UK players love the game of keno. After all, online keno is one of the most fun and easy games one can play online. While the majority of Brits are bigger fans of bingo and lotteries, there is no doubt that online keno continues to attract a high number of players nonetheless. As such, you can expect to find many versions of keno in a high number of keno casinos online in the UK these days. It has become exceptionally popular in bookmakers shops, in particular, over the past few years.
When playing the keno game online, there are not many rules you need to know. It is effectively a game of chance, which means that there is little that any keno strategy will do for a player. There are ways to strategize and our keno tips below will help, undoubtedly, but as the element of skill is absent from keno, this type of input is minimal.
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What is Keno?
Keno is a game that probably has Far Eastern roots, though no-one is completely sure. It’s a very simple gambling game that has elements of a lottery, bingo, and roulette, and is almost entirely a game of chance with little skill required on the gambler beyond luck.
It’s easy to offer keno at online casinos and its popularity is spreading – it’s very big in Australasia, but you’ll find it at most international online casino sites these days.
Live keno games are occasionally seen, but as the role of the “dealer” in the game is very limited and there’s not a great deal of scope for the individual interaction that is such an appeal of some of the casino card games that have become live-dealer favourites, there’s not so much appeal.
Keno is a game of luck, but its dramatic reveal makes it very compelling. Give it a try, it’s so easy to understand that it’s very approachable, and can be enjoyed almost as a spectator.
Always play online Keno safely
If you know our site, you’ll know that none of our guides would be complete without us nagging you to play safely and securely!
The same is true for online keno games. Be particularly careful about sites that offer only one game – because they’re easier to set up they’re easier to set up as scams. And be aware of sites that are based in jurisdictions a long way away.
In the UK, you must never play at a site that does not have a current licence to operate from the UK Gambling Commission. We also recommend you check out all sites fully and make sure you’re happy with their banking and help services before you even think about giving them money.
A whole load of other quality checks can help you to have a safe, enjoyable experience too.
You should also check in with yourself before you play online keno for real money. Gambling is entertainment, and will usually cost you money. Never play with money that you cannot afford to spend, and never use the money to chase after losses. Don’t play online keno when you are intoxicated and don’t try to use gambling as a way to manage or change difficult emotions.
Sorry! We know it sounds boring, but we want all our site users to enjoy safe, secure and sustainable online keno!
How to play Keno
Let’s see how you can play keno.
Keno starts with 80 numbers printed on balls in sequence from 1 to 80.
Players can choose between one and 15 numbers on which they are betting. In real life, this might be done on a card. In a casino, there are slot-like keno machines that ask you to tap on numbers, and the online versions of video keno work very similarly, with players tapping or clicking on an 80-number grid.
A keno payout schedule will explain the cash prizes you’ll win for matching numbers.
Then, the big moment of this most instant of games, the draw!
This can be as dramatic as balls dropping into a frame, or as banal as a load of digits appearing on a screen. No matter how theatrical or tedious (we prefer theatrical!) it is, the purpose is the same, to produce a 20-number random selection from our original 80 digits.
Those 20 numbers are matched against the numbers each player chose and the prizes are calculated and paid out.
There you go! We warned you it was simple, but that’s part of the appeal of keno: it’s a bit like the distilled essence of gambling, without all the bells and whistles attached to modern slot games it takes us back to a random event and changing some money on what will be the outcome.
The history of Keno
This is not the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the history of simple gambling game is not the sort of thing that tends to end up in the official documents that are the only sources for most ancient history.
However, keno does have some early written history to go with the urban myths and dubious legends that comprise the body of evidence around most modern gambling games – gamblers love a good yarn.
The story takes us back to Ancient China, at a date that might be around 1100 BCE or might be 200 BCE or who knows really…
The origin of keno is said to have been as a fund-raiser for armies of the city of Cheung under the leadership of Cheung Leung. He used white pigeons to send the numbers around his domain, and the game was called the White Pigeon Game.
This is a very plausible explanation. Money, war, a form of unequal and hidden taxation… yep, it’s all perfectly reasonable behaviour for governments, and, in fact, it goes on today with the lotto games that many countries use to help fill the holes in their finances that their cowardly failure to tax wealth allows to grow.
Keno Game – a Nice Origin Story
The keno game also has a nice origin story, based on the game Pakapoo, which used an ancient Chinese poem called the Thousand Character Classic rather than numbers to produce the field of play – the poem never repeats a character in its entire length.
