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How Online Keno Came to Be: A Historical Overview

How Online Keno Came to Be: A Historical Overview

An overview of where the modern casino game of keno came from, from its roots in ancient China to its arrival in the US and subsequent evolution.

A Brief History of Keno

During his reign as king of the Han Dynasty in 200 BC, over three thousand years ago, Cheung Leung invented the game of Keno. In Leung’s hometown, a protracted conflict had drained the city of its resources. Since Leung was unable to increase taxes on his citizens, he had to discover an other means to sustain the war effort. As a result, keno came into being. Leung came to the conclusion that the game might generate funds for the war effort without imposing any more costs on the city dwellers.

Keno: The First Game

Modern keno is quite close to the game that Leung invented. Inspiration for the game came from the well-known poem “The Thousand Character Classic.” To aid in the process of teaching counting, it made use of a thousand Chinese symbols. After dividing the poem into eight parts, Leung utilized 120 of the original symbols to build the game. If someone properly predicted a subdivision, they would win.

Progress on Leung’s Game

Leung’s game not only helped fund the war, but it also gained widespread popularity. Many of the major cities and towns hosted it. The game was dubbed the “Game of the White Pigeon” because the distant towns would receive word of victories through the medium of pigeons. Keno was so lucrative that it helped fund the construction of the Great Wall of China! The original keno board had 120 spaces, but that was cut to 90 and eventually 80.

International Keno Expansion

Chinese sailors and railroad employees brought Keno to San Francisco in the 1800s, and it became an immediate hit. The name for it was the Chinese lotto. Gambling, especially in the guise of lotteries, was outlawed in the United States at that era, therefore Keno was played clandestinely. At this point, in an effort to entice more American players—many of whom had been puzzled by the Chinese characters—the characters were converted to numbers.

The Americanization of Keno

While lotteries remained prohibited in Nevada, gaming was authorized in the state in 1931. Along with other forms of gambling, Keno was not permitted because of its association with lotteries. In order to keep players interested, keno operators rebranded the game as “racehorse keno.” Racehorse keno was legalized when the game’s apparent goal was changed to include each number representing a horse. Following the passage of a law taxing off-track betting and legalizing keno, the name was reverted back to “keno.” Some casinos still use the term “race” to describe each individual draw.

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