The origins of Keno begin in China. The lottery style game was introduced to North America by Chinese workers who played the game as a diversion from their day jobs building railroads. It’s an exciting and simple game which has been a part of gambling in Las Vegas since the early 1900's. Now, like many other games of chance formerly found only in casinos, Keno has also become a staple of internet gambling sites where it is enjoyed by players from around the world.
Keno’s roots stem from China where the game is said to have come from an ancient children’s rhyming poem. The poem is called “Thousand Character Classic” and was used to help children learn to read since the thousand characters were never repeated.
But while the game itself may have come from a poem, the need for the game came from a real life military and security concern around 200 BC. A famous general Cheung Leung needed more money to fund ongoing battles against the barbarians who wanted to take over his land. However, his people were not wealthy and were refusing to pay more taxes. The general was presented with a concept of building a wall- a huge wall- which would protect his kingdom from the northern barbarians. The problem was how to pay for such a massive initiative.
Historical legend says the general then created a game from the beginning 120 characters from the “Thousand Character Classic.” Players would pick a group of characters and as in a modern-day lottery, Cheung Leung chose characters at random which would form the winning combination. The game was played throughout the kingdom and became an instant sensation. The winning character combinations were delivered by carrier pigeon to all corners of the land. The game then became known as the White Pigeon Game.
The general made tremendous amounts of money from the game because of its massive popularity. That money was used to build what became the Great Wall of China along with many military battles. For this reason it is said that keno, in its original version, played a key role in Chinese history as it helped save the Han Dynasty.
Keno Follows the Rail Workers
In the centuries that followed, Keno remained popular and a game played by people of all classes and all ages. Like other games that originated in China, it was the Chinese railroad workers who brought the game to North America around 1850. As the railway was slowly built with tracks being laid across the country, the game of keno spread along with it.
It should be noted that even though keno was against the law at this time it was still quite popular. One of the places it thrived the most was in San Francisco. It was known as the Chinese Lottery and increased in popularity further among the local population when numbers started to be used instead of Chinese characters. The use of numbers allowed more and more people to enjoy the game and the number of numbers used was reduced to 80 from the original 120.
Keno Hits Nevada
Once Nevada made gambling legal Keno made its way to Las Vegas. Warren Nelson started Nevada’s first keno game at his Reno casino The Palace Club in 1936. Nelson had played it illegally in Montana and thought it would catch on. Joe Lydon was the first to bring keno to Las Vegas with a game at the Fremont.
It was in Nevada that keno underwent a series of changes. At the time it was a lottery games which was still against the law in Nevada. While other forms of gambling were legalized lotteries were not. Casinos gave the game the title of “Horse Race Keno” which allowed it to be one of the games offered to gamblers in Nevada.
Horse race keno was based around fictional horse races where the numbers represented horses and the players had to guess which horses would win the made up races. The game was nicknamed “the races” which has stuck to this day. When the government saw how popular the game was becoming it was taxed as being off-track betting. Casino operators, to get around this, took the horse race idea out of the game and the name was shortened to keno.
The next big change came with the size of the jackpots. In 1963, gaming officials in Nevada limited the jackpots available to no more than $25,000. In 1979 this was raised to $50,000 but casino operators still wanted to make headlines by offering larger and larger jackpots. In 1989 the rules changed so that there were no limits to the jackpots and that’s the way it remains to this day.
Keno in the Online Form
While keno can now be found in most casinos, it has also become a staple in many online casinos. Because the game is so simple, it is an easy one for internet casinos to offer to their players. The only difference between the two experiences is that online players can play from their own homes without sacrificing much of the excitement. The online world has opened keno up to millions of players from all over the globe.