Keno History

The history of keno goes back thousands of years. The game of keno originated in ancient China, arrived in America with the Chinese immigrants in the 19th century, and eventually migrated to the casinos and online casinos around the world.

Ancient Chinese Keno

The history of keno begins in ancient China, where the original keno game was devised by a man named Cheung Leung. The story tells how during a war, the inhabitants of the city that Cheung lived in refused to give any more financial help to the army as they feared their own ruin. Leung devised the game of Keno as a way of raising money for the army. He raised enough money with this Keno game to enable the army to defeat the enemy and save his city.

Leung devised the game of Keno based on an ancient poem called “The Thousand Character Classic”. The poem consisted of one thousand different characters that were in rhyme and were used at the time to teach children language. Leung used 120 characters from the original poem and laid them out on a board much like a modern lotto board. Players placed bets as to where counters would land after being thrown onto the board. Players were allowed to place up to 10 bets and used a quill ink pen to mark their bets. The term “Keno Spots” still refers to these marks created by the ink on the board.

After Leung’s success at saving his village, Keno spread to other villages and cities throughout China. Legend states that proceeds from Keno were used to help finance the construction of the Great Wall of China. In China the game was given the nickname of the “Great White Pigeon Game” as white pigeons were used to send the results to other cities. The game was so popular that men would wait up until the white pigeon arrived with the keno results.

In time, the Keno game was reduced to 90 characters from the 120 of Leung’s original version. By the time Keno reached the United States in the late 1850’s, it had been further reduced to 80 characters.

Keno Comes to America

The game of Keno traveled to America with the wave of Chinese immigrants who came to work on the railroads in the 1800s. The keno game thrived amongst these Chinese immigrants despite the fact that gambling was illegal in the U.S. The main concentration of Chinese immigrants was around the San Francisco area and that is where the keno game flourished. The immigrants would relax after a hard day’s work to a game of Keno. Americans referred to it as the Chinese lottery and it caused great interest. The Chinese characters on the keno card were changed to Arabic numerals at this point in keno history, making it an easier game for English speakers to understand and play. This was the real start of Keno in the United States.

Although gambling was legalized in the United States in 1931, lotteries remained illegal. Not to be put off, keen Keno players changed the name of the game to “Race Horse Keno” giving the impression that each number on the keno board represented a horse so that the keno bets could be considered bets on the horse races. This enabled Keno players to carry on playing despite the fact that lotteries were illegal. To this day, rounds of Keno are still known as races. After lotteries were legalized, the pretense was dropped and Keno reverted to its original name.

The Birth of the Keno Casino

Keno was introduced to the casinos in the early twentieth century. Originally 80 numbers were written on pieces of paper and rolled up into tubes. At the start of the game, 20 numbers were drawn from the tubes and these were the winning keno numbers. In time the papers in tubes were replaced with wooden balls with numbers carved onto them. These wooden balls were known as peas.

Later a Nevada casino owner by the name of Warren Nelson came up with a system of drawing numbered balls from a rotating cage. Nelson opened his own casino in Nevada in 1936, where the first legal casino Keno game was played. Casino Keno is still played today by drawing numbered balls from a rotating cage as a result of Nelson’s research. In 1963 the cumulative payout of a Keno game was limited to $25,000; by 1979 it had increased to $50,000. Nowadays, each Keno casino chooses its own limits.

Technology has also played an important role in the history of keno. Computers have helped to make the game more efficient and quicker to play. There are many casinos now that operate computer-controlled Keno cages. Naturally, Keno has also spread to the Internet. With the boom of the Internet in the 1990s also came the onslaught of the online casino and the online keno game.

The Online Keno Casino

Keno was introduced to online casinos at much the same time as the casinos themselves developed. Because of its ease of play and the exciting suspense generated in each round, and to some extent because of the mystique surrounding its long history, Keno has become one of the most popular of the online casino games. Online Keno is played in much the same way as the original game of keno. There is a board of 80 numbers and the player can choose up to 15 of these numbers. The online keno computer then selects the 20 winning keno numbers. How much the player will win depends on how many of his chosen numbers match the winning keno numbers. Today, millions of people play Keno online, indicating the importance of the online casino in keno history and in the expansion of this Chinese lucky number game to the entire world.

The Glory of the Game of Keno

It is quite incredible to think that anyone who plays Keno is in fact playing a game that is over 3000 years old. It just goes to show that the Chinese knew what they were doing and built things to last. The characters of the old Chinese poem may not be understood today but the Great Wall of China, which was built from Keno revenues, is still here as a testament to the glory of the game of Keno.

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