How to play Keno – history, basics
Keno was originally a Chinese game. It originated in about 200 B.C. and grew out of an ancient poem called “The Thousand Character Classic.” That poem consisted of 1000 non-repeating Chinese characters which rhymed, made sense and were used to teach the language to children. The characters of the poem had such fanciful names as ‘Precious Plum,’ ‘Salty River’ and ‘Mysteries.’ In other words, instead of placing bets on numbers, people placed bets on Chinese characters, on ‘Cloud,’ ‘Dew’ or ‘Stupid Loser.’ Some have questioned the authenticity of the Stupid Loser character.
The division of a Keno card into top and bottom sections represents the distinction made in Eastern philosophy between Yin and Yang. The Chinese invented Keno to help raise funds for the building of the Great Wall and for their military. It was sometimes called the White Pigeon Game because winning results were delivered from big cities to small towns via doves.
Chinese immigrants brought Keno to the United States in the 1850’s. Out of consideration for the non-Chinese-speaking Americans, they changed the characters on Keno cards to numbers. Keno has adapted to various legal challenges in the U.S. When introduced to Nevada, where lotteries were illegal and the game’s name was changed to ‘Race Horse Keno,’ a subterfuge by which players were supposedly betting on horses. Individual rounds of Keno are still colloquially referred to as ‘races.’ Then the government decided to tax off-track betting, so the name changed to plain Keno, as lotteries had subsequently been legalized.
In 1963 the maximum legal Keno payout in Nevada was $25,000, raised to $50,000 in 1979 and raised again to infinity by the Nevada Gaming Commission in 1989. Though white pigeons are not now used to distribute results as they were in the Han Dynasty, the game’s poor odds might often leave you feeling as though a pigeon had flown over your head, leaving you with a ‘Precious Plum’ deposit.