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Ask the Slot Expert: Any big wins on video keno?21 December 2016
Answer: Let's work our way through your letter from the bottom up.
Where did you hear that casinos stage winners? Was it from a gaming control board, a newspaper article, or a TV news report? Or did you hear it from other players in the slot aisles?
Casinos staging winners -- throwing the jackpot switch -- is just a myth made up by people who lost playing the slots to explain why others won. The casino has no control over when a machine will hit or not hit.
The rules in every jurisdiction I've looked at require that the outcome on a slot machine be determined by the Random Number Generator without any outside influence. Why would a casino risk being fined or losing its license by staging a winner?
I checked a few casinos' Winners pages and I found only two keno players who won an extra large jackpot, $31,000 at the Gold Coast and $28,000 at Sam's Town. The screen was blocked in both pictures so I couldn't see how many numbers they picked or how much they bet.
I found those two extra large jackpots and a few large ($10,000 to $20,000) jackpots and many jackpots less than $10,000. I think there are two reasons why keno jackpots tend to be smallish -- well, really one reason with two facets. The combination of how much keno players bet and the number of picks they play limits the amount they can win.
In my unscientific survey of looking over a few keno players' shoulders, it seems like most keno players play less than a max bet at the lower denominations and they play fewer than the max number of picks. I rarely see players in high-limit rooms playing keno on multi-game machines.
Finally, you are correct that there are no strategies on keno, video or otherwise. Winning is just pure luck and it doesn't matter if you play the same numbers every time or switch them up.
I don't know of any casinos staging keno winners, but I do know of two instances of players cheating live keno.
The first instance involves a bored cab driver, who I'll call Harry Hack. Harry had a fare who wanted to go to a casino one night. Harry's fare said he didn't want to have to call another cab to take him and asked Harry to wait for him. Harry agreed and went to the bar to get a soda while he waited.
Harry doodled on some napkins to pass the time. He also wrote down the numbers drawn in the keno game.
Coincidentally, Harry was back at the same casino at about the same time the next night. Once again he wrote down the keno numbers drawn. The numbers seemed very familiar to him. They seemed a lot like the numbers drawn the previous night.
Each day for the next three days, Harry went back to the casino and wrote down the numbers drawn in every keno drawing. The numbers for the first drawing were the same each day. The numbers in the second drawing were the same each day. And the numbers in the third drawing were the same, and the fourth, and so on.
Harry decided to have some fun with his friends. He told them that he had been reading a lot about Chaos Theory and said that he could predict the numbers that would be drawn in a keno game. They went to Harry's casino one night to test Harry's theories.
At first Harry predicted only a few of the numbers that would be drawn. His friends couldn't believe that Harry was right every time. Although they were impressed, they said that predicting a couple of numbers was nothing like predicting all of them. They said there was no way Harry could predict 20 out of 20.
Harry bought a ticket with the 20 numbers he knew would be drawn in the next game. Of course, he had 20 out of 20 correct.
Harry was far more attentive than the casino's employees. The numbers had been the same each day for over six months. This casino used a PC to draw their keno numbers. The random number generator in the keno program used the current date as its initial seed value. Harry's escapade took place a number of years ago, before PCs had built-in clocks that kept the current time even when the PCs were shut off. The casino's computer was supposed to have an additional card that would keep the current time while the machine was off, but the factory neglected to install it. As a result, each day the RNG started with the same seed date: January 1, 1980.
I put the word cheating in italics before because Harry really didn't cheat. He just recognized a pattern in the numbers. The casino was negligent because it didn't verify the keno system was working properly and it didn't see the pattern on its own. Even though the casino objected, Harry got his money.
The main player in the second instance of cheating live keno was not so lucky. As an employee for the Nevada Gaming Control Board, Ron Harris had access to the source code for the programs running many gaming devices. One system he had the source for was the computer system used by Bally's Park Place in Atlantic City for its live keno drawings. Using Harris' inside knowledge of the system, Harris was able to predict the numbers that would be drawn. His confederate, Reid McNeal, bought a ticket that hit eight-of-eight, winning $100,000 -- the highest amount ever won in a keno game in Atlantic City.
Many casino cheats are caught because of their behavior. They act differently than an innocent player would in the same situation. McNeal's lack of emotion about his big win and his lack of identification raised red flags. To make a long story short, McNeal was arrested in New Jersey, but he wasn't charged because he agreed to testify against Harris, who was arrested at McCarran airport in Las Vegas and served two years in jail for his various scams against casinos.
Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.
Best of John Robison