Keno has been around for at least a few hundred years, and it’s a very raw and straightforward lottery-type game. Strategy centers largely around bet and game selection, and playing Keno at an online casino offers lots of opportunities for high-paying alternatives to the largely unfavorable land-based options. Here we list the best online Keno casinos and their latest bonus offers.
Introduction to Keno
If you’ve ever seen a “pick” style lottery game, then you’ve seen a game that’s very similar to keno. Online keno has completely changed how people enjoy this game because it offers a much better house advantage in terms of a higher payout percentage than what you’d generally see in a land-based establishment. To put this in context, keno bets are usually among the worst wagers you can place in large gambling cities like Las Vegas in terms of the average payout rates.
With that having been said, playing online will eliminate that as a major disadvantage of the game if you do your homework. If you don’t, however, then you can find yourself making bets with particularly large house advantage levels, which is the kind of thing that all players in all types of games always want to avoid.
The History of Keno
The history of keno is closely related to the history of a related game called pakapoo. Pakapoo goes back to the 1800s or earlier, and it’s based around the first 80 words/characters of the Thousand Character Classic, a very long poem in which the same words are not used more than once. The winner of this game would be chosen by randomly chosen words picked on what was called the “master ticket,” and you can think of those words as numbers on a keno board. The players who got closest to that master ticket with their own “tickets” would win.
Keno as it’s known today in its current form goes back to at least the 1840s in Macau, which is now considered the gambling capital of Asia. It had pretty much the same rules then as it does now, and it was brought to North America primarily by Chinese workers who came over to work on railroad lines and in other industries. By the late 1800s, it had its current name of keno and was popular in a significant portion of the United States as a style of lottery game.
The Rules and Gameplay of Keno
There are several variations of keno available, and it’s actually somewhat uncommon to find the exact same pay tables across multiple software providers online. With that having been said, the core gameplay is pretty much the same. In what follows, we’re going to look at the basic gameplay, how wins are determined and what the common variations of the game are.
Note that the way keno works online is a little different than in the land-based arena. In a brick and mortar casino, you’d purchase a ticket, wait until a drawing was held and then repeat the process. Online, the drawing process can happen immediately since you’re the only one playing at a time, so the game goes much faster. As a consequnce, online gambling also has much smaller minimum betting limits available as well.
Basic Keno Gameplay
The basic process of a single play on a keno game is as follows.
- You start out by picking a bet size and a wager. If you want to wager on five numbers, that is a “Pick 5.” If you want to wager on eleven numbers, that’s a “Pick 11,” and so on.
- You place your bet and choose your numbers for your wager on the grid of what’s available (often 80 spots to pick from, numbered 1-80).
- A given number of spots are chosen at random from the available grid. This usually consists of about 25 percent of the total board. For example, having 20 picks from a grid of 80 spots is a common amount.
- You’ll be given payouts based on the number of spots that you guessed correctly. Generally speaking, the more spots you pick correctly, the higher the payout you receive.
That’s really all there is to it when it comes to the basic format of the game. However, with the variations available, there is a bit more to know about how the game can be played in general.
Common Board Variations and Betting Options
There are two numbers that change when it comes to the format of a keno game, no matter if it’s online or land-based. The first is the number of spots on the board as a whole. The most common number for this is 80, but others are available. The second is the number of winning spots chosen at random, and the most common number for this is 20 on an 80-spot board.
While the formats of online keno games can vary, you’ll generally see that about 25 percent of the available spots are chosen as winners.
The available betting options can also be different. For example, in a standard game with 80 spots and 20 winners, you may have a pick 20 available where you can choose 20 total numbers to try to win with. Alternatively, the maximum may be a pick 10 or pick 15 just depending on the parameters of the individual game that you’re playing.
With that having been said, you’ll generally have options that go all the way down to a pick 1 where you’re only trying to guess one of the winning numbers. This turns the game into a simple win/lose scenario where you’ll be paid if you win at a given rate and lose your money if you don’t, much like certain bets on a roulette wheel that pay at a constant level.
