A comprehensive guide to winning real money playing keno online.
Keno suffers from a terrible reputation among seasoned gamblers. This is because many land-based casinos offer the game in variants with an unacceptable house edge of up to 50%. Some people go as far as to call Keno a “sucker’s game”, which doesn’t seem justified in the case of modern video Keno titles available in online casinos. In fact, when it comes to profitability, internet Keno has more in common with slots than with its land-based counterpart.
That being said, this negative attitude towards Keno has its consequences: most online casinos don’t spread enough variants of the game, and what’s available isn’t as polished or visually appealing as in the case of other casino standbys.
Consequently, while we won’t follow the crowd and recommend avoiding Keno at all costs, we also won’t shy away from pointing out its flaws. To learn the truth about online Keno as it is played online, read on.
How to select an online Keno casino
Considering the above, it comes as no surprise that most casinos offer only one Keno game, which is usually listed under the Specialty Games category. Even massive casinos that receive plenty of traffic don’t offer a good selection in this niche. For example, in the case of Bovada – the largest US-facing offshore site – you’ll only find two variants: Keno and Keno Draw. As a result, you should probably avoid picking a casino based solely on the size of its Keno offering.
It’s also worth noting that, regardless of the game quality, you should always stick to reputable sites. An extensive library of amazing games won’t do you any good if the casino refuses to process your money withdrawal.
When in doubt, consult our list of online casinos recommended to Keno players.
When assessing an online casino’s trustworthiness, always check whether it’s certified by a legitimate regulatory body. The specifics will always depend on your country of residence. If you live in Europe and your local laws require you to stick to local sites, any state-endorsed casino is going to be trustworthy enough.
If you live in a country with a liberal attitude towards online gambling, such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, or Germany, focus on sites that are licensed in Malta, Gibraltar, or the Isle of Man. In the United States, go for a reputable offshore site or stick to sites that have been approved by local regulators, such as the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement or the Nevada Gaming Commission.
Another factor that you should take into consideration is the software employed by the casino. After all, you want a site that’s stable and safe to play at. This means focusing on online casinos powered by software packages designed by reputable companies, such as Microgaming, Net Entertainment, Playtech, and RTG. These casinos are almost guaranteed to be safe, but keep in mind that some illegitimate sites use unlicensed casino software to lure unsuspecting players.
The software powering the casino shouldn’t have much of an impact on the availability of Keno, as most modern casino titles are designed to be compatible with all the popular software packages.
Choosing the right bonuses
Online casinos are known for their generous welcome packages, which often allow you to claim hundreds and even thousands of dollars for free. Most casinos will give you a 100% or higher match on your initial deposit. What this means is that if you deposit $100, you’ll get $100 in bonus cash. Keep in mind that there’s always a limit on the size of such bonuses. For example, if the casino offers a 100% bonus up to $400, you’ll only receive $400 for free even if you deposit $500 or more.
Whenever assessing the quality of a bonus, always check its playthrough requirement, also known as the wagering requirement. This determines how much money you’ll have to wager before the casino allows you to withdraw any winnings.
If the bonus has a 15x playthrough requirement, this usually means that you’ll have to play through your deposit 15 times: if you deposit $100, you’ll need to bet at least $1,500 total to initiate a withdrawal. If you decide to cash out before completing the wager requirement, both your bonus and winnings will be declared void.
Another reason to always read the fine print is that, sometimes, the playthrough requirements are calculated based on the combined value of your bonus and deposit. In such a case, you’d need to bet $3,000, instead of $1,500, in our hypothetical example above.
Finally, you should keep in mind that not all games contribute equally towards clearing a bonus. This doesn’t apply to Keno, which is known for its high house edge and therefore high contribution.
However, if you’re planning on playing some table games, such as blackjack, you should know that it will most likely contribute between 10% and 25% of the total amount of money wagered. For example, if you bet $100 on a game that contributes 20%, only $20 will count towards completing your playthrough.
How Keno works
Keno is very similar to lotteries and bingo.
In a typical Keno game, you place your wager by choosing numbers ranging from 1 through 80 on a betting slip. In most cases, you’ll be able to pick up to 20 spots. The total number of picks determines which pay table will be applicable to you – a single pick will give you different odds than twenty picks, for instance.
Once the game takes off, 20 numbers are drawn at random using either a ball machine or a random number generator. If you score a qualifying number of hits, called catches, you’ll receive a payout based on the size of your bet and the pay table.
Is land-based Keno different from online Keno?
Online Keno games are based on video Keno machines, which are also available in some brick-and-mortar gambling establishments. There are no differences between electronic Keno games regardless of where they’re hosted. In fact, both online Keno and video Keno machines are usually designed by the same developer.
