Among casino gaming enthusiasts, keno has a poor reputation. People quickly point out that the house edge in keno is larger than in just about any other gambling game.
But if you put a novice blackjack player at the table, the house edge is higher than all the experts say. The house has two edges, the obvious edge based on players making perfect choices and the hidden edge where their mistakes pay the house.
If keno has one thing going for it, it’s that there isn’t much room for making mistakes. You can make poor choices in the game, but actual mistakes are hard to come by.
The rules of keno are simple enough that computers check them quickly. Your most likely mistake will be to pick numbers other than what you wanted.
If you’ve never played keno and you want to know how it differs from a major lottery game like Powerball, Euromillions, or Mega Millions, it comes down to the numbers.
Keno drawings are based on 80 numbers players can wager on. The goal is to match one to 10 numbers. There’s also a special case in many keno games that I’ll explain below.
Powerball and its government-sanctioned siblings use fewer numbers than keno. Here’s the rule of thumb, the more numbers a drawing game uses, the less likely anyone will win the jackpot.
1 – Study the Rules of the Game You’re Playing
Keno rules vary across the board. Don’t start playing a game in one type of venue on the assumption it’s using the exact same rules of another keno game you played previously.
Rule variations may cover anything from the frequency of drawings to how many spots you can play to how much you can or must wager. It doesn’t take long to verify the rules you’ll be playing by your next drawing.
2 – Learn What the “Hot” and “Cold” Numbers Mean
The “hot” numbers were chosen in the last few drawings. The “cold” numbers were not chosen in recent drawings. Some keno games publish hot and cold numbers. Some third-party services track them for certain keno games.
The whole “hot” and “cold” system appeals more to gamblers’ superstitions than anything else.
There is a “pop” theory that many small factors may work together to reduce some of the randomness. Wait until you know the game better before using any “hot” or “cold”-based strategies.
3 – Set a Budget
Keno is easy to play. It works just like any other lottery drawing game. You pick up to 10 numbers from 1 to 80 and hope to match as many numbers as you can.
It’s easy for new players to get carried away, especially when they win secondary prizes. It helps to set aside a fixed amount of money from each paycheck and only gamble from that. If you lose it all, then you wait until you get paid again.
To be good at any gambling game requires discipline and self-control.
4 – Ignore the Jackpots
Yes, you could win millions of dollars if you match all 10 numbers for the largest prize category in keno. But you will have better luck playing Powerball or Mega Millions.
If you play the 10-spot game, don’t be disappointed if you don’t match any numbers in your drawing. In many variations on keno, that is the only “spot” game in keno that pays a prize for missing all the drawn numbers.
Remember rule no. 1: Know the rules of the keno game you are playing.
5 – Limit the Number of Concurrent Games You Play
You can play up to 20 games on the same ticket. Keno can become expensive quickly. Stop and think about how little you know about the game and be patient.
Play no more than one or two games per ticket when you learn keno.
6 – Study the Payoff Charts
Each keno game publishes a chart that explains what prizes you can win in each of the various “spot” games. In a “10-spot” game, you pick 10 numbers. You will win prizes for many partial match combinations.
It may surprise you to learn that the best odds are offered on games with fewer spots. Most keno games have a “sweet spot” somewhere in the four-spot, five-spot, and six-spot games. You’ll get the best payout odds somewhere in these games.
It’s better to play games with lower payout odds because you have better chances of winning prizes. You don’t want to play too few spots as you’ll lose some chances to win prizes.
7 – Play Smaller Bets to Begin
You’re new to the game, which means you are learning. Don’t let early wins go to your head. You get the same odds if you bet $1 on a game as if you bet $20. The prizes are proportionately larger because you’re risking more money.
There’s a certain logic to playing larger bets. Since you win larger prizes, you should replenish your bankroll over time. But if you only have $20 to wager, you’ll be able to make 20 one-dollar bets instead of one $20 bet.
You have the same chance of winning 20 times in a row. It doesn’t guarantee you will win. It’s just that a single $20 bet is to a $20 bankroll as a $1 bet is to a $1 bankroll.
Make an informed decision before betting your entire bankroll.
8 – Slow It Down
Many keno games have drawings throughout the day. If you’re just starting to play keno, teach yourself the good habit of limiting the number of games you play.
For most people, gambling should be light entertainment. It really makes no difference if you drop a couple hundred dollars on a date, a dinner with friends, or a gambling game, as long as you can afford it.
The more special you make the experience, the longer you’ll enjoy playing the game. As a cautionary tale, watch someone who stands by a scratch ticket vending machine and keeps putting money back in. Buy, scratch, claim prize, repeat.
Maybe that person just wants to know what it’s like to do that. Maybe they do it every day. Just ask yourself if that is really how you want to gamble.
9 – Play Offline Keno Before Playing Online Keno
It’s really more fun if you get together with a group of friends and go out for “a keno lunch.” You can watch the drawing together, talk about your picks and strategies, and share each other’s excitement in winning.
Once you learn how to play keno online, it becomes too easy and too convenient. For me, that makes it less fun.
Keno doesn’t require much practice. While it makes sense to play blackjack for free online, you don’t need to practice playing keno very much. After your first few games, you’ll know how to do everything you need to do.
10 – Don’t Put Too Much Faith in Keno Strategies
Yes, there are strategies for every kind of gambling game. People sometimes use “strategy” too liberally. They may only advise you on basic money management practice.
Basic keno strategy is simple. You evaluate the available options and choose the risk/reward combination you’re interested in.
It does help to understand how probability distribution works. But even without the math, most people realize that 1 in 400 is a better chance of winning than 1 in e.
The more complicated a strategy sounds, the less likely you should try to use it.
Remember, keno requires very little skill. Keno drawings are random.
If you find a keno drawing that isn’t random, call the police.
Millions of people play keno every day. Keno may be the most widely played gambling game in the world. That’s an amazing statistic for a game that draws sneers and dismissive comments from gambling experts.
Lottery games don’t pay very well in the long run when you compare them to table games. But if you’re just playing for fun, that shouldn’t matter. Keno allows you to be flexible. For most people, that seems to be good enough!