Keno History

In the 1800s, a huge wave of Chinese immigrants came to America  to work on the railroads. They brought with them the keno game...

Keno: From ancient Chinese lottery to 21st-century online gambling craze. 

While the word “keno” may have French or Latin roots, its history goes back to China and spans thousands of years. Legend traces its beginnings to the building of the Great Wall of China. History reveals that it came to America via a wave of Chinese immigrants in the 1800s. And technology has enabled a game that could once be played only in live casinos to be accessible 24/7 – as online keno – to millions of players worldwide from the comfort of their homes.

The Chinese connection

According to legend, during the Han Dynasty, a man named Cheung Leung invented a new game – keno – as a lottery to help raise money for the army and his city during one of the dynasty’s wars. After Cheung successfully saved his city, keno spread throughout the country and revenues from the games were also said to have helped build the Great Wall. In Cheung’s original game, he laid 120 Chinese characters on a board similar to today’s keno card and players would use a quill pen to mark their bets. Today, players in China still use Chinese characters (now reduced to 80), while in the West players use 80 numbers.

From China to California

In the 1800s, a huge wave of Chinese immigrants came to America (primarily California) to work on the railroads. They brought with them the keno game which they played to relax after a hard day’s work. The game caught on among Americans who referred to it as the Chinese Lottery. Soon, the Chinese characters were substituted with regular numbers to make it easier for the Americans to play. The game’s name was also changed from “Chinese Lottery” to “Horse Race Keno” to get around the continuing ban on lotteries. It reverted back to “keno” when lotteries were legalized.

The birth of online keno

As keno started being played in early 20th century casinos – the drawing system had soon progressed from 20 winning numbers being drawn from tubes containing pieces of paper with the 80 numbers to numbered balls being drawn from a rotating cage – it gradually became clear that technology would soon revolutionize casino gambling (for example, computer-controlled keno cages).

Fact is, today, you don’t have to go to Vegas to play keno. All you need is a computer with an Internet connection. The Internet boom in the ‘90s has spawned hundreds of online casinos and with them online keno games. Online keno eliminated the need for messy crayons, paper tickets, and running to the keno booth to cash your winnings. Your online casino account automatically receives your winnings; you can see the payouts clearly at the start of the games; and you enjoy much lower betting minimums than at land-based casinos. Thanks to online keno, this ancient game lives on and millions of people can access it at any time of day.