Traditional Keno is played using a ball machine similar to the one used for lotteries and bingo, betting slips, and Keno crayons. Aside from the obvious difference in ambience, it’s worth noting that traditional Keno tends to have horrible pay tables, which is one of the reasons this game has such a bad reputation among seasoned gamblers.
In video Keno, including online Keno, the house usually has a 4%-15% edge over the player, which is on par with what you’d expect from most slots. In some traditional Keno games, the house edge can be as high as 50%. This is the case in Laughlin and, needless to say, such games should be avoided at all costs. On the Vegas Strip, the house edge on traditional Keno tends to fall in the 20% – 35% range.
The pay table
Keno is luck-based game, so your ability to choose the best-paying game will be the sole determiner of how how much profit you can potentially make in the short term. As a result, in order to determine a Keno game’s profitability, you will need to examine its pay table and do some calculations.
You can calculate the expected return-to-player (RTP) rate on a one-spot bet using the following formula:
(20 drawn / 80 balls) * (payout) / (bet) * 100
Here’s a quick example:
Let’s say that you’ve placed a one-spot bet of $1 in a game that will pay you $3 if you score a hit. The game’s total RTP would be calculated as follows:
20/80 * 3 / 1 * 100 = 75%
In the case of two spots or more, things become more complicated, as you’ll have to use the combinatorial function. If you’re unable to carry out these calculations on your own, we recommend using a Keno calculator instead. Most apps of this sort will crunch the numbers for you if you feed them the relevant data from the game’s pay table.
Types of online Keno games
The number of Keno games available online is very small, particularly when compared to slots. They can be divided into two categories:
Classic video Keno: these follow basic Keno rules and differ in terms of pay tables, the number of spots you can pick, and the number of balls drawn. Modifying these variables will have an impact on your odds, but the flow of the game and the mathematics behind the outcomes remain constant.
Unorthodox video Keno: these games borrow certain elements from slots, such as bonus rounds and free play. They also tend to have more sophisticated graphics and crispier sound effects. Unfortunately, the structure of these games makes it extremely difficult to determine their house edge.
Examples of unorthodox Keno titles include Ancient Thunder and Last Blast Keno.
Glossary of Keno terms
- Betting systems – methods of wagering that are supposed to negate the house edge. As with other casino games, these systems don’t work in Keno – the only “correct” way to play is to pick the least disadvantageous number of spots.
- Catch – a number marked on a betting slip that matches one of the numbers picked during a draw.
- Expected Value – the long-run average value of a series of wagers. Expected value is often abbreviated as EV. Positive EV means that the bet is advantageous to the player, while negative EV means that the player is at a disadvantage.
- Gambler’s fallacy – a false belief that isolated random events have an impact on other isolated random events; in the case of Keno, it leads to false assumptions regarding the significance of picking specific numbers. From a mathematical standpoint, it makes absolutely no difference which numbers you pick.
- Hit – see: catch.
- Spot – a number marked on a Keno betting slip.
- The grind – the effect of the house edge eroding your bankroll over time.
- House Edge – the ratio of the expected player loss to his or her bet.
- RTP (return-to-player) – the percentage of money wagered by the player expected to be paid back to him or her over time.
- Video Keno – electronic Keno cabinets that rely on random number generation software, instead of traditional ball machines, to decide the outcome of each game.
How to win at Keno
The element of skill boils down to choosing the right game and the least disadvantageous bet. In mathematical terms, most Keno games that you’re going to find online are similar to low-RTP slots with high volatility. If you’re a calculating player and want to give Keno a try, your goal should be to nail a significant payout before the house edge chews through your entire bankroll.
Note that this can happen very quickly, as video Keno games are fast-paced. Much like online slots, they feature functions such as AutoPlay or Repeat, which allow you to place dozens of bets over a relatively short time. Even worse, the size of the maximum bet in Keno tends to be very low, making it more difficult to take advantage of the game’s variance. Consequently, you should be very careful of the phenomenon known as “the grind.”
The grind refers to the effect low-RTP games have on your bankroll over the long term. If you keep your gaming sessions short, the outcome could go either way. For example, if you place a single multi-pick bet in Keno, you’ll have a small chance of nailing a significant payout and turning a profit. However, as the number of bets you place grows, the laws of probability start to take over and the house edge begins to chew through your bankroll.
Consequently, whenever you play Keno, your goal should be to exploit the inherent volatility of the game. If you keep your playing sessions short and mark multiple spots, you have a small fighting chance. If, however, you prefer placing tons of tiny wagers during extended playing sessions, you’re guaranteed to lose your entire bankroll fairly quickly.
