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Looking Back at Keno’s Roots

Keno is a lottery game which is played in the casino. It is a game where people would bet on which of the 80 numbers would be picked. Out of 80 balls only 20 balls are picked. The payout depends on the numbers which coincide with the selected ones. Bingo can be somehow compared to Keno in the sense that some of the rules in bingo also apply to Keno.

Keno dates back approximately two thousand years ago from ancient China, with its initial appearance during the Han dynasty. A leader named Cheung Leung, who needed funds for his army’s supplies, created the lottery in order to generate money, since the people did not wish to pay taxes. The lottery game was based on the poem “The Thousand Character Classic”, which was a popular poem during those times. The players had to guess which of the 120 characters on the ticket was going to be drawn. With increased wagers and more matching numbers, payout also increased. The game was also named White Pigeon game since it was through pigeons that players communicated winning numbers. The game was instantly popular since for a small amount of money there was a chance to win a big prize.

The game spread throughout China, through various salons and parlors carrying it. The amount of money generated was so vast that the Great Wall of China was built using money earned from Keno.

Keno was brought to America by Chinese immigrants who worked in mines and who built railroads. People began to know it as the Chinese lottery, and initially it was only present in cities where Chinese communities existed. However, as time passed by, Americans also learned about Keno. However, since Chinese characters were used, Americans found out that it was difficult to determine whether the numbers hit. In order to make the game more playable to the public, the Chinese characters were changed to roman numerals ranging from 1 to 80.

Since lottery was still considered illegal in the United States even after gambling was legalized during 1931, the casinos changed the name of the game to “horse racing keno” in order to keep the game. Horse names replaced the numbers being betted on. Due to this, Keno drawings were called races, and the term is still utilized until now.

During 1951, the government passed a law taxing off track betting. In order to avoid taxation, the name was returned back to “Keno”. Tickets were again utilized, and casinos again slipped through the law.

Keno winnings used to have limits. In the 1960s the payout limit was $60,000, and the ticket price was $0.60 minimum. This was increased in the 1970s when the limit was raised to $50,000 and the ticket price raised to $1. Nowadays, casinos are free to set their payout limit.

Playing Keno easily gets a person hooked, due to its nature. As online casinos now also feature Keno, one can just expect its popularity to grow and attract more players.