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Keno - How to Play Keno and Win

Keno - Not unlike the joy experienced by Italians playing the Lotto across the centuries, the rousing contest of Keno is another cousin to the online bingo game with roots steeped in the curious traditions of China. 

Keno Game

Although it’s become a favourite among casino goers in Las Vegas, the Kino game has been played for an estimated 2,000 years under the name baige piao or pai-ko p'iao, meaning “white pigeon ticket.” Although Chinese characters were replaced by numbers as the game grew in popularity during the 19th century, the basics of keno remained the same.

Today, keno is attractive to players at online casinos and land-based gambling hubs. It’s typically low stakes with high upside. Because it’s cheap to play keno and come out like a bandit, the game has soared in popularity. You can find keno available in convenience stores, bars, and casinos everywhere gambling is legal. 

Whether you play keno online or in a land-based casino, the rules are basically the same, although different keno variants can add twists and multipliers. For anyone who has pencilled in numbers on cards at 7-11 in their state lottery, you might already be predisposed to how to play keno without even knowing it. The games are very similar in design – although keno has some key differences.

How to Play Keno 

Let’s break down how keno works and the different steps to take while playing. When you start the game, you’ll be asked how many numbers to select – Hits – and what the payout amount is under the Win column. You’ll notice that betting on more numbers increases your jackpot. The simple premise here is the probability is much lower; players will select multiple winning numbers on any one keno card. 

Truthfully, the rules of keno are relatively simple: 

1. Pick your keno spots. First, consider how many numbers (spots) do you want to play and choose your winning numbers. Sometimes, playing keno online or at video poker machines gives you the option to auto-pick spots, and each spot has its own prize and odds of winning.

2. Place your bet. Depending on the rules in place, you’ll put anywhere from $1 to $10+. Do you want to play multiple drawings? Be sure to mark how many drawings you’re in for. 

3. You can play up to 30 drawings in a row with the same numbers. Add Keno Bonus (more on bonuses below). Want a chance to multiply your prizes up to 10 times? Mark Keno Bonus to double the price of your wager. Keno Bonus is not available on the 10-Spot, 11-Spot, or 12-Spot. 

4. Finalize the purchase of your ticket and submit it before the game starts. Soon after you submit your picks, the drawings begin – good luck!

Those are the basics of keno, and while your opportunities to win are quite random, there are a few surefire ways to keep having fun while gambling while reducing exposure to big losses.

  • Bring a friend, cheer one another on and keep each other accountable!
  • Try different gambling strategies. Keno is a game of chance. Set a goal, stick to your game plan, and don’t go all in or chase your losses.
  • Don’t forget the odds. The more numbers you play each game (or the more cards you buy), the better your chances of winning. 
  • Always wager responsibly and stick to a percentage of your total bankroll for each keno ticket – a good rule of thumb is to wager no more than 2-5% of a total bankroll per play. 

Before playing bonuses, know the ins and outs of your odds. Bonuses in keno work by selecting the option to play a 2x, 3x, 5x, or 10x. However, continually wagering on keno bonuses without winning will drain your bankroll. Think instead about your odds while buying multiple cards.

Hot numbers and cold numbers are often displayed on the boards of keno games at land-based casinos – but the odds of any one number being selected are totally random, so don’t factor this into your wagers in keno. 

How to Play Multi-Card Keno

In multi-card keno, you can play several cards in one round in upwards of 20 cards. As with the original keno, each card has numbers ranging from 1-80 for players to select. Seasoned players like to compound the same groups of numbers – meaning selecting two numbers on one card and adding more numbers with each consecutive keno card. 

Be careful of spreading your bets thin – while the chances of winning may increase, your wager for each keno spot is tied to the payout. Low wages would mean a lower payout than if you bought fewer cards and fewer numbers with higher bets.

Still, if you were to buy just one card in a multi-card keno game, you could make a lower wager and win big. 4-card keno and 20-card keno games allow you the chance to mark only a handful of spots on more cards, unlocking the possibility of winning multiple jackpots. 

Of course, playing keno is nothing but a game of chance. One popular keno strategy involves picking a mix of high numbers and low numbers.

The trick to playing multi-card keno is pacing yourself while selecting numbers, remaining mindful of your bankroll and understanding keno is similar to online bingo or Lotto – the outcome is truly random. There is no clear-cut strategy to win big, but multi-card keno gives you the most chances to win real money playing keno. 

Your Odds While Playing Keno

Whether you’re new to casinos or a seasoned gambler, it’s best to understand the math of keno before playing. While it’s easy to lose at keno, there are some surefire ways to give yourself the best opportunity to win. The house advantage is powerful while playing keno – the odds of hitting ten numbers in keno is nearly 1 in 9 million. Compared to a skill-based game like blackjack, the game of keno is based on what many call luck. Another word for it? Probability. While your probabilities of winning are obviously much smaller than in skill-based games, payouts for lucky winners in keno make it a favourite pastime for gamblers, new and old.

Considering the odds of winning keno, pay close attention to your game’s paytable. It’s wise to pick multiple numbers per game, but for the purposes of this exercise, we’ll go with a good round number of 10. Even if you only get one or two numbers right, you should win some money. Your odds of getting 0 numbers when you select at least four or five keno spots are actually very low. Therefore, some casinos will provide a payout for a Catch Zero (definition below). 

According to Tom Collins, author of Keno Winner: A Guide to Winning Video Keno, this is your probability of winning keno after picking ten random numbers: 

The odds of winning 0 keno spots out of 20 random keno balls are 1 in 21.84
The odds of winning 1 keno spot out of 20 random keno balls are 1 in 5.57
The odds of winning 2 keno spots out of 20 random keno balls are 1 in 3.39
The odds of winning 3 keno spots out of 20 random keno balls are 1 in 3.74
The odds of winning 4 keno spots out of 20 random keno balls are 1 in 6.79
The odds of winning 5 keno spots out of 20 random keno balls are 1 in 19.44
The odds of winning 6 keno spots out of 20 random keno balls are 1 in 19.44
The odds of winning 7 keno spots out of 20 random keno balls are 1 in 87.11

From there, your chances drop considerably. 

