Keno is a very ancient game. It is purportedly based on an ancient Chinese lottery system. Legend has it, that Gengis Khan used it to raise funds to pay for the Great Wall of China. If this is true, then Keno dates back to the 3nd Century BCE. This was hundreds of years before Jesus walked the Earth.
The name of the game, however, is not Chinese, but actually stems from Latin. Why this is remains a mystery. The meaning of the word Keno, or Qini is Five Each. This might be an indication that ancient Romans might have played a similar game, but this is no more than conjecture, and remains an historical mystery.
Whether the game came from China or ancient Rome is of no matter. Its popularity was such that it remained alive for over two thousand years and made its way across continents, even arriving on American shores in the 19th century. The game is so simple and appealing that it became a mainstay of American casinos since the early 1900s.
Modern Keno is actually a refinement on the game observed by the Portuguese when they ruled Macau in the 1800s. Macau is known today as one of the gambling Meccas of the world, with some of the best casinos on earth and home to many of the most interesting and exotic games in existence. Macau was no different back then, and the Portuguese government in Macau understood this and allowed the local flavor of lottery to flourish.
The modern game of Keno played in Western casinos today is virtually unchanged from the Chinese version with the exception of a few small details. The original game involved Chinese characters. These are the complicated symbols that each individually represent a single word. They are mysterious to Westerners thus had to be changed to numbers. There were originally 80 symbols in the game. This is reflected in the 80 numbers in the modern game of Keno played today.
Keno is not a game for those who don’t enjoy losing. It is unkind in the cruelest of ways, giving the house an enormous edge, as high as 35%. Consider that a game like Blackjack has a 1% house advantage and Keno doesn’t seem like a very appealing proposition. The payouts, however, are very large, the wagers are quite small, and thus the game continues to attract large numbers of players. It is the same mechanism that gets people to play state lotteries even though their odds of winning are functionally 0%. (more…)