Ancient Chinese Keno
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
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
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.