How to Play Keno

In most casinos keno is offered as a live game and/or in a video format played on a machine similar to a slot machine. And like most casino games, keno has its positives and negatives. I’ll go over what they are plus give you some tips on how to get the most bang for your keno playing bankroll.


Keno is a guessing game and a waiting game. You pick (guess) a set of numbers from 1 to 20 from a field of 80 numbers (from 1 to 80). How many numbers you pick is up to you. You then wait for the casino to randomly choose 20 of the 80 numbers. If you successfully catch (that’s casino lingo for pick) some of the 20 random numbers chosen by the casino you win! How much you win depends on how many numbers you picked, how many of those were selected by the casino, the odds payout, and the amount of your bet.


Keno is very much like a lottery but with better odds. Ironically, the laws in the State of Nevada do not allow a lottery but keno can be found everywhere (strange world we live in).

So what’s the big come-on with keno? For a measly buck or so it’s possible to win muchos de dinero. I’m talking monstrous payoffs like $20,000, $150,000 and even $300,000. You can’t win that much betting five bucks a hand in blackjack now can you? But hold on to your horses (and bankroll) because there’s more to keno than just big payoffs.

Making a keno bet is child’s play (in fact you’ll be using a crayon to do it). Just go to the keno lounge, pick up a blank keno ticket, mark off your lucky numbers with the crayon provided by the casino, then go to the keno counter and hand the ticket and wager to the keno writer. That’s it. The keno writer will process your ticket and then give you an official keno ticket, which has the numbers you bet on, how much you bet, and which game the ticket is valid for (there are about 200 keno games played per day). Now you can kick back, sip that free margarita, and watch them pick the 20 winning numbers by either a computer (actually a random number generator) or a device where numbered ping pong balls are randomly blown into a tube. It makes no difference which way the winning numbers are selected – it’s all random and unpredictable.


Hey if you are to lazy to go to the keno lounge the game will come to you no matter you’re at on the property - dining, shopping, swimming in the hotel pool, even your hotel room. Keno runners are located throughout the casino property and they will happily take care of making the bet for you and if you win, bring your winnings to you (in the hopes you will generously tip them). Also, electronic keno boards are strategically placed throughout a casino property that highlights the winning numbers as they are drawn.


It’s wise if you’ve never played before to glance at the keno instruction brochures located with the blank keno tickets. These booklets explain the basic ways to bet and the payoffs. For example, selecting from one to 15 numbers is known as playing a straight ticket. But you could also play a split ticket, a way ticket, a combination secret, and even a king ticket. Here’s a secret. None of these more complicated ways to mark a keno ticket will improve your chances of winning so my suggestion is to forgetaboutit.


Remember the bad points about keno? You better sit down before you read this my friend because you might get woozy. The house edge in keno is (gulp) around 25-30%. I know, I know that’s terrible. But here’s one of the good points about the game. Live keno moves sloooowly. And with the minimum bet about a buck or two per game, your expected hourly loss is only about ten to twenty bucks per hour (consider that the cost of entertainment).


What about video keno played on machines? The good news here is that the house edge is usually lower on video keno vs. live keno and so are the stakes. It’s common to find quarter video keno machines (some casinos even offer nickel machines) with payouts that yield a 90-95% overall return to players (that’s a house edge of 5-10%). But – pay attention to this – the game plays a lot quicker than live keno, usually only a few seconds to complete a game (this is the bad news). If you want to play video keno then play at the smallest denomination possible and play slowly otherwise you might blow it all before you get your first drink.


Here are some more important tips about playing keno.

  1. The odds of catching winning combination of numbers are much higher than most other casino games. For example, the odds of trying to catch 6 numbers out of 7 is 1,365-1, and 10 out of 10 is 8,911,700-1. The more numbers you try to pick, the harder it is to catch them.

  2. The casino always keeps your original wager in keno (so if you were to bet a buck and win a buck it’s a push). Unlike slots and video poker, there is also no bonus for wagering more.

  3. In the past keno tournaments and special keno promotions sometimes offer a good deal for players. Keep your eyes open for these.

  4. Progressive keno games seem like a good deal but the jackpot rarely gets high enough to make it a good bet.

  5. Most casinos have a maximum amount that they will pay per game. It might be $100,000, $300,000 or something higher but they won’t pay more than that amount.

  6. A typical keno session will consist of a lot of losing and dry spells with an occasional modest win. The big payoffs are rare – most players will never get them in their lifetime.

  7. Always check your official keno ticket for mistakes before the game starts because you will be paid based on the official ticket and not the one you filled out.

  8. The most popular ticket is the 6, 7 and 8 spot tickets. A spot in keno jargon is the number of numbers that you mark on the ticket (if you mark 6 numbers that’s a 6 spot ticket). The reason these tickets are popular is that the odds of hitting 6 numbers are not so astronomical and the payouts are still relatively high for a dollar wager.

  9. The casino does not change the odds of catching numbers. What they do change is the odds payoff. Michael (“The Wizard of Odds”) Shackleford compared the payoffs for 9-spots at 37 different casinos in Las Vegas. The best returned 75-79%, the worse only 66%. So where you play matters. See his book Gambling 102 for the details.

  10. If you win more than $1,500 in any one game, you have to show ID and Social

Security number so that your windfall can be reported to the IRS (Uncle Sam will happily share in your good fortune).

  1. Many casinos require that you collect your winnings before the start of the next game (otherwise they are forfeited). So always check your tickets right after the numbers are drawn and then immediately collect your winnings.

  2. Don’t be embarrassed to ask a keno runner for help if you need it. That’s their job.

  3. There are all types of complex betting systems on the market for keno. But none of them will reduce the house edge one iota.


The bottom line with keno is high payoffs, long odds, and a very high house edge. But for players with a limited budget, the keno lounge offers a leisurely way to spend some time in the casino, see the sights, stretch your play time, and test Lady Luck for low stakes. Another margarita, please?