7 Ways to Avoid Losing at Keno

Woman in Casino Playing Keno, Keno Booth with Screens Displaying Numbers, Keno Logo with Keno Numbered Balls
Whenever you’re gambling, no matter the game, you’ll eventually lose a wager. But avoiding loss isn’t actually about winning or losing. It’s about not spending your entire bankroll on a proposition.

Keno critics are quick to say the game isn’t worth playing, yet thousands of people sign up for poker tournaments. 85% of poker tournament players win nothing in any given tournament.

All criticisms and rebuttals aside, if you’re not playing in a tournament to the bitter end, you always have the option of not placing another bet in any game.

Common sense tells us to manage our budgets and keep losses to a minimum. When players are totally dependent upon random luck, like in the game of keno, the time to stop playing is when it stops being fun.

If you lose $1000 at keno but you have a great time and won’t miss the money, did you really lose or did you have $1000 worth of fun?

I won’t include any psychological or motivational talking points in the seven ways to avoid losing keno below, but the way you look at gambling is important. If you’re only paying for entertainment and you always have a good time, you walk out a winner every time.

Keep in mind, keno payouts do range across the board. If I talk about doubling your money below, that’s based on a specific pay table. I also refer to the worst payouts so, hopefully, the games you play will pay better. Keno pays whatever the game runner decides.

1 – Never Bet the Bank

Betting theory is not my thing. I’m sure someone has studied all the angles. A friend once said to me,

“your chances of winning are the same whether you bet all your money or only bet a little.”

I’ve never seen him make a bet that big. The point is well taken. In a fair game, you have the same chance to win regardless of how much you wager.

Woman Looking Up at Empty Waller, Questions Marks Above Her HeadSome older slot machines changed your chances of winning if you played fewer paylines. The advertised payouts were based on maximum payline betting. Hence, eliminating some of the paylines to save on your bets was a negative proposition. Each bet cost you more in the long run because it was less likely to pay off.

All things considered, I’d rather not spend my last $20 on a keno bet. I wouldn’t put my last $20 on any one bet. If there’s a smaller bet than your casino bankroll that has the same chance of winning, play the smaller bet and live to gamble another day.

2 – Play the Spreads

This is a controversial idea. It probably comes from people who belittle keno players. “Spreads” are the patterns players use to pick their keno numbers.

Spreads are not unique to keno. Sports betting fans are familiar with point spreads. Lottery game spreads work differently but come from the same idea.

The bettor believes that the game’s outcome will fall into a certain region of the number line. Keno players who use spreads hedge their wagers by betting on multiple spreads.

It’s pretty simple to do this. Since the game is drawing 20 numbers out of 80, you think about which numbers you’d like to see come up.

Some players use the “hot” and “cold” numbers as bases for their spreads. Since the drawings are random, there’s no guarantee that any one number will come up in the next game. But “hot” and “cold” numbers are real statistical patterns.

3 – Play the Middle Picks

There’s no simple way to define the “middle” picks in keno. Every casino and lottery gaming authority has its own keno rules.

If the game allows 10 picks, the best odds are usually found for the four-spot, five-spot, and six-spot picks. Some players say the seven-spot picks are also good. If the game allows 15 to 20 picks, the odds may converge on a different set of “middle” picks.

The smart player wants enough numbers in the pick to win on partial matches but not so many numbers that the big prize is impossible to win.

A five-spot game is comparable to playing most major lotteries. A seven-spot game goes beyond the major lotteries in number of main spots.

4 – Only Make Minimum Bets

Keno Gaming Area Inside Casino, Hand Holding Out Coins
This strategy is not quite the same as “never bet the bank.” If you never bet the bank, there’s nothing to stop you from betting half the bank.

It’s easy to overthink your wagering strategy. If you only bet half the bank, should you bet the second half if you lose the first bet or divide it in half again?

These trick questions are clever ways to confuse people who lack experience. When you’re down to the last dollar you can bet, you either finish paying for your entertainment or you walk away.

When you only make minimum bets, you buy more chances to win. The prizes may be smaller, but the idea is to win more prizes (if you can).

I’ve had nights where my bankroll bobbed up and down by 10% to 20%. I thought those were good nights. I didn’t lose much and I won a little.

Minimum wagering is less fun than maximum wagering. It’s a survival strategy. Some people only want to make minimum bets so they can spend more time in the casino.

5 – Play the Small Picks

If you’re only making minimum bets, then play the small picks. Remember that every keno game has its own rules. These examples are only for illustrative purposes. Check the odds and payouts in each game you play.

Players can double their money or better if they win a one-spot game. The chances of any number being drawn are 1 in 80. Because 20 numbers are drawn, the player’s chances of picking any of the 20 numbers are 1 in 4.

That’s the best probability you’ll ever get in keno. Other picks that may pay double include catches on:

  1. Five numbers in a 10-spot game
  2. Four numbers in an eight-spot or nine-spot game
  3. Three numbers in a five-spot game
  4. Two numbers in a three-spot game

The math is simple. If you only want to double your money (not a bad payoff but not great), then your best bet (literally) is to play one-spot games.

Your bankroll lasts longer if you only make minimum wagers, but that’s not a requirement for this strategy.

6 – Play the Maximum Minimum Payoff Games

This is almost the opposite of the previous strategy. On the assumption that you’re going to lose more often than win, the idea is to get the most bang for your buck.

In this strategy, you play the two-spot game. You must catch two numbers to win but the odds are about 1 in 17. That’s not bad for keno.

Many odds tables claim better odds for winning on higher spot games. Don’t fall for that trick. Those odds are for winning ANY of the prizes on the ticket.

A four-spot game has better than 1 in 4 odds but there are three prizes. To match or beat the payoff on a two-spot game you need to catch all four numbers. That’s about a 1 in 36 chance.

You’ll never get a payout that matches the odds in keno. I’ve never seen such a game. But the odds for the best payouts arguably get worse as you play more spots.

7 – Back Other Players

Keno Numbers Layout in Background, Hand Out with Another Hand Holding Money
Instead of playing your own keno game, pay others to play it for you. As long as they’re not choosing the same numbers, you are spreading your risk.

For this strategy to have any chance to pay off, you can’t provide the entire bankroll for the other player.

Agree to a percentage in advance and get it in writing. If they have a bankroll of $500 and you add $250, you get 33% of whatever they leave with.

Staking a keno player is not like playing poker. You’re not betting on someone else’s skill. You’re betting on a wider spread of choices.

Three players could cover 60 numbers for you. The only drawback is that you don’t get to combine the numbers from their tickets for maximum prizes.


Because you’re betting on purely random events, keno bets are prop bets. It’s surely easier to guess who the next President of the United States once the field of candidates narrows. In lottery games, the field never narrows.

One reason why people play keno is they have more time to think about their betting strategies. Some keno players will never hit the roulette tables even though they get better odds there.

If you’re curious about keno, it’s worth an experimental dip into the numbers, but you’ll have better odds and payouts betting on single numbers in roulette.