Each keno game is unique and unpredictable, with random number generators (RNGs) guided by the game’s rules. The RNGs generate 20 numbers with no pre-disposal toward an outcome, and your probability (your luck) of winning keno varies based on how many numbers you select. 

The Math of Winning Keno

There are 3.5 quadrillion ways to draw 20 numbers out of 80. Predicting 20 correct numbers is almost mathematically impossible.

Return to Player (RTP) for each keno game differs based on where you play. This number refers to the amount players can expect to get back on average. And the house edge is the percentage they keep – and subsequently, how casinos stay in business. 

In keno, the RTP is very fluid, but an average RTP of 75-85% isn’t uncommon. To further illustrate your odds of winning keno when picking ten keno spots, let’s dive into the math of keno.

1 Spot

Let’s say you pick a single number between 1 and 80, and the casino draws 20 numbers. If one of the numbers drawn matches your number, you win the multiplier for every $1 you bet.

There are 80 numbers you can pick, and 20 of those numbers will win you money. So, your chance of winning is 20/80 or 1/4.

This means that you can expect to win 75% of your bet money back over time. For example, if you bet $100 on 1 Spot, you can expect to win back $75 on average.

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2 Spot

Let’s say you pick two numbers between 1 and 80. As usual, 20 numbers are drawn – if both of your numbers are drawn, you win.

There are 3,160 ways to pick two numbers out of 80, yet only 190 ways to pick two winning numbers out of 20.

You have a 6.01% chance of winning. 

Another way to see it is that your first pick has a 20/80 chance of matching the winning numbers. If it does match, your second pick has a 19/79 chance of matching one of the casino's other numbers.

So, the overall probability of winning is (20/80) * (19/79) = 6.01%.

The math of keno works the same, but with more numbers marked, the formulas get more complex, so from here on out, we will give you the probabilities and expected return to the player (RTP).

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3 Spot

In this version of keno, you pick three numbers between 1 and 80 (do you see a pattern here?). After 20 numbers are drawn, if all 3 of yours are included, you win the biggest payout. However, if you only catch 2 out of 3 of your numbers, you can still win real money at keno – and consolation payouts are available from here forward.

The chances of winning the top prize are pretty small – there are 82,160 possible combinations of 3 numbers, but only 1,140 ways to pick three winning numbers out of 20.

That gives you a mere 1.39% chance of winning the big payout. However, there are 11,400 ways to catch 2 out of 3 winning numbers with a more respectable 13.88% chance to win. 

The expected RTP for a 3 Spot is 72%. So, if you were to bet $100 on 3 Spot, you’d win back $72 on average.

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4 Spot

When picking 4 numbers between 1 and 80 while the casino draws 20 numbers, you have just a 0.306% chance of winning real money at keno. 

However, there’s a 4.326% chance of catching 3 numbers and a more robust 21.230% chance of winning a payout while catching 2 numbers.

The expected RTP for a 4 Spot is 71.00%.

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5 Spot

For a 5 Spot, you have a 0.097% chance of winning the big prize by matching all your numbers, and the expected RTP for a 5 Spot is 70.78%. From here, we’ll post some tables displaying your basic odds of winning keno.

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6 Spot

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7 Spot

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8 Spot 

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9 Spot

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10 Spot

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The Best Strategy to Win Keno

Compounding keno spots is a strategy where you add higher wagers and more spots on each keno card. It can be risky, but also gives you a shot at multiple jackpot totals.

To compound keno spots, first start with a small number of spots – maybe three, and on each consecutive keno card, re-select those three numbers and add more spots. 

If you win three out of seven numbers on multiple cards, you can continue to compound your winnings with higher wages on consecutive games and play more spots on each game. If luck is on your side, you can score a very large payout using this keno strategy. By compounding wagers, you also stand to lose all your winnings. It’s important to note that this is a very risky strategy.

Compounding keno spots can still be a fun and exciting way to play keno, given the high upside. If you are willing to take on the risk, you could win a lot of money.

Keno Terms and Keno Ticket Variations

When learning how to play keno, there are some common terms in the game you’ll want to understand. We’ll also break down what it looks like to place different types of wagers when you’re considering how to win keno and play within your budget. 

Hot Keno Numbers - The top-picked keno numbers in recent winning tickets. 
Cold Keno Numbers - The numbers recently absent from all winning keno tickets.
Catch - It’s when one of your numbers is drawn.
Catch All - When all your keno spots are drawn as winning numbers.
Catch Zero - When none of your keno spots are drawn as winning numbers.
Combination Bet - When you purchase a combo ticket, you select groups of numbers to be played on the same keno card. 
Hopper - The machine which disperses keno balls. Much like a bingo cage or lottery spinner, they are powered by RNGs in digital versions of keno. 
Keno Spot - The numbers you choose in each game on your ticket. Keno balls are numbered 1-80.
King Ticket - This works like a Split Ticket (below), except in each group of numbers, you must select one number to be present in all of them – a King, so to speak.
Straight Ticket - A standard keno ticket involving a straight bet, where you pick up to 15 numbers in a single game.

Split Ticket - By making multiple bets in the same game, you can wager on more than one set of numbers to increase your likelihood of winning in a single round.

Way Bet - This allows you to select different groupings of keno spots. You can break your selections into subgroups of numbers of varying sizes, but a value can only be selected once so that each bet is unique.