The myth of massive Keno payouts
The odds of landing 20 hits in an 80-ball Keno game are 1 in 3,535,316,142,212,173,800. That’s roughly 1 in 3.5 quintillion. To put this in perspective, assuming there are 5 billion people on Earth and that they all placed one 20-spot bet per week, we’d expect to wait 13.56 million years before someone scores the main prize.
Even for a 15-spot bet, the odds are still 1 in 428,010,179,098.
Consequently, your goal should be to hit one of the mid-range payouts. In most cases, winning 40 credits would be a good reason to conclude your session and move on to a different game.
Clearing your casino bonus through Keno
Most casino bonuses require you to play through your bonus about 20-25 times. Also, Keno wagers sometimes contribute less than 100% towards meeting playthrough requirements. Additionally, the grind in Keno is even more severe than in slots – the best RTP you can hope for in a Keno game is about 95%, and there are plenty of slots that have an RTP of 96% or higher. This might not seem like a big difference, but if you place hundreds of wagers, compounding is going to work its magic and that 1% will turn into a very significant amount of money.
Considering the above, Keno is one of the worst games you can play if your goal is to clear a bonus and have something left over to withdraw. You’re almost guaranteed to lose more in the process of completing your playthrough than the bonus itself is worth.
If you’re looking for a purely luck-based game to clear your bonus, we strongly recommend choosing high-RTP slot games over Keno.
The proper Keno mindset
This advice applies to most casino games, but it’s particularly poignant when it comes to Keno:
Don’t expect to win. If you play Keno, the odds are always stacked against you. The online games might not be as unfair as their land-based casino counterparts, but if you play them long enough, you’re still guaranteed to lose. Consequently:
Focus on having fun. Keno can be fun if you keep your sessions bets small, and your bankroll management senses sharp. Don’t expect to win, and quit playing as soon as you feel tilted.
If you care about your bankroll and you’d like to have a chance of coming out ahead, never push your luck. Once you score a nice payout and turn a significant profit, quit the game and move on. This approach will allow you to potentially exploit the high variance of Keno. However, if you continue playing, the house edge will end up reclaiming all of your winnings, and then some.
Keno betting systems
As explained above, Keno is a purely luck-based game. Thus, designing a “surefire” betting system for Keno is about as feasible as designing one for the national lottery – it’s a mathematical impossibility. If this weren’t the case, casinos would either go bankrupt or remove Keno from their lineup.
Let us now discuss some common misconceptions regarding betting in Keno.
The Old Man and the gambler’s fallacy
Some Keno players advocate “following the Old Man” or “avoiding the Old Man” to increase your odds of winning. The “Old Man” represents numbers drawn in the previous game: following him means picking the same spots while avoiding him means picking different spots each time.
These beliefs are the embodiment of gambler’s fallacy.
Gambler’s fallacy is the false assumption that an isolated random incident, such as the outcome of a Keno game, can impact another isolated random incident, such as the outcome of the next Keno game.
While there’s no denying that assuming one of these strategies won’t improve your odds, it won’t affect them adversely either. It makes no difference which spots you pick or avoid. Consequently, if picking your lucky numbers makes the game more entertaining to you, then, by all means, go for it.
The Martingale and other bet sizing systems
The important thing to know about bet sizing systems is that they don’t impact the house edge. For example, if you follow the Martingale technique, which requires you to double your bet whenever you lose, the game won’t magically become EV-positive. You might win more in the short-term, but at some point, you’re going to hit the limit of your bankroll and lose everything.
Some proponents of the Martingale technique believe that the larger victories outweigh the smaller defeats. However, because the game’s overall house edge never changed, you’re going to be a long-term loser no matter what you do.
Aside from mathematical considerations and the limited usefulness of bet sizing systems, there’s also the issue of limited betting options when it comes to Keno. Most online Keno games will allow you to wager between $1 and $10 on the outcome of any single draw. If you start with a $1 wager, it will only take four defeats – at $1, $2, $4, and $8 – before you run out of maneuvering room.
Tips for playing online Keno
If you’d like to extract as much fun and value from your Keno sessions as possible, stick to the following:
Always check the pay tables
Before playing a Keno game, always check the pay tables and calculate the house edge. If the house edge is higher than 10%, you’re better off picking a different site. You can do your research without signing up for a real money account – most casinos allow you to try their games in play money mode, where it should be possible to access the game’s pay tables.
Don’t bet more than you can afford to lose
Never deposit more than you are willing to part with. All Keno games will chew through your bankroll if given enough time. Even if you keep your sessions short, you are still far more likely to lose than to score a significant payout on any given draw. Unlike competitive poker, online casino games are all about entertainment. It’s impossible to make a living playing Keno.