Again, this was a sort of lotto, with players picking 10 numbers against a draw of 10 from 100 characters with 1/1 payment on five correct picks and bigger prizes for six and a jackpot for 10. Some variations of keno used 120 numbers.
In its time the game was reportedly – though not entirely definitively – used to fund the Great Wall of China, which means we can call the Great Wall of China a “good cause” by current lottery standards!
The spread of keno
Whatever the actual origins of keno, there’s little doubt that it started to spread around the world in the 19th century, when Chinese workers left their (then relatively impoverished) homeland to work in the rapidly industrialising economies or resource rushes of other Pacific Rim nations, most notably Australia and the United States of America.
In America, the game was originally called the Chinese Lottery was most popular in San Francisco, a real stronghold of Chinese culture in the – often hostile – the USA. Reports of Chinese gambling in Australia refer to the game as Pakapoo and talk of it being imported from San Francisco.
It was in its travels that keno proved its strength. It’s a very simple game to set up, and can involve multiple players, and it also reliably delivers a return to the game owner. In moving to the Anglosphere, the game lost the Chinese characters that were its most distinctive feature, replacing them with the Arabic numerals of western cultures.
It was this change that helped it to take off in America. However, the law in America has a way of butting in to gambling history, and keno was soon a casualty of legislation that legalised many forms of gambling, but kept lottos off limits – keno was classified as a lottery. So, an elaborate ruse was invented, with keno masquerading as a horse-race gambling system.
It’s lotteries like keno, and the Italian-American policy game, that are sometimes linked to organised crime, stereotypically the Mafia. They are the “numbers” in the “numbers game”.
Keno goes legal
As gambling was legalised in a limited way in America, keno made its way from back rooms, bars, and restaurants to the (ever so slightly, possibly) more legitimate world of the casino.
Long before computers could generate endless strings of random numbers, and even before decent mechanical drawers, the numbers were written on scraps of paper and put in tubes, with tubes being drawn by a caller. A set of balls like bingo balls eventually replace the tubes.
They’re called “peas” in American gambling slang and a chap called Warren Nelson set up the first casino keno game using a cage full of peas.
Like bingo, keno is unusual in gambling terms in that it is usually played to a schedule. In Australia, the game became popular in pubs. Players would fill in forms and hand them in at the bar, waiting to see if a regular, computer-generated pick would pay for their next round.
Keno goes online
Bingo, with its social aspect, and the need to have a number of players all in the same game at the same time, has largely kept to the schedule idea in its more high-tech iterations.
Not so keno. Developers have turned the game into something that single players can play, and that is played to the player’s timetable rather like a slot – you stake up, make your picks, and press play for the drop.
There are now ranks of keno machines in big casinos. And there are keno rooms in all of the big online casinos.
There are a load of variations on the original game around the web. We’re not always fans of these, which we’re pretty sure are invented cynically in order to give a trademarkable new product rather than to provide a better value or player experience. There isn’t room to cover them all here in depth, so you’ll have to check them out for yourselves and see which ones you like.
How to play online keno
Keno is super simple, and it works really well on touch screens. Every game will have its own quirks, but all will share these simple characteristics.
You’ll be offered a board of numbers to pick from (80 in classic keno). You may have at least one and as many as 15 choices (the top number may be 10 or 20). You set a total wager, which will determine any prize you win.
Then you press play.
The numbers are produced, and your numbers are compared against this choice, and you’re paid according to the games pay-table, winning more if you match more numbers.
It sounds simple, and it is, which is why sometimes casinos try to add some extra spice to their keno games by introducing themes and bonus rounds.
Keno odds and Keno payouts
If you talk to gambling experts they tend to have one view on keno:
DON’T PLAY KENO!
The game in casinos generally offers very bad returns for the player, because the house edge can be enormously high.
However, this varies wildly. Keno pay tables are set by the casino, and it’s the odds on the pay-outs that determine the house edge. In casinos, it can be between 4% and 35%. Online keno games tend to be more competitive and can have a theoretical return to the player that’s up around the mark you’d expect for an average slot – around 95%.
It’s the big prizes, like in lotteries, that tempt people in, but the odds of hitting them are massively against the player. Keno is also a game that can be played for a long time, staking small amounts and costing relatively little, while still having that very long shot at a truly massive win.
The mathematics of keno
The sums behind the apparently simple game of keno are massively complex.
