The history of keno is somewhat debated, however there are traditions that are commonly accepted as to the origins of the game. It is said to have been developed around 3,000 years ago giving it a long and rich history. Keno has developed over time from its creation in China to its widespread acceptance in the Australian, American, and casinos all over the world.
The Creation of Keno
Cheung Leung, the ruler of the Han Dynasty between 205 and 187 BC is said to have created the game of keno. Leung's motivation in introducing the game was to raise much needed revenue for a long-drawn out war. The city's funds were running low and he needed more money to fund the war without having to tax the people. He found his source in the game of keno. Keno was successful in funding the war and also became a popular game. It quickly spread to other cities and outlying villages in other parts of China. The game became known as the "white pigeon game" because white pigeons were used to send winning numbers throughout the country and particularly from the cities to the outlying villages. It is said that the game of keno became so popular that it helped to fund the building of the Great Wall of China.
The Original Game of Keno
The game of keno was based on the popular Chinese poem, "The Thousand Character Classic." The poem featured one thousand Chinese characters and was used to help the people to be able to count. The game of keno used 120 of these characters which were divided into eight different subdivisions. The aim of the game was to guess the subdivision correctly.
Keno Reaches the United States
In the mid-1800s keno was brought to the United States by Chinese immigrants who came to work on the trans-continental railway lines in the West. It was most popular in the San Francisco area. The game was known as "Chinese lottery", but it did not catch on with the Americans at first as they found it difficult to understand the Chinese characters. Around the end of the 19th century the characters were changed from Chinese characters to numbers and it began to become popular among the Americans. The number of characters was also reduced to 90 and then again to 80.
The Legality of Keno
Keno was not legal in the United States when it arrived, despite its popularity and it was played on the sly. In 1931 gambling became legal in the State of Nevada, with a few exceptions. Lotteries remained illegal and since keno was considered a lottery, it remained illegal. To get around the legislation, keno was renamed "racehorse keno." Each number was said to represent a horse and the aim of the game was for your horse to come up, thus changing it from a lottery to a sort of horserace. This worked well until new legislation was passed that taxed off-track betting and made lotteries legal. The name of the game reverted back to keno and the idea of the horserace was dropped. Today, in some casinos, each game is still referred to as a race.
Modern Keno Today
The game of keno still uses a total of 80 numbers. Players must select between 4 and 20 numbers to be marked on their tickets and the aim is for as many of those numbers as possible to be drawn with winning payouts dependent on how many of your numbers come up. Keno has spread all over the world and is a popular addition to casinos. It can be found in land-based casinos as well as online casinos. There are some variations in the paytables between casinos and there may be variations between the number of spots you can select per card. Most casinos will also offer multiple game tickets and these may vary, however the basic rules of the game will be similar between casinos. Keno is a game that has survived 3,000 years and has traveled over many continents. It is enjoyed by players of all cultures and backgrounds. While there are differences between the original game of keno and keno today, the basic concept and rules of keno remain the same.