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Do the Numbers I Pick in Keno Matter?

1 January 2007

By John Robison

Hi, John!

It's Rick in Las Vegas; I have written to you in the past and enjoy your writing very much. I work in a casino and notice that besides video poker, a lot of regulars also play video keno for hours, sometimes without moving while I am working my entire shift. I've messed with keno a wee bit in the past – but never much.

Last week, my wife and I were playing some nickel video poker and found ourselves ahead a bit. I told her I was going to switch over to Caveman Keno and give it a try. She gave me hell and said it was a little old lady game! Regardless, I did it and selected 10 spots with a maximum bet of four credits. Within five minutes, I hit the machine for 9/10 and got about $300.00. My wife's jaw dropped and we discussed how that was more than the Royal Flush, should she be lucky enough to hit that while playing.

We chalked it up to beginner's luck and finished the night ahead without putting any of the keno winnings back.

The next day, I had just a few bucks free slot play at another casino and tried Caveman Keno again. I hit it for about $100.00 and left way ahead again.

I've played both the "new" and "older" versions of Caveman Keno and don't have a preference either way, although I think the pay table may be a bit more generous on the older version (although even that varies from casino to casino, I have noticed).

My question is this:

Does it matter which numbers you mark vs. having the machine do a "Quick Pick?" Or like a slot machine, when the thing's ready to go, it goes – and the screen just lights your numbers up regardless of what position your markers are in? Some people sit for hours using the same numbers. I have done this and I have also used Quick Picks. And I have hit decently this past week using Quick Hits.

In the end, does it matter if the markers are scattered or not? I'd like to know if I have the same amount of chance with the markers all over the place as opposed to all clustered together or just sitting on the same spots for hours and hours.

Thanks in advance, John!


Dear Rick,

Keno machines work in exactly the same way that live Keno games work - 20 numbers out of 80 are drawn at random and if enough of the numbers match your numbers, you win.

The RNG in the machine is used to draw the numbers, just like the big ping pong ball machine is used to draw the numbers in live Keno. The RNG in the Keno machine does not make a win/no-win decision.

Incidentally, slot machines work in a similar fashion. The program in the machine doesn't decide that it's "ready to go". The RNG in the machine is used to choose symbols at random; if they happen to make a winning combination, so much the better for the player.

It doesn't matter whether your picks are scattered, clustered, or spell out your name and it doesn't matter if you play the same numbers or switch numbers each game. Every set of 10 numbers you can choose has the exact same probability of being a winner for you.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Hi, John,

I'm sure this question has been answered before but here goes. When you sign up for free slot play at a Las Vegas casino, do you have to use the free play in a machine the casino chooses or can you choose your own?

Thank you,

Dear Mark,

Yes. And no.

It all depends on the promotion. They're rare today, but I've seen some free play promotions in which the free play was on special machines.

Most free play promotions today let you pick any machine (or machines) on the slot floor. They're almost the same as if the casino handed you cash. "Almost" because even though the credits get transferred to your machine, you usually can't cash them out.

The bottom line is to read the fine print about the promotion and ask if there's anything you're not sure about.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Hi, John,

I enjoy reading your e-mails. In the last one I read, part of your response to Ales in Slovenia mentioned that normally jurisdictions don't allow paybacks of more than 100%.

I play a VP machine that pays back 100.0949% (according to the calculation on the Bob Dancer software I have on my home PC). I don't understand. Can a casino somehow override the paytable that shows on the machine? In my case it is Double Bonus with RF 8000, Aces 800, 2,3,4s, 400 other 4 of kind 250, FH 45, FL 30, Str 25, 3of kind 15, 2 pr and Js or better 5.

Thank you,

Dear Jack,

You didn't say where you play this machine. Some jurisdictions prohibit machines that pay back more than 100%, some don't. Nevada, for example, has no such regulation, but many jurisdictions in the mid-west do.

Just as in real estate, it's all about location.

Video poker machines must deal cards from a fair deck, just as if you were dealing cards at your kitchen table. The casino can change the paytable, but the new paytable would then be displayed on the screen. The casino cannot change the way cards are dealt or override the cards that are dealt.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

John, hello!

If I own a casino, isn't there some black market out there where I can hire some hacker to rig programs or chips into my machines to really mess with people's heads? Make me some big BIG money!

Now, Nevada might be tough, but what about all these other states? Look at that crap in Montana, and the State of Kansas wants to OWN the machines (conflict of interest?) Couldn't I buy off some gaming inspectors for a hundred K or so? What do these states even care, they're in on the profits! Hell, even Nevada must have some bugs in it.

Okay, I'm being rhetorical, I'm a consumer of gaming. Not an owner. But I just can't believe there isn't some kind of black market out there for game hackers to turn some unscrupulous casinos some very huge profits.

What I'm asking is, have you ever heard about such things, at least in the form of rumors, perhaps urban legend, which makes you wonder?


Dear kenboe,

Let me break you question into two parts.

First, have I heard of such things. Absolutely. There was a case in Nevada about a route operator that gaffed video poker machines such that certain hands didn't appear with the same frequency one would expect from hands dealt from a fair deck. And this case led Ron Harris, who worked for Nevada's testing lab, to gaff machines himself. And I know of a case in which a programmer for a slot manufacturer was able to get some code by the testing labs, code which let him cheat the machine. So, yes, there are instances of operators (no major corporations, though) running crooked games and of the people who are supposed to be ensuring that the games are honest cheating the machine.

The second part of your question is whether these instances make me wonder.

No, they don't. I'm convinced that any operator running crooked games or any dishonest inspectors, testers, or programmers will be caught. Many states randomly check slot machines to ensure that the program in the slot machine matches the program they approved. Casinos and states check that the amount of money a machine has paid out is commensurate (neither too high nor too low) with the amount of action the machine has seen.

Finally, unless you're greedy and stupid, it just doesn't make sense to rig machines. All you need to do is get people to play your machines. The magic of Random Sampling with Replacement ensures that, in the long run, machines will hold a percentage of the money played through them that is very close to the machine's long-term hold percentage.

Slot machines are practically a license to print money. Why risk doing something illegal?

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't send a reply to every question.

John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots