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The history of this hugely successful game is one very interesting story. This would be typical of any story that has characters including Oriental Warlords, railroad workers and Las Vegas gamblers. It cannot be disputed that the general nature of game play in Keno is what has popularised the game worldwide. Before we go into the history of Keno, it is necessary to describe the game so that the journey through the ages can be clearly understood. The modern version of the game consists of a sheet with numbers from one through to eighty. Players place bets on numbers of their choice on the sheet. When bets have been placed, twenty numbers are randomly drawn.

Image of Keno Board in play

Early Keno

There are several methods of generating the numbers. Winning bets are determined by how many correct numbers are in the players’ selection and the size of the bet placed. Keno is very similar to lottery games. There are several Chinese poems that describe a game like Keno being used to raise funds for very noble causes. The most notable story details how Cheung Leung of the Han dynasty created and used the game to fund his war. It should be noted that this would have happened around the year 200BC. The game involved selecting characters from a sheet with between 80 to 120 Chinese characters. Characters used were the first 80 to 120 characters in the thousand word rich Chinese Alphabet. The game was used to buy food for the city and raise money for the soldiers. The game spread quickly and soon the whole nation was engulfed in the gambling frenzy. At this stage, the Chinese were now using white Pigeons to deliver results to rural areas. This resulted in the game being called ‘white pigeon ticket’. This may be the earliest recorded national lottery.

It is said that the funds from this game were used to raise funds to construct the twenty-thousand-kilometre-long Great Wall of China. It is estimated that this happed in the seventh century BC. There are also stories that claim this game helped Chinese children learn the characters of the Chinese alphabet.

Image of Keno Board

Interesting Facts about Keno History

The stories of the Chinese origin are wide and diverse but what we know for certain is that lotteries were outlawed in China before the 19th century, this caused the game to go underground. The game only resurfaced in San Francisco in the 1800s. Chinese immigrants coming to work on the transcontinental railroad had shipped the game across the Pacific. The game quickly gained popularity among the Americans. The Chinese characters were traded for Arabic numerals. AS the railroad moved from town to town so did the game. By 1866 the game now called Keno was hugely popular in Texas.

Unfortunately, lotteries where banned in the USA in the early 20th and it was difficult to convince authorities the game was not a lottery. This led to the game going underground and in some cases being disguised as a horse racing betting scheme. It was called Racehorse Keno in these casinos.  It was in these casinos that the drawings started being called races. Such terminology has stuck is some casinos even up to today.

Keno resurfaced in the eighties. The pay tables vary from one casino to the next and so does the house edge. Even the appearance of the tickets is different from casino to casino. However the general game play has remained the same. This lottery based game of Chinese origin is worth trying out. You will soon discover why it has been so popular over the centuries.