Keno started as one of the oldest lottery games in the world. However, after a couple of centuries things have changed. Now, is a lottery-like gambling game which can be found at both land-based and online casinos. Some of the biggest lotteries in the world offer it as a side game as well. In most cases, the gameplay is as follows: players pick numbers (usually from 1 to 80). The round begins after numbers are picked and it works like a bingo game. A ball machine will start drawing numbers at random (usually 20 numbers). If the player’s numbers are among those 20 numbers, the player wins. There are different rewards depending on how many numbers you get. We will explain more about that later in the article.


There are different variants of Keno games and they have different paytables. Additionally, each casino will set its own paytables for the games it offers. The player is paid based on how many numbers were chosen (either player selection, or the terminal picking the numbers), the number of matches out of those chosen, and the wager. Some titles have a larger house edge as they can range from about 4% to more than 35% in online versions. On the other hand, in land-based casinos, the house edge goes from 20% to 40%. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about what is Keno.

History of Keno

The first mention of the game of Keno was back in China more than 2,000 years ago. It is said that it came from an ancient children’s poem known as “Thousand Character Classic”. It was a poem that helped children with their reading because each of the thousand characters was mentioned only once. However, that’s how the idea for a game came to life. The actual game came around 200 BC during a military problem. General Cheung Leung needed money to fund ongoing battles against a nation of barbarians that wanted to take his lands. However, his people refused to pay higher taxes and the general needed another way to fund his mission. He wanted to build a huge wall to protect the land from invaders. That’s when he created a game from the first 120 characters mentioned in the “Thousand Character Classic”.

History of Keno
History of Keno

Players then picked several characters from the 120 offered options. Just like in the modern-day lottery, Cheung would pick characters at random thus forming a winning combination. Within months everyone in the kingdom started playing Keno. It was a massive success and people named it the White Pigeon Game. It received this name because the winning character combinations were delivered around the kingdom with carrier pigeons. Since the game was so popular, the general made a lot of money through it. He used the money to build what is today known as “The Great Wall of China” one of the seven wonders. Because of this, it’s believed that Keno played a major role in Chinese history. It saved the Han Dynasty and gave the world one of the greatest structures built by man.

What came next?

A lot of changes happened to that initial Chinese version through the centuries; however, Keno always remained a popular lottery game. Since it doesn’t cost a lot to play while it can award huge winnings, the game was played by people of all classes. Somewhere around 1850, Chinese railroad workers brought the game with them to North America. As the workers were building the railway all across the land, the game spread alongside the railway. Initially, Keno was against the law as was all gambling in North America. Regardless of that, the game was quite popular.

People in San Francisco played it the most and they called it the Chinese Lottery. After a couple of years, the Chinese characters were replaced with numbers and that’s when Keno became the most popular lottery title. Once numbers were added more people started playing and the original 120 characters were reduced to 80 numbers (from 1 to 80).

Reaching Las Vegas

As soon as Nevada legalized gambling, Keno arrived in Las Vegas. However, it was Warren Nelson who first introduced Keno in his casino The Palace Club in Reno back in 1936. From there, it moved to the gambling capital Vegas thanks to Joe Lydon who added a Keno game to his casino – The Fremont. Once the game became part of the Las Vegas casino, several changes were made to it. Since lottery games were still against the law in Nevada, casino owners had to improvise. Other forms of gambling were legal so Vegas casinos changed the name to “Horse Race Keno”. The game was based on fictional horse races and each number represented a different horse. People had to guess which “horses” will win these imaginary races.

When the government noticed what was happening and how popular the game was, they decided to tax it as off-track betting. Casino operators wanted to get around that so they removed the horse race part of the game and shortened the name to Keno. That’s how the game we know and love was born. The only other change that happened back then was the size of the jackpots that can be won through the game. In 1963, Nevada gaming officials limited the jackpots to $25,000. The amount was raised to $50,000 in 1979. However, casino officials were not satisfied with that and wanted to raise the limit further. Ten years later, in 1989, the rules changed for the final time. From that point on, Keno jackpots don’t have any limits and this rule has remained like that even in today’s version of the game.

The Game of Keno

Keno is a game that’s played with cards that hold numbers in squares. In most variants, the numbers go from 1 to 80. The player circles as many of these numbers as he wishes to pick, up to the maximum amount that the game allows him. Different variants will have a different maximum. Once the player makes his picks, he hands in his ticket which will have a payout depending on how many numbers he picked. At certain daily intervals, again depending on the variant, 20 numbered balls are randomly drawn just like in Bingo. Once all 20 balls are drawn, players get payouts depending on how many of the numbers you picked are drawn.

