Issue 216
November 8- 14, 2004
Volume 4
page 3

KENO As seen by a Video Poker Expert
By Lenny Frome

Although KENO is a simple game, with no strategy to learn, it is very much misunderstood. And no wonder! First of all, the mathematics is so complicated that the odds on even the simplest propositions cannot be arrived at mentally. In fact, most hand-held calculators are powerless to deal with it, either. It is just arithmetic, but the very confusing branch, known as combinatorial math, the type which computes how many ways mom can arrange 8 flower pots on a window sill which holds 3 pots. The fact that neither mom nor a Keno player care about the order of the pots (or the numbers) makes it even tougher.

However, the stats are 100% predictable to high accuracy, although rarely publicized and never mentioned in competitive advertising. As a result, there are very few Keno players who clearly understand what to expect, even after years of heavy play.

Second, there is much confusion about the House Advantage or "vig" because the game has gone electronic in recent years. The Keno parlors necessarily encounter much higher operating expenses and so they naturally work to a higher vig. But the variation in the vig from one parlor to another is astounding. Some Keno parlors want to simply turn the patron upside down, take the money and kick the player out so someone else can quickly be next. Others want to cultivate long-term repeat patrons.

But in either case, KENO parlor costs are high and the vig will run from 18% to 34% even in highly competitive locales. It's my guess that Keno parlors believe that high vigs insure success, failing to note that low-vig table games and low-vig slots are taking away their players. The parlor that raises the vig to stay afloat is virtually guaranteed to lose its players to the more liberal parlors, but only if someone is capable of making the comparison.

Third, the electronic Keno's (EK) work very differently from the paper-ticket parlors. While they are incapable of playing multi-ways, they compete with their in-house parlors by offering a much lower vig. Until I did some of my own checking, I thought the EK's were just a bit more liberal than the Keno parlors. The fact is that EK's run at about one-third the vig, more like 8-12%. Here again there are variations from casino to casino, but much less so than in the Keno parlors.

The greatest variations in EK's (and paper-tickets) are in the hit frequencies for the number of spots or "marks" the player elects. Mark a 5-spot and the machine will hit something like once in 10 games, whereas a 4-spot will hit once in 4 games, on average.

For any given combo of "mark" and "hit" the frequency of hitting is identical and independent of the payout. The vig will not vary more than 1or 2% between any of the "mark" options. Here again, there is little consistency among the casinos, leading one to believe that it is intentionally meant to confuse the players. By comparison, Video Pokers are at least given different names to identify the variations in pay tables. But KENO is just KENO.

Fourth, the payouts are weird. Why it is necessary to pay 352 for 1 or 23 for 1 is not at all clear from a study of the stats. A lot of rounding off could be effected without changing the overall payback. Also, there could be more standardization of the pay tables, so that players recognize their favorite machines. Slots go to great lengths to develop an attractive and recognizable motif, but EK's are as dull as dishwater and from casino to casino they play differently even though they look so much alike.

Fifth, both EK's and paper Kenos penalize the coin-limit players. The EK's pay tables are straight multipliers of the amount wagered. All parlor Kenos impose aggregate limits on the total payout, so the $5.00 players gets no more on the top award than a $3.00 player. Quite the opposite of Video Poker and the reel-slots, which provide incentives of every type to encourage coin-limit play.
However, this should not be interpreted to say that nickel EK's are as liberal as quarters. The vig on a quarter machine is half of what a nickel machine works on.

In an attempt to help you shed some light on these mystery EK's, we have prepared a master form, from which anyone can get a complete picture of any EK in a few minutes.In an attempt to help you shed some light on these mystery EK's, we have prepared a master form, from which anyone can get a complete picture of any EK in a few minutes. If you would like an 8 X 11 blank template from which you can easily prepare profiles for your favorite locales, send a stamped, self-addressed #10 (business) envelope to:

P.O. Box 132
Bogota, NJ 07603

Enclose check/MO for $3.00 for the first copy and $1.00 for each additional copy.
We'll warn you in advance that you will also receive a flyer about our other products which promise to make a good Video Poker player out of you. That's the game we believe you should be playing, except possibly when you are eating in the coffee-shop and you hear someone chirping "KENO?". That might just be your time for the big hit which will change your lifestyle.

About the Author

Lenny Frome spent 40 years in the aerospace engineering business before moving to Las Vegas. During the ensuing 10 years, he became one of the most prolific gaming authors, having written 8 books, countless tip sheets and nearly 1000 articles for a variety of gaming magazines. Lenny's ground breaking work in the area of Video Poker earned him the title of the 'King of Video Poker'. He also wrote on a variety of other gaming topics including Spanish 21, Let It Ride, Keno and others. Besides being an author and columnist, Lenny was the premier Gaming Consultant at the time of his passing in 1998. He helped develop paytables for Let It Ride and Three Card Poker, and consulted on literally hundreds of other gaming projects. His son, Elliot, now follows in his footsteps, as a gaming author, analyst and consultant. Their website, and a complete catalog of all their products can be found at Feel free to drop Elliot an e-mail at

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