Keno Guide: Expert Advice on How to Play

Keno betting guide.

Our comprehensive guide to Keno takes you from the origins of this popular game right up to date with the latest online versions. We teach you how to play, explain different variations of the game and give you the odds of winning.

The History of Keno

Keno dates back around 2,000 years. Created in China, its original name was Baige Piao, which translates to ‘White Pigeon Ticket’. This derived from an early format of the game, which involved the use of homing pigeons. Early on, the first 80 characters of the Chinese alphabet were used instead of the numbers employed today. 

Around the mid-1800s, many Chinese immigrants made their way to the United States. They worked on the railroads there and brought keno with them. Chinese characters were swapped out for Western numbers, to accommodate American gamblers, and the name of the game became keno. It first turned up in Nevada gambling dens in 1933. Keno went on to become a popular game and can be found in land-based casinos as well as those online. 

Rules of the Game

Keno is similar to a lottery or to the popular game of bingo, but with slightly different rules. It works using the numbers between one and 80. These are printed on balls. In the ‘live’ version of the game, the balls are randomly chosen from a machine. In the online version, the numbers are derived with a random number generator.

To play the game, you choose three to 10 numbers, known as spots. If you select four numbers, you are playing a four-spot game, five numbers a five-spot game, and so forth. 

Your numbers are noted on a keno card. Most casinos have designated keno lounges where you can find these cards. Sometimes, there is a bonus- or jackpot-card, which you may wish to play. Enquire with casino staff about the rules. 

Keno cards generally have eight rows with 10 columns, showing the numbers between one and 80. Somewhere on the card, usually on the side, it will have the maximum amount of numbers you can choose. A ticket will cost the same price no matter how many numbers you pick, but the payouts will also be dependent on this. For example, hitting one of two numbers selected will pay more than hitting one of three numbers selected. Mark your choices on the card with an ‘x’. 

After this, it is time to decide how much you want to bet. Most games have a $1 minimum and a $20 maximum. A section on your card will allow you to state how much you want to wager and how many games you want to play. You then hand your card and money to the keno worker and get an electronically printed copy handed back. A round of keno is known as a race. Some casinos may let you play multiple races consecutively. 

When the game begins, 20 numbers get drawn from the machine. If you have matching numbers on your ticket, then you will win a prize. The highest jackpots are usually given to those who get nine or 10 numbers on their ticket (that said, the odds of picking 10 out of 10 is nearly 1 in 9-million). This total is derived from how many keno tickets are currently in the game being played. So be sure to check with the keno worker regarding the jackpot amounts. 

Strategy & Tips

Keno is a game of luck, with no skill involved. Many people play it in casinos as entertainment alongside other games. There is nothing you can do that will have any bearing on the result or change the outcome.  One way to enhance your enjoyment of the game is to properly manage your bankroll. Don’t put a lot of money on one ticket, because it is very rare you would win a large amount from it. Instead, purchase several tickets at low prices and spread your bets across a few games

Types of Keno

Video Keno

You can play video keno in online casinos, or on screens in physical establishments. Many of them let you choose up to 40 numbers. These are selected using a touch screen and many only need low minimum bets. They are also much slower than physical keno games, letting you play at your own pace. 

Progressive Jackpots

A progressive jackpot is where a small amount of money from games is taken out and put into a large jackpot pool. In some cases, this will involve input from multiple casinos, with player wagers all contributing to the jackpot. While the amount will be high, the chance of winning is low. 

Live Keno

Live keno will involve a keno worker, who manually removes balls from a keno machine. When live keno is played online, this streams from a studio to the player’s device. This allows for added excitement as they can watch as the balls get selected. 

Playing Different Tickets

Other than a standard ticket, there are several, more complex ones you can play. These allow you to try for larger winnings and increase the game’s excitement.

  • Way tickets allow you to choose groups of numbers. They usually involve six or eight numbers, which can be grouped in different ways. This iteration increases the number of ways to win.
  • A king number ticket lets you choose one number and add it to your groups. It also plays a spot on its own. 
  • Split tickets allow you to have more than one straight bet on two tickets. You are unable to use the same number twice. so many believe it is disadvantageous. 
  • Combination tickets allow several different bet types on one ticket. You can add straight bets, king bets, and way bets all in one card. 

Return to Player

The return to the player in keno varies depending on the type of game and how you play it. With so many variations, it is impossible to list them all.

The house edge on a game of keno also varies, depending on the type of game played. However, you can expect it to be around 30% or more. The probability of getting one number in 80 is 0.25%. 

Numbers Selected Odds
4 1/327
5 1/1551
6 1/7753
7 1/40980
8 1/230115
9 1/1380688
10 1/8911712


What Is the Best Keno Strategy?

There are very few keno strategies, as it is a game of luck with no skill. The best advice is to manage your bankroll, don’t exceed what you can afford to play, and hope that your numbers come up!

What Is Online Keno?

Online keno takes place in an online casino through a browser or mobile app. It may involve video versions of the game where numbers are chosen electronically, or it may connect you to a live keno worker who will select the numbers as you play. blog
Michael Kaplan is a journalist with many years of experience writing about casino gaming. He has contributed to publications such as Wired, GQ, and Maxim. Kaplan has interviewed some of the most famous names in gambling and is the author of four books.

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