History of Keno

Though the origin of Keno is left up to history’s many different versions, we know that Keno was originally the Chinese Lottery. The gambling origin of Keno however can be traced back to the Chinese general named Cheung Leung.  It contained 120 Chinese characters and people who played would mark characters with ink, called spots, and if you marked the right ones prizes were awarded. 

The numbers drawn would be carried by dove to points throughout the kingdom.  The game became so popular that it was played twice a day, once in the morning and once towards evening. It took just ten drawings for General Leung to reinstate his army again and the extra funds over the long term that this lottery produced help fund the entire Great Wall of China project.

By the time Keno arrived in North America with the Chinese immigrants it was already reduced from 120 characters to 90. These immigrants in California seeking their claim to the gold rush but mostly found themselves building railroads instead of mining gold but their Chinese Lottery game was catching on in California and eventually in the Las Vegas during its infancy.

Since during those early years, lotteries were illegal in Nevada, Casino operators called the Chinese Lottery “Horse Race Keno” since horse racing was legal.  They even went as far as making a fictional horse for each number and the playing could then pick the winning horse.  That’s why some you may here some keno players say they are off to the races.

Horse Race Keno was played with 80 numbers written on a piece of paper and placed in tubes.  Then 20 numbers were drawn from the tubes. The tubes were then replaced by wooden balls with numbers on them and the wooden balls have been replaces by numbered ping pong balls. Today most Keno games are controlled electronically on a big screen and broadcast to T.V. screens throughout the casino so players can play from anywhere in the casino.

In the early 1960’s, the U.S. Government changed the laws and made all proceeds from horse track racing, including Horse Race Keno taxable. After this change in the law most casinos in Nevada changed the name to just Keno. The maximum payout has changed a lot over the years. In the 1960’s the maximum in Nevada was $25,000. In 1979 that maximum was changed to $50,000 and in 1989 the cap was eliminated all together.

Now Keno has become a popular game at most all online casinos and spread to all brick and mortar casinos around the world.  The lottery, which is a version of Keno, is used by state governments in the U.S. to fund special projects, education and charitable purposes. Most state lotteries are offered daily, weekly or multiple times during the week with numbers being drawn live on local television.