They are also very dependent on the actual game you are playing. It’s old advice, but it’s worth repeating: always check the rules and pay-table at the site and for the actual game you are playing.
Broadly speaking you can expect to win more money for less likely events, as in all gambling games. So the more numbers you match (“catches” in casino lingo) the more cash you win. There are numerous variations on the classic game though, including games that pay out for matching zero numbers on a 20 pick ticket.
The big number is 1 in 3,535,316,142,212,174,320, which is the odds against choosing 20 numbers and matching all of them.
Here are the odds against hitting matches on a 20-pick game
There are so many versions of keno available, particularly online, that it is impossible here to give a full run down of all the probabilities and pay tables.
But, as an example, in a game with 10 picks, your theoretical returns to players for two picks are around 86.08%, for three 84.66%, for four 85.97%, for five 85.79%, for six 84.96%, for seven 85.33%, for eight 84.57%, for nine 84.25%, and for 10 around 86.43%.
And here’s the best advice that we’ve found: picking more numbers makes bigger wins more likely, but smaller wins less likely, so act accordingly; three picks gives you a great chance of winning, for example, but your wins will be small. Picking 10 numbers means your odds against winning any prize are 253/1 but your wins will most probably be bigger.
The jackpot wins are incredibly rare. Really, chances that are worse than lottery jackpots.
Most keno players who play the game for any length of time, tend to head somewhere between the extremes, and pick something like four to six numbers. That sort of selection should see you getting some sort of win every five draws.
Online Keno variations
The joy of playing online is that choice is virtually infinite.
There are many keno variations, including:
Super keno plays like the standard game but adds a multiplier if the player matches the first ball, multiplying any win from the resulting draw by four.
Power Keno works the same, but uses the 20th ball in a draw as a trigger for setting off a multiplier. Confusingly, Fire Power Keno uses the first ball.
Top Bottom Keno
This game really simplifies keno even further, and players pick simply the top or bottom half of the draw – 1 to 40, and 41 to 80.
Online Keno Strategy & 6 Keno Tips
We have a relatively limited patience with strategies at this site. Most gambling strategies can do nothing more than help you to make some slightly better choices and play more sensibly.
Any strategy that tells you there is a way to guarantee a win at a game that is decided by random number generators is trying to fool you into giving money for nothing. We kind of think that if you fall for that then you sort of deserve it. But as we’re not bad people we don’t say that out loud.
However, we will share with you some keno strategies and 6 keno tips that will help you have a good safe time while playing keno.
1 – Get the best real money keno bonus
The finest games are the ones you don’t have to pay for. Lots of casino sites offer great sign-up bonuses that will allow to play free keno.
There are a lot of restrictions on this money, so don’t think you’re going to win a life-changing amount with your first game and waltz off into the distance, that’s not going to happen. But having that real money keno bonus allows you to play at no, or at much reduced, risk.
Real money keno bonuses also include free spins, usually on slots, but you may find free games on casino games too, so shop around.
2 – Play free keno at demo and review sites
Another way to play for free is to use demo sites or review sites that host free keno versions of these games. That way you can get familiar with the game play so you’re not making bad decisions when money is at risk. Play free keno online!
3 – Be calm!
The game of keno used to be played entirely to the timetable of the casino. The online game however allows you to take things as slowly or as quickly as you like.
Most games will allow you to press a button to pick random numbers up to the amount you want, but you can also pick your lucky numbers on your own time.
4 – Remember what you’ve learned about keno
Do your research before you play keno. The rtp in casinos can be very low. It can be a lot better in online casinos, but you owe it to yourself to check that before you start staking up.
You also need to know exactly what game you are playing, what the rules are, and what you can expect to happen.
5 – Play safely
We’ve mentioned that keno can now be played at your own pace. That means you can take your time. It also means you can play as fast as you damn well please and lose a very large amount of money very quickly.
We make no apologies for repeating our safe gambling advice and urging you to be careful whenever you play online keno.
6 – Enjoy online keno
Play sensibly and safely and with the knowledge that keno is entertainment and you will have a great time playing this game.
Keno is a relatively low involvement game if you want to go that way. You can also invent all sorts of exciting ways of picking the numbers you want to go for – there’s a whole online industry in this, don’t waste your time on people who tell you that they see patterns in random numbers.
Manage your money while you play online keno and enjoy yourself! It’s something out of the ordinary and it has great appeal, even if you are very unlikely to win the top prize – and that’s not impossible.