if the 20 drawn numbers are truly random, there’s no reason to believe a row would be singled out for absolutely no play.

As far as re-setting the machine by a technician, that’s not supposed to happen in Nevada. Supposedly, the casino would have to change out the computer chips in order to change the payback percentage or hit frequency.

I don’t know what the requirements are in California, but unless it’s some type of server-based system (like the one in the new ARIA casino), I can’t imagine that the casino can flip a switch and change the dynamics of the game.

I will try to get further info on the operation of California machines. Now, a few more of Sharon’s comments:

"We used to see jackpots all around us all the time and now go all day and no one hits a jackpot … I used to hit between $400 and $800 every other time I went. Now, I can’t hit anything no matter how much money I put into the machines or how many machines I play in the same day. I used to play all day on $200 and end up with some of it, even if I did not hit a solid number. Now, I have put over $1,000 in a day in the machines and moved to different machines and nothing works. I don’t think the casinos realize they are hurting themselves as the daily player will cut back and others cut back and then they tighten the machines again so they keep making the same money and we feel they are cheating and robbing us by setting the machines so tight."

Thanks, Sharon, for sharing your experiences, which unfortunately mirror the complaints of many players here in Las Vegas as well.

If the operators have, in fact, changed how the keno game is played, I’m hopeful they will at some point see the light and return the game to a "true" keno game. Perhaps regulators at some point will step in and require licensees to adhere to the requirement that video keno follow the probabilities of live keno.

If not, then maybe the only true keno game is the live one, and it will become a matter of actually marking 20 keno tickets, and watching the numbers actually fall into your patterns.