Casino Games

Keno: Why is Online Keno Better?

History of Keno

According to most researchers, Keno began in China during the Han Dynasty around 200 BC. It was called baige piao, which is translated from Chinese as white dove ticket. The common belief is that the white tickets for the game were dispersed locally using pigeons. Keno is believed to have originated from a chess-like game where wooden balls would come out of a sculptured wooden goose. It was originally played, and still is in some places today, with 80 tiles displaying the first 80 characters from the Book of a Thousand Characters, the Qianziwen.

The western version of keno uses numbers and the westernized name of baige piao became Pakapoo, which is also a game similar to keno. The name keno itself comes from the latin quini meaning “five each” or quine in French meaning five winning numbers.

How to Play Keno

The game is simple, yet slightly more complex, than similar games like bingo. The player picks between 1 and 10 numbers (or up to 15 at online casinos). 20 of an available 80 numbers are then drawn at random and if enough of the chosen numbers match the numbers drawn, the player wins. The quantity of matches required varies with the amount of numbers chosen. The more numbers selected means there are more combinations that result in a winning ticket. The payouts also vary depending on how many numbers are matched.

Keno Odds and Payouts

There are three components to determining your chances of winning at any given game of keno.

  1. The base odds of any quantity of numbers selected (which do not change between different games)
  2. The minimum quantity of matched numbers to trigger a payout
  3. The payout amount for each quantity matched.

Keno Odds and Payout Amount

The Keno payouts vary by location but the base keno odds are always the same. Starting with picking one number, the odds are 1 in 4 at having one of the 20 numbers drawn matching the one number selected. The odds of winning money on that bet depend on the payout. The BCLC pays out $2 for each $1 bet on this selection while online casinos can payout up to $3.50 for each $1 bet.  From this you can see the odds of winning at BCLC are at 50% for one number played since you win one in four times yet only double your money if won.

Keno Payout Minimum Match Quantity

The chances of winning get more complicated as more numbers are bet because payouts can occur if you only match a partial amount of numbers drawn.  For instance, If 3 or 4 numbers are played, then payouts start at two numbers matched. Between 5 and 7, payouts start at 3 numbers matched, and between 7 and 9, payouts start at 4 numbers matched. If you choose the maximum 10 numbers to bet on, payouts start at 5 numbers but you will sometimes get paid out if you get no matched numbers drawn. Of interest, getting none of your numbers drawn when playing 10 numbers happens with 1 in 22 odds.

Your probability of winning is thus the combination of all the odds associated with each possible outcome, varying from the lowest match number that pays out to all of the numbers being matched.

This is the key to understanding how to best play Keno as it is the total odds of winning, for all possible combinations, and the payout associated with those odds that determine the final probability of winning money.

Here is the odds and payout table from the British Columbia Lottery Corporation Website

Keno Payout Percentage (Chance of Winning)

I will not go into the details of the calculations of odds of winning but want to let you know what is important in looking at various Keno games. As mentioned before, the odds of numbers getting matched do not change as long as there are 20 balls drawn out of 80 total balls. What does impact the final payout percentages is the minimum number of balls that are required to hit for a payout and the dollar payout for each number of hits.

Based on the BCLC payout table for their Keno game, here is the expected return to player (RTP) percentage for each of the numbers you can play. Note that this includes the odds for all the possible wins you can make for each number bet as well as the payout associated with each of those combinations.

The table below is what you really need to understand about Keno odds. The base odds never change so how many numbers to bet is entirely dependent on the house rules. The amount of winning combinations available for each number of picks and the payouts given for each of those combinations is what matters.

Number Payout Percentage
1 50.0%
2 60.1%
3 62.4%
4 58.2%
5 67.2%
6 62.1%
7 64.1%
8 59.4%
9 60.5%
10 63.8%

As you can see, if you want to maximize your chances of winning, then you should play 5 numbers and get a 67.2% RTP. That means that, on average, BCLC is keeping 32.8% of the money gambled for anyone that plays 5 numbers. But they keep even more for the other quantities. As far as casino games go, those are some of the worst odds you can find. The good news is that you can find better RTP Keno games if you play at some land casinos and even better at online casinos.