Pick Betting and Payout Structures
With the pick betting structure in keno, you’ll get a higher payout for better wins. For example, in an example game, a pick 10 might win 1,800x for getting all 10 numbers correct and 600x for nine correct. Subsequent pays could include something like 30x for eight, 10x for seven, 5x for six, 3x for five, 2x for four, 1x for three and 0.5x for two.
What you see here is that the pay table can actually be structured so that you get some kind of payout even for only getting two out of your ten picks correct. This helps to lower the volatility of the wager and keeps players coming back for more since the swings are lessened by having more wins on the small and medium end of things.
You can also have something called a catch win in keno. This happens when you have a pick value that’s on the upper end and you get a particularly low number of correct picks. For example, you might have a pick 15 in an 80-ball game where you actually win a 2x prize for getting exactly zero of the picks correct. This is because, with so many picks available, it’s actually fairly difficult to get no matches at all.
These types of catch wins can seem anti-intuitive to many players because it’s like you’re being rewarded for not guessing correctly. However, it’s actually more likely that you get a few numbers right when you choose so many picks from the grid.
Strategy and Tactics for Keno Games
Strategy for keno comes down to two main things. The first is game selection, and the second is bet selection. Simply put, you’re looking for bets in games that have high enough payout rates to be competitive while giving you a number of picks that suits your preferred play style.
For an example of what we mean by preferred play style, there’s a much different feel to playing a pick 5 out of 80 than a pick 20 out of 80.
Because the game structures are so different, there are no hard and fast rules for picking out the right bets for these games unless you want to do a whole lot of math to check each individual bet for what its payout rate happens to be. That’s way beyond what pretty much any players want to have to deal with. To this end, we’re going to give some general tips and strategies that will help you to maximize your value in general, but we’re also going to offer a quick survey of the best available bets that you can get in keno games from the most popular software providers online.
Progressive Keno Targeting
Some keno games and related lottery-style games online will have progressive jackpots available for a top prize. These are usually more in the less common games with smaller formats, but the principle remains the same. The idea here is that you can take on a better payout rate if you wait until the jackpot is particularly high. If it gets large enough, then you could actually have an edge over the house until the jackpot is won.
Note that this is a particularly high-volatility strategy. While it’s intuitive, especially if you’re familiar with similar jackpot-tracking strategies from other games, the bottom line is that it’s not always easy to pull off. There are a few reasons for this:
- It’s not always easy to find games in the keno genre that have a progressive available.
- Once you do find an acceptable game, you have to wait until the jackpot gets appropriately high, which may not happen often at all.
- The volatility of such a case will be particularly high, making it difficult for your advantage to materialize.
While this is a valid strategy that most definitely can get you into spots where you have an edge against the casino, we recommend that you do not try to make this your main strategy because there are too many obstacles in the way to making it work.
Exploiting Bonus Terms and Conditions
In the online environment, there are tons of bonuses, promotions and other deals that you could use to close the gap on the edge the house has in keno games. If you find bonus offers or comp deals that offer the ability to earn extra value from playing keno, then you can use that to get the effective house advantage down quite a bit.
For example, if you were to find a pick that gives you a payout of something like 97 percent, and then you combined that with a bonus or promotional opportunity that gave you another 1 percent in payouts, then that 1 percent would actually account for one-third of the total original house edge of 3 percent. That’s a significant change in how much of an advantage the house would have for you in that scenario.
Again, while this is a valid strategy, it requires that you really search for opportunities and pay attention to terms and conditions of promotions because many bonuses do not allow you to play keno. Along these lines, it can take some of the house edge away, but we do not recommend relying on it as a primary strategy. Instead, much like the progressive strategy above, it should be something that you’re on the lookout for to take advantage of when an opportunity presents itself.
