Why Keno Is the Ultimate Gambling Game

min read
White and gold lottery balls against a black and dark green background.
BetMGM Sep 09, 2023, 9:58 AM

Gamblers who enjoy playing online casino games will likely have played slots online or tried their hand at live dealer casino games at some point, but what about keno? This beloved game of chance has been played for hundreds of years and is still a top choice among players all around the world.

Are you interested in giving it a go? Then read on for everything you need to know about keno, including its unique history, how to play and why it’s considered a great game by so many.

What Is Keno?

Keno is an exciting, lottery-style game of chance that involves selecting up to 20 of the 80 numbers displayed on a card (ticket,) and hoping they match the ones that are drawn at random. This game is mostly a game of luck — there are no special patterns or “best keno strategy” that you can use to improve your odds. Players will mark off their chosen numbers on a card using ink (or by clicking on them if you’re playing keno online,) in a similar way to bingo. However, instead of a caller drawing random numbers and the player matching them on their card, players select their own numbers before the game starts and a virtual machine will randomly draw the 20 winning keno numbers.In a land-based casino, numbered balls are drawn by a real casino machine. The more matching numbers a player has, the bigger the payout. 

The History of Keno

Most experts believe that keno has its origins in China and that it dates back at least 2,000 years. Of course, it wasn’t always called keno. Back then, the game went by the name “baige piao” or “pai-ko p’iao,” which translates to “white pigeon ticket.” Baige piao spread quickly across China and was organized by gambling houses with permission from political authorities (who also took a cut for themselves.) Instead of revolving around numbers, like keno does today, the original game required participants to buy a ticket that comprised the first 80 ideograms found in the Chinese literature classic, Qianziwen “Book of a Thousand Characters.” Due to the book’s widespread popularity even to this day, buying tickets featuring ideograms remains the way that the game is played in certain Chinese regions.

In the mid-19th century, Chinese immigrants made their way to the United States and baige paio took off from there. By the early 20th century, it evolved into what was coined the “Chinese lottery,” attracting the attention of a fair number of American gamblers. By the 1930s, and now called keno, the game was adopted by various racehorse betting gambling houses in Nevada, with the difference being that the names of horses were used in place of ideograms and numbers. It was only in the 1950s that keno transformed into what it is today: a game based on random number selection.

What’s even more interesting is that keno isn’t the only game that originated from baige piao. Experts also believe that both the lottery and bingo have their roots in this ancient Chinese game of chance.

How To Play Keno

Keno is one of the most underrated casino games (mainly because it is a game of luck, so keno odds aren’t always in your favor.) But one of the main benefits is that keno rules are extremely easy to learn. So, if you want to learn how to play keno, it shouldn’t be much of a challenge.

A Step-By-Step Guide To Playing Keno Online

  1. Find an online casino that offers Keno games, like BetMGM, and register to join the online community.
  2. At the start of the game, you will be presented with a keno card that has individual squares for the numbers from 1–80.
  3. You’ll need to pick your numbers before the start of the game (contrary to bingo where you don’t have the option to select your own numbers.) Most keno games allow players to choose a maximum of 20 numbers, but this will all depend on the specific keno game you’re playing. If you aren’t feeling drawn to any specific numbers, you could also use the online casino’s auto-pick technology to select the numbers at random.
  4. As you select your spots, a keno payout table should appear that shows you how much you stand to win if you match a certain minimum of numbers.
  5. Once you’ve settled your numbers, you’ll need to adjust your bet and then hit the “play” button.
  6. The game will randomly select and highlight 20 different numbers on your keno card, and your payout will be determined by how many of your pre-selected numbers match the randomly generated ones.

Keno Terminology and Things You Should Know

While keno is probably one of the most straightforward online games you can play, there are a few things that could be beneficial for you to know.

  • Each individual number on the ticket is known as a keno spot.
  • While the main objective is to match as many of your selected numbers to the randomly generated ones, some keno variants will reward players who match no numbers if they pick above a certain amount.
  • Some versions of online keno will show hot and cold numbers when you play. The hot numbers are those that appear most often, and the cold numbers are those that haven’t appeared recently.
  • If one of the numbers you have selected is drawn, it is known as a catch or a match
  • The virtual machine that randomly draws the winning keno numbers is known as a hopper.
  • Some keno games give players the opportunity to make side bets, like multipliers, to boost their winnings.

Types of Keno Bets

If you’re going to be playing keno, you’re going to need to learn the different kinds of bets you can use in your keno strategy.

  • A straight bet is the most common bet type where players simply bet on their 20 chosen numbers.
  • A way bet refers to when players choose groups of numbers and break them down into equal subgroups known as ways. With this betting type, each number can only appear in one way and players aren’t allowed to repeat numbers.
  • Split bets in keno allow players to bet on more than one set of numbers in a single game, and each set is treated separately.
  • Combination tickets in keno, also known as “combo bets” are used when players select groups of numbers and play them together on one ticket. For example, players can combine straight and way bets on a combination ticket.
  • King tickets are similar to split bets, but players need to choose a single number that must appear in all of their groups. This number is known as the King.

Why Is Keno So Popular?

Since it’s so simple to play, you might be wondering why keno is such a popular choice for people who love real money casino games. Here are a few reasons why it’s at the top of the list for so many individuals seeking out the ultimate gambling experience.

It’s Extremely Straightforward

As you can see above, the rules of keno are easy to understand, making it a leading favorite for both beginners who are just starting out in the gambling world, as well as for advanced gamblers looking for a break from those casino table games that demand thought, patience and carefully implemented strategy.

You Choose Your Own Pace and Your Risk

While it’s a game where the outcome is determined solely based on luck (or lack thereof.) you still have a lot of control over how you play keno. For starters, you can play as fast or as slowly as you wish. Secondly, you can choose your risk based on the number of games you play, how many numbers you choose per round and how much money you wager.

High Availability

Keno offers online casinos great prospects for customer acquisition and retention, and revenue generation. So, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a play-to-win casino that offers keno. Many of the online casinos in the United States specialize in this game. It’s an online gambling favorite, so there’s no need to travel to a land-based casino to play.

It’s Fun

The most important reason why keno is so popular is that it promises endless entertainment. There’s nothing more exciting than waiting to see if your gut feeling regarding the numbers is right, and nothing more satisfying than making matches. Just remember to play responsibly and to always go into a keno gaming session with a strict bankroll in mind. Since it’s so much fun, it’s easy to spend more than you can afford if you don’t have a set amount to work with.

Play Casino Games Online at BetMGM

BetMGM is an online casino offering access to keno. It also specializes in casino table games, online slots, jackpot slots and other variety games, such as scratch cards and Slingo.

Feeling lucky? Then go ahead and register to explore a diverse menu of casino classics via the convenient mobile portal.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
About the Author


Read More

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.