Guide to Keno

Guide to Keno

Bets are down, the ball is released, and players wait with bated breath, mesmerised by the spinning sound and all the possibility it holds: Come on little wheel, show me the magic! Guide the ball to my number!

The excitement of a casino is incomplete without the roulette table – an iconic symbol of gambling across the globe. In this guide to roulette, we including some rules, types and variations, as well as suggestions for play strategies.

Keno as it is played today relies on 20 numbered balls being randomly drawn and matched to the players’ tickets (sound familiar?). However, in its early iterations, it was a game played with tickets and homing pigeons. This was over 2000 years ago, in China, where the game was called bai ge piao, which means ‘white pigeon ticket’.

In modern China, the game still thrives, but the tickets now bear the first 80 characters in the Qianziwen, or Book of a Thousand Characters. In the meantime, its ancient ancestor inspired not only Keno, but also Lotto and everyone’s granny’s favourite, Bingo, in the West.

When it first showed up in the USA, along with Chinese immigrants, it quickly gained popularity among non-Chinese gamblers, who substituted numbers for the traditional characters. Because of its similarity to lotteries, when it made its way to Reno, Nevada, they switched out the numbers for racehorses, to avoid contravening state lottery laws.


Keno requires two pieces of equipment to work: a ticket and a draw machine. The draw machine usually comprises a familiar round, transparent container filled with several numbered balls – 80, to be precise. The ticket contains the numbers 1 to 80. In an online casino environment, or when playing video Keno, the ‘ticket’ will likely appear as a table.

Game play

Players select up to 20 numbers on their ticket that they believe will be drawn.

Next, the numbers inside the draw machine are tumbled or spun, and 20 are drawn. In some cases, players are allowed to choose how many games they would like to participate in with the same ticket.

Finally, players’ tickets are compared to the numbers drawn, and, depending on how many numbers the player predicted accurately, they can claim winnings. If the player has selected multiple games, then they keep the ticket in play for subsequent rounds.

Once again, much as with the standard lottery we’re all familiar with, the operator of the game can set up the bets and pay tables at their own discretion. There is no one fixed formula for calculating what their payouts should be, so it varies considerably from casino to casino, and even game to game.

Playing online

The major difference between online Keno and traditional Keno is that the numbers are selected by a random number generator (RNG). In fact, many live Keno games now also use an RNG instead of a physical draw machine and balls.

Keno rules are flexible, much like the payouts. Not all rules will be applied equally across all operators, but here are some of the more widely-used and recognised ones.

Choosing numbers

The maximum amount of numbers you can usually choose on a ticket is 20. The minimum amount can vary, with some casinos allowing as few as one, but most casinos set the range at 15-20. Choose any numbers you want, you can pick up to 10 numbers. The ideal choice is between four to eight numbers.

Take note of the Match/Win table – this will show your potential winnings for the ticket before you purchase.

Betting variations

Again, the casino will set the rules on bet variants that are allowed. For example, combination tickets allow you to play combinations with various groupings; or, there is the king ticket, with one number assigned as king, which is added as a bonus number to all combinations.

Keno is an incredibly straightforward game in its pure form, but, of course, we humans like to spice things up now and then. As a result, there are a few variations on Keno. Because of its flexibility, there are so many variations with their unique spins on the game that we cannot possibly cover them all. Here, though, are a few of our favourites.

Roulette Keno

Combining two of the casino’s most popular number games of chance, this version uses a roulette-style wheel instead of drawing balls from a hopper.

Mini Keno (40-Ball)

The only real difference between this and classic keno is that the grid has only 40 numbers, and players select a maximum of 10. Think of it as the T20 of Keno.

Online Keno

The creativity and ingenuity that goes into online casino games is legendary and, as a result, you will find many Keno games online. Some of these follow the strict classic Keno format, while others go wild and crazy with ways to choose the numbers, special extras and bonuses, and loads more.

Progressive jackpot Keno

Of course, you can’t mention online Keno without talking about progressive jackpot Keno. Due to its lottery-like game play, Keno lends itself to progressive jackpot play, and this is offered by some casinos and game designers. The jackpots don’t always tend to reach the stratospheric amounts that progressive slots do, but they can nevertheless be handsome.

Live dealer Keno

Surprisingly, Keno didn’t feature as a live dealer game in online casinos until very recently – 2020, in fact –  when Mega Ball first appeared thanks to Evolution Gaming.

If you have ever tried to out-think the state lottery, you will realise quickly just how impossible it is. Keno is a game of pure chance and therefore immune to strategies that try to guess the right number. That doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of your chances, however.

  • Avoid choosing numbers that have significance to you. These all too often include dates, limiting your scope significantly. Rather go with a randomised approach, or some equally random pattern that you select to ensure you cover all bases.
  • Pay close attention to the individual game’s rules and specifications. As games differ, there may be something beneficial to you within those specs, such as groupings, bonuses, etc.
  • Study the pay tables. As these vary considerably between operators, it is worthwhile to study them. This can help you determine whether the potential of a big win is worth the ongoing cost, or if you’d be better off going for smaller bets and wins.
  • Manage your bankroll. Consider putting a limit on bets or losses, either through the casino itself, or by tracking expenditure carefully.
  • Remember that Keno is a game of chance, and predicting its outcomes is impossible. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to figure out the best odds, as this is a waste of your time and energy.

Keno may be a simple game, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a unique vocabulary associated with it. Some of the important terms include:

  • Aggregate limit: the maximum total payout for a round that the casino is liable for, even if the winners’ total winnings exceed this. In this case, winnings may be reduced.
  • Balls: the 80 numbered balls from which the winning numbers are drawn
  • Draw: the 20 numbers that are drawn and displayed each round
  • Ticket: the form on which players select their unique numbers

Keno is by far one of the simplest casino games available, both in terms of game complexity and player interaction. This may be just why it is incredibly popular in its many variations and the plethora of lottery games based on it. It is one game that pervades society without us necessarily knowing its origins or name. Even in its simplicity, it is an exciting, fun game that speaks to the pure nature of games of chance.