Notable Online Keno Game and Bet Selections
Here, we’re going to take a look at some of the best options you can find when it comes to online keno games. There are a ton to pick from, but we’re going to go over a handful of the best options to give you an idea of what’s out there and what to look for.
There’s only one keno game available at Microgaming-powered casinos, and it has some pretty good payouts. The following options have payout rates of 94 percent or higher, which are among the best that you’ll find anywhere:
- Pick 7 (94.15 percent)
- Pick 10 (94.54 percent)
- Pick 12 (94.22 percent)
- Pick 13 (94.90 percent)*
- Pick 14 (94.27 percent)
- Pick 15 (94.39 percent)
* The Pick 13 for Microgaming’s keno is one of the highest-paying options in the entire genre online for non-US facing casino sites.
Most of the payouts for this game are pretty decent with the exception of the Pick 1, which has a horrendous payout rate of only 75.0 percent.
Rival Gaming’s Vegas Jackpot Keno
It’s important that you don’t mix up games here. Rival Gaming casinos have two different keno games that look almost identical except for the payouts and the name of the game. You’ll want to make sure that you’re playing the Vegas Jackpot Keno variation.
This is an 80-ball game that allows up to 10 picks, which is a rather limited number compared to the other games that you’ll find. Here are the most notable betting options:
- Pick 4 (93.16 percent)
- Pick 8 (95.84 percent)
- Pick 10 (96.48 percent)*
* This Pick 10 bet in Vegas Jackpot Keno is the single-best wager that you’ll find in pretty much any keno game online. What’s more is that it can be played by US players.
Again, you’ll want to avoid the other wagers aside from the three we’ve listed above. For example, the Pick 1 has a terrible payout rate of 87.5 percent.
1x2gaming’s Keno, Jackpot Keno, KenoLab and Kenotronic
1x2gaming felt the need to have four different keno games that all have different names with the exact same rules and payouts. The graphics are a little different in each. However, what makes these games stand out is that they have the best payouts for players who prefer a lower volatility play style based on smaller numbers of picks.
While the best payouts for the two games we looked at above often require at least 10 picks at a time, you can get in on the action for a reasonable payout rate with much fewer picks in the games that 1x2gaming has to offer. Consider the following examples:
- Pick 2 (95.09 percent)
- Pick 3 (95.81 percent)
- Pick 4 (95.63 percent)
- Pick 5 (95.08 percent)
All other wagers in this game have a payout rate that’s lower than 95 percent. As you can see, the payout rate distribution for these games is a bit different than what you typically find with other online keno titles. For players who like betting on five picks or fewer, however, this is the best set of games to play with.
Playtech’s Dollar Ball Side Bet
There are a variety of Playtech-powered online slots and other games that have a special side bet called the Dollar Ball. This side bet is actually just a progressive version of keno with a little bit different structure than what many players might be used to. We want to point this game out because it’s possible for it to have a particularly high payout rate thanks to the progressive jackpot.
The rules of this side bet are really simple. There are 49 numbers to pick from (1-49), and you will always pick five. The payout for one match is 1x, the payout for two matches is 2x, and getting three of your matches pays a larger 25x.
However, if you’re able to take down four of your picks, you’ll be rewarded with 1 percent of the progressive jackpot. Finally, going five out of five awards players the entire jackpot, which is generally a pretty substantial amount that has reached into the six figures on a regular basis.
Online keno is a game that’s extremely easy to learn how to play no matter how much or how little experience you have with online or land-based casinos. The odds online are substantially better than what you’ll ever find in a land-based establishment, and the rate of play is much faster with a wider range of available bet sizes as well.
With that having been said, your maximum payout rates are on the lower side when compared to most table games whenever you take progressive jackpots out of consideration. However, if you pick and choose your bets and exercise the type of game selection that we have outlined in the above, then you shouldn’t have a problem finding some bets that pay out decently and that fit your preferred play style.