Additionally, each Keno game will have a jackpot attached to it. It’s random and it can happen anytime. In some versions of the game, you can win a jackpot even if your ticket is a loser. Jackpots in these titles can go up to millions which is why Keno is so popular.

How to play Keno online?

As we know, Keno is available in most land-based casinos. It has had a steady run for more than 50 years in Vegas casinos which means it’s still popular. However, gambling has been moving online for the last two decades. What started with slot games has now turned into online casinos that hold every type of casino game available. Over a couple of years, most online casinos added a live casino section to their website. These live casino games are table games that are exactly like regular table games at a land-based casino but you get to play them from the comfort of your own home.

Keno Online
Keno Online

Talking about online casinos, it’s important to note that gamblers can enjoy keno online as well. Thanks to online casinos, the game is now available to millions of players all over the world. There are regular variants where draws happen daily or several times per week. However, there are versions where draws happen every couple of minutes and online casino customers can participate in each round. The gameplay is exactly like regular Keno but there are lots of different variations. Some of them have draws every couple of minutes, some have higher jackpots, there are variants where the paytable awards if you get just two numbers correct, etc.

Types of Tickets

As we mentioned several times in this article, there are different types of Keno and each type has a different ticket that players can get. When Keno online became a thing, a lot of different variant tickets appeared and new ones keep coming up. Here, we will explain all the basic types of tickets.

Straight Ticket

This is the most basic version and the one that existed first. With a straight ticket, players pick the numbers they want and there is just one draw. The more numbers you pick it becomes harder to hit all of them. It’s best to pick between 4 and 8 numbers for the best chance of getting a winning ticket. The payout will depend on the casino and the game variant. Players can see what the payout will be thanks to the table that’s always next to the numbers on the ticket. The more numbers you pick the bigger the payout but your chances of getting all of those numbers drawn reduce with every number you add.

Split Ticket

As the name suggests, a split ticket combines two or more straight tickets together. Players still pick from the 80 numbers but your picks are split into two or more tickets. You can pick different numbers in each split ticket and each one can have a different amount of numbers. Each split is treated separately when the payouts happen. A split ticket in Keno makes the game look like a game of Bingo.

Split Ticket
Split Ticket

Way Ticket

Unlike the previous types, the way ticket is a bit more complicated. It allows players to play multiple Keno games by using just one ticket. The way ticket allows players to group sets of numbers thus increasing their chances of winning. For instance, you pick six numbers and group them into two groups, three numbers each. Once you do that, your way ticket will offer two ways of winning. Additionally, players can use the numbers in both groups to create a third group, increasing the chances of winning even further. You basically get a three-way ticket and you place three separate bets but on the same ticket. This is a cheaper way of playing three games because you buy only one ticket instead of three.

Combination Ticket

The combination ticket is pretty much an obvious one. It combines all the types of tickets we mentioned above in one big ticket. Players can bet on different groups of numbers but they get to pick any number of spots. Also, they can choose between a straight bet or a way bet or ultimately combine them with the rest of the options. Combination tickets are the most popular type among experienced Keno players; however, they might be a bit too complicated for beginners.

Keno Variants

The rules for keno online are simple and they don’t change a lot depending on the variant. Once you learn and understand the game, you will be able to play any variant within minutes. Below, we will talk about the most popular Keno variants.

Super Keno

This is a variant that you will find in almost every serious online casino that offers the game. It has bonus features as slot games do. For instance, if the first drawn ball matches one of the numbers that the player picked, his payout will be multiplied by four. There are different features in these games and each one is quite lucrative.

Super Keno
Super Keno

Power Keno

Just like the Super variant, Power Keno has an extra feature that will change the payout amount. If the 20th drawn ball matches a number that the player has picked, his payout will be multiplied by four.

Progressive Jackpot Keno

As the name suggests, there are Keno games that have progressive jackpots attached to them. They work just like progressive slots. The jackpot is completely random and it grows every time a player plays that version of Keno. At one point the jackpot will hit and a single player will receive a huge reward. It’s a very exciting variant of the game because you never know when the jackpot can hit.

Keno Slots

This is one of the newest types of Geno games as it was invented in the era of online casinos. As the name suggests, it’s a combination of a slot game with Keno features. It’s the ultimate Keno online game. The game is much faster and players can pick more numbers than they usually can.