Keep calm and have fun
A game of Keno is a paid form of entertainment. As such, don’t get angry when the casino claims it’s “fee” in the form of the house edge. Keep your expectations low and stick to titles that appeal to you in terms of game-play, visuals, and sound effects.
Enjoy the betting systems for what they are
No betting system will help you overcome the house edge, but some betting systems can make the game more entertaining for certain player. If you like putting your lucky numbers to the test, there’s no reason not do so. Just don’t expect this to have an impact on the long-term outcome of the game.
Leave the game once you’ve won big
This is arguably more important than picking the right game. If you manage to get plenty of catches and win a big payout, it’s time to quit. Besides having fun, there’s no reason to play Keno over prolonged periods of time – the game isn’t suited for clearing bonuses or turning a profit.
Online Keno FAQ
Q: Is it really impossible to win money playing Keno?
A: No. Your odds of winning on any given draw amount to about 10%-25%, depending on the pay table and the number of spots picked. If you keep your Keno sessions short, you can score a satisfying payout from time to time. Just keep in mind that the longer you play, the more impact the house edge will have on your wallet. There are no long-term winners in Keno, but it’s entirely possible to get lucky and call it a day (or preferably – a decade).
Q: Which Keno games will give me the best fighting chance?
A: The games with the lowest house edge give you the best odds of winning. In order to find the best games, you’ll have to analyze the pay tables and calculate the RTP on every possible wager. The rule of thumb is simple – the higher the payouts, the better the game. If your Keno game pays more than 800 credits for five hits, you’re probably in the right place.
Q: What are the odds of winning the highest possible payout?
A: The odds of betting on twenty numbers and landing 20 catches are 1:3,535,316,142,212,173,800. To the best of our knowledge, this has never happened in the history of the game. That’s why most casinos pay the same for landing 15 hits or more – it makes no measurable difference. Still, the odds of scoring 15 catches are a staggering 1:428,010,179,098. In practical terms, this means that your goal should be to score a mid-range payout.
Q: How do I deposit money with an online casino?
A: All reputable casinos offer a number of deposit methods to choose from. In most cases, you’ll be able to use an e-wallet service, credit/debit card, or a popular local payment processing service. Most sites support Neteller and Skrill deposits. Unfortunately, PayPal isn’t all that popular, because eBay – PayPal’s parent company – isn’t too keen on working with online gambling sites.
If you’re a US-based player, we recommend avoiding credit card payments – they suffer from extremely high rejection rates. The reported rates oscillate between 25% and 45%, depending on the region and financial institutions involved.
Q: What about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies? Can I use those to make a deposit or withdrawal
A: This is entirely up to the casino. Despite cryptocurrencies becoming reasonably popular, only a few sites support crypto deposits and cash-outs. If you’re based in the United States, your best bet is Bovada. In Europe, we recommend Bodog as long as you aren’t stuck in a fenced gambling market.
We recommend avoiding crypto-only casinos – most of them are not certified and therefore cannot be trusted with your money.
Q: If I win at Keno, how will the online casino pay me?
A: Available withdrawal options depend on the site in question and your region of residence. Keep in mind that you may be asked to meet certain requirements before some withdrawal methods become available to you. This is especially true for e-wallet services – most sites will only allow you to withdraw via an e-wallet if you’ve already made a deposit using the service in question.
You should also be aware of withdrawal limits, which become relevant if you manage to score a big win. Most online casinos are happy to send large payments via check by courier, although in some cases you may need to initiate multiple smaller withdrawals through an e-wallet or e-banking channel.
Q: What happens if I get disconnected in the middle of a game?
A: If you’re playing at a reputable casino, then not much. The outcome of each draw is automatically determined by a random number generator (RNG) software when you place your bet. As a result, there are two possible scenarios:
– the casino did not register your bet before you disconnected, in which case the bet never happened and no consequences follow.
– the casino did register your bet before you disconnected. The RNG will determine the outcome of the draw and modify your bankroll according to that outcome. It will be as if you played out the game without disconnecting.
A brief history of Keno
The word “Keno” originates from French or Latin, but the game itself has Chinese roots. According to legend, it was invented to save an ancient city in a time of conflict, and its popularity contributed towards raising funds for the construction of the Great Wall of China. The game became popular again in 1847, when the Portuguese government of Macao began issuing lottery licenses.
The early versions of Keno were played using betting slips with 80 Chinese characters. Chinese immigrants introduced the game to the West when they helped build the First Transcontinental Railroad in the United States in the 19th century. The westernized variant with Arabic numbers most likely originated in Houston, Texas.