Keno is an intriguing game with just an intriguing history, dating back more than 2,000 years. We first find traces of it during the Han Dynasty in China. According to legend, a prominent Chinese official named Cheung Heung wanted a way of raising money to provide food for his troops and to help fund the building of the Great War. Heung introduced a game that would eventually evolve into Keno, paying to take part.
In those early years, it was found that the best way to communicate the picks and results was by carrier pigeon. This idea was clever because the soldiers were losing morale at a disturbing pace, and Heung was losing money daily until this early incarnation of Keno saved him.
Surprisingly, Keno kept the same basic format for most of its 2,000 year history. Most other casino games change more in just a few hundred years than Keno did in two millennia. True, the number of characters has changed from 120 to 80, but otherwise, today’s version of the game is remarkably similar to the very first game.
It wasn’t until the 1800s, though, that Keno found its way to the United States. This was during the massive Chinese Immigration of the 19th century, as millions of immigrants carried the game with them. The game remained popular with these immigrants and also became popular with the locals in America, too. One problem: The locals could not easily distinguish among the Chinese symbols, so they soon translated the game into simple recognizable numbers. This was also the time when the character count was reduced to 80.
Although the rules themselves have remained fairly consistent over the centuries, the name has changed. There were several different names for it, including the “Chinese Lottery,” until the name was officially changed to Keno in 1931–the year that Nevada legalized gambling.
After Keno became a hit in Las Vegas, it quite naturally moved out into other casino cities, such as Atlantic City. Plus, as often happens when games became popular in Vegas, Keno traveled from the U.S. again overseas, to become popular in casinos around the world.
In recent years, that has included online casinos. In the 1990s, online casinos became practical alternatives to real-life casinos. And almost immediately, Keno joined the growing number of games offered. It has since become one of the most popular of online casino games. And because the game has so much mystique associated with its history, it now seems almost blasphemy for any casino, including online casinos, to change it too much.
At the opening of each Keno game, the payout chances are clearly displayed. In an online casino, the minimum bets are lower, making it accessible to even the casual players.
Today, the future of casinos seems to lie largely with online gambling. Keno appears to be poised for a growth spurt unlike anything in its history, as the game opens up to audiences around the world, looking to become involved in this fun, mysterious game.