Origin of the Word "Keno". Where does the Game Come From?

Posted on November 29th, 2012

Today, we are going to look at the game of Keno- that lottery like game: you can play keno online at any time (as opposed to waiting for the weekly draw).

It’s another one of those words that we just band about without thinking about it. But where does it come from? Sounds kind of Japanese to us.

Keno Card

Play Keno at Royal Vegas

Play Keno Online at Royal Vegas

Well, wrong continent, because the word “keno” has French and ultimately Latin roots (if you head back to ancient Rome in a time machine, and want to say: “Give me Five”, you’d say “da mihi quinque”) and over the time the “qu” became “k”.

The actual game of keno, like many gambling games, is thought to have come from China. In fact, there is a legend that it was used to raise funds to build the Great Wall of China and was, in its day, the biggest lottery in the world, just as “El Gordo” in Spain is today.

The first Chinese lottery was recorded fairly recently in, you guessed it, Macao. The colonial Portuguese government there granted a licence to lottery operators.

They didn’t have tellies then, so the results of keno games in the big cities were communicated to rural villages by carrier pigeon, hence keno’s name in Chinese: “white dove ticket”, (baak-gap-piu in Cantonese).

Chinese immigrants brought keno to the West when they helped build the 1st US Transcontinental Railroad in the 19th century.

About Keno. How to Play

Keno is a pretty simple game- it’s easy to play and this is its main appeal.

It is a lottery or bingo game that you can play online or at landbased casinos, and is also available as a game in some US state lotteries.

Generally, there’s a circular glass container called a “bubble” with 80 balls from which the results (numbers) are drawn. Each ball is  numbered from 1 through to 80. During the draw, a blower mixes up the balls (exactly as you see in many lottery draws).

A “caller” then uses a lever to seperate one ball at a time into a tube called the “rabbit ears”. The caller and a “verifier” note down each of the 20 balls drawn, and a keno system works out the payout on all bets based on the numbers drawn.

You bet by marking an “S” over the number “spot” on a  keno ticket that has 80 numbered boxes (1 to 80). After everyone makes their bets, the casino draws the 20 number randomly.

Every casino has its own specific set of “paytables”, so make sure you check these out BEFORE you play. Your winnings will depend on how many numbers on your ticket match the drawn balls.

The house edge in keno can be around 4% which is less than American Roulette. But be careful- it can go as high as 35%


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