Fun Keno Odds Fact

The odds of hitting 10 out of 10 are one in 423,822 but for those games that allow you to choose 15 numbers, the odds of hitting all 15 are 1 in 41.8 million. Compared to Lotto 649, whose odds are about 1 in 14 million to hit all 6 numbers, that means you are still 3 times less likely to hit all 15 numbers than win the 649.

Fun Keno Odds Bonus Fact

The odds of hitting all 20 out of 20 drawn balls is about 3.5 quadrillion to one.  (That is a 35 with 14 zeroes after it) There have been around 69 billion seconds since keno was said to have been invented around 200 BC. So, if keno had been played once every second since it has been invented, the chances that anyone has EVER gotten 20 out of 20 balls is still 1 in 50 million, or nearly 4 times the chance of someone hitting 649.

Online Keno

Online Keno plays like regular keno except that there are many more variations on both the game and the payouts. The standard Keno from Microgaming allows you to select up to 15 numbers where the payouts at 15 numbers varies from 0.5 times your bet at 3 or 4 numbers hit, to 10,000 times your bet if you hit all 15 numbers. The payouts are generally a lot higher at online casinos for numbers selected with the same odds. This can be seen when you only select 1 number it pays out 3 compared to only 2 at the BCLC.

Online Keno variations include Tutan Keno, Monkey Keno, Lucky Keno, Keno Pop, Keno 80 and Firefly Keno. The differences lie in both the theme of the gameplay and also the maximum numbers allowed to be selected and the payouts associated with each number. Here is a breakdown of each game with some example payouts.

Keno Game Provider Max Numbers Payout 1 Number Max Payout Notes
Keno Microgaming 15 3 10,000
Tutan Keno 1×2 Gaming 15 3.5 10,000 Egyptian themed
Monkey Keno Microgaming 15 3 10,000 Chinese Monkey themed
Lucky Keno Pariplay 10 3 10,000 Multiplier Wheel
Keno Pop 1×2 Gaming 15 3.5 10,000 Colourful theme
Firefly Keno 1×2 Gaming 15 3.5 10,000 Chinese Firefly themed
Keno Playtech 10 N/A 10,000 Min bet is two numbers

The Payout for picking 1 number is still usually the lowest payout percentage on any keno game but it does give you an idea how much better the odds are compared to provincially run casinos. In fact, taking Tutan Keno as an example, there are numbers you can choose that pay out better than 95% (picking 4 numbers pays 95.6% RTP)

From this you can see that playing keno at international online casinos holds a great advantage over provincially run casinos like PlayNow, PlayOLG, or EspaceJeux. This is a standard theme when comparing international online casinos with their provincial counterparts for any casino game.  

Winning at Keno

The only Keno strategy is to choose the amount of numbers to play and how much to bet. To increase your chances to win you have to find the best quantity of numbers to bet on and, to do that, you need to find the table or online casino game that has the best payouts.

Some quick Keno tips that will generally hold true:

  1. Never bet just one number, it is always the worst bet.
  2. The highest quantity of numbers to play is not necessarily the best bet. In fact, it is almost always not the best.
  3. It pays to calculate the RTP (payout odds) to see which quantity of numbers pays the best for any given game.
  4. It is better to lower your bet in order to pick the best RTP quantity than to keep your bet size and pick a smaller quantity of numbers that may pay worse.

So, to be clear, reduce your bet before you reduce your quantity of numbers selected. If you know that a certain number pays out the best you should play that amount. Your may have a gambling budget but do not think that it is better to extend your budget by reducing your number of picks to 1, just so you can keep playing. It would be better if you stick to the optimal number and reduce your bet to extend your playing time. You will have a better chance to hit it big that way.

In the end, be aware that like all casino games, Keno has a house advantage and over the long run, the average player will lose. You can choose higher payout quantities of numbers to try and hit the “jackpot” but realize that the odds of that happening do not match the payouts given. Higher quantities of numbers chosen only generally payout the same as other quantities chosen because of the chances of hitting more combinations (like 3 matches or 4 matches) is higher. The chances of hitting all of the numbers you have selected is very, very small once you start selecting 10 numbers or more.


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