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Everyone has played or has been tempted to play those huge state or provincial government sponsored lotteries. The jackpots can reach well into the millions of dollars, pounds or whatever your local currency, but the odds of winning are astronomical. Most lotteries provide odds that reach into the tens of millions to one. But when the jackpots reach into tens or hundreds of millions, the dream of winning that jackpot almost always overwhelms the knowledge of the odds against winning. After all, someone does has to win; why can’t it be me?

In the casino you can find a game that has a similar draw, with odds that aren’t much better. Keno advertisements display jackpots of $50 000 or more for matching all 20 numbers picked in any one drawing. For only a bet of $1 or $2, you might be tempted to use the same reasoning; someone has to win. But in Keno, someone doesn’t have to win it. In fact, someone rarely wins it.

Let’s look at the criteria needed to win a multi-million dollar lottery. In most cases, you only have to match all six numbers that get drawn. Most lotteries give you a field of numbers that range from 40 to 54. You will see that Keno is even more difficult to win.

Originating in China, the game was brought to the US by Chinese immigrants that were used to build the transcontinental railroad. The game soon caught on with Americans and, for some inexplicable reason, Omaha, Nebraska became the Keno capital of the US. When gambling was banned in Nebraska, Nevada took over the title of Keno capital. Today Keno is offered in virtually every casino jurisdiction in the US.

Although many games are conducted electronically today, Keno games conducted in Nevada still use ping-pong balls that are blown around in a large clear plastic sphere. The balls are then forced into a “goose” (a clear plastic tube), which takes one ball at a time.

In casino Keno, the house draws 20 numbers out of a field of 80 numbers. You can choose as few as one number or as many at 15. To place your bets, you simply fill out a Keno ticket, which has boxes for all 80 numbers. The casino provided a “Keno crayon”, which you use to mark your numbers. Choosing individual numbers in this manner is called a “straight” Keno ticket.

In some casinos minimum bets can be as low as 50 cents, but most casinos betting starts at $1. Unlike other casino games, Keno can be player from virtually anywhere on the casino property. In some casinos it is possible to place bets in your hotel room. Keno runners, casino employees who take bets, circulate throughout all the areas of the casino and hotel to give you the chance to make a bet on each game. Numerous television monitors throughout the casino keep you informed of the winning numbers.

The payoffs will vary from casino to casino, for the number of choices you make, and the number of these choices that actually hit. For instance, were you to bet eight numbers and five come up, you might get a payoff of 8-to-1. If those same five numbers hit and you only picked those same five numbers, you might get a payoff of 485-to-1. Each number is called a spot, so a ticket called a “five-spot” is a ticket with five numbers on it.

Because the casino edge on Keno is astronomical – between 25 percent and 40 percent, depending upon the numbers played – you might think that it makes more sense to pick fewer numbers, as opposed to picking all 15 possibilities. For instance, if you have picked ten numbers and five hit, you’d only get a 2-to1 payoff.

A straight ticket is not the only way you can play Keno, however. There are ticket types called “way” and “combination” tickets. These tickets allow you to bet groups of numbers that give you a better chance of winning. You are given credit for hitting all three numbers if any one of the group hits. Many experienced Keno players will use this method for a wider selection of numbers and a better chance to win.

Still, the big jackpot is very difficult to win. In a typical game, a $10 bet will win the $50 000 jackpot if you choose seven numbers and catch all seven. At the same time, you can win the same jackpot for a $2 bet if you hit 11 out of 11 numbers.

With these odds, the lotteries seem to make a lot of sense. There is one good thing about Keno in a casino. You can relax in the Keno lounge, which is an area with comfortable chairs and frequent visits by cocktail waitresses. By only betting the minimums, you can spend the entire day being catered to by the casino employees without busting the bank. Generally there are only six games played each hour, so you can very easily enjoy the casino atmosphere for a lot less than any other game, even given the horrible odds.

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