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Quatloos! > Quatloosia! > Quatloosian Guide to Gambling > Keno

A High Roller Keno Story

So I'm lounging around one day watching the college football games. This is when I get The Call.

"Hey, knucklehead, we're getting together a keno posse, and flying to Vegas this afternoon. Get your crayon ready, and get your butt out to the airport."

Keno Junket - Those are two words that will make your gambling blood come alive, that's for sure.

Now, when the Keno crowd means airport, they don't mean LAX. Keno players are the top dogs, big daddies, and a Keno junket inevitably starts from the private aircraft terminal, where we board one of the exclusive private jets.

Our host for this trip, and owner of the jet, is known affectionately as "The Janitor", because his winning strategy depends on cleaning up odd single number around the perimeter. Other keno players are in awe of him, but not me. In every one of our trips I've had slightly better luck playing the Golden Oldies - gambling exclusively on numbers in the '50s.

While drinking the best champagne, I'm sitting in the big leather chairs talking to the other member of the keno cabal which plotting to take out one casino after another. Across from me is Easy Slim, who only bets two numbers - and the same ones every time -- so as to accommodate the keno croupiers. He has his arm around Twenty Betty, who similarly only plays the 20-pick. Betty is a veteran keno player, and possibly the best looking lotto babe in the country.

Behind me is Circle Sam, who instead of making a dot on the numbers, circles the numbers to bring him luck. He and The Janitor are locked in their standard debate as to which strategy brings the highest winnings. They are both widely regarded as the experts on their particular strategies, although Circle Sam has hired a quantum mathematician to in an attempt to validate his strategy as a step above The Janitor. The latter can only smirk at this, of course, knowing that it is he who owns the LearJet, while Circle Sam can only afford a fractional share.

Our landing at the Vegas airport is of course met with several of the larger and newer limousines. The casinos know who their preferred customers are, though several insiders have told me that they fear keno junkets because of their potential to clean out the house.

The concierge takes care of our bags -- she knows the entire keno crowd by first name and also what rooms they like. This is good, because it allows us to get down to the serious business of gambling.

The casino is quiet as we enter, but there soon is a murmur as people stop from their pathetic luck-oriented Blackjack and Craps games to watch our group wind its way to the keno parlor. You can hear the whispers of players asking dealers who we are, and the dealers know. Having a big keno junket in town raises the excitement level of the place by several notches, meaning bigger tips even from the non-keno crowd.

The keno croupiers are smiling and greet us warmly, though the fear is writ large across their faces. But their angst at us possibly cleaning out the casino is tempered by the knowledge that keno players are big tippers, and that even if we bust this casino that their personal friendship with us will land them high paying jobs at other joints along the Strip.

Already playing is Las Vegas icon Willie "Seven Numbers" Smith, whose technical books on the subject of 7-play keno are too well known to be rehashed here again. Willie has been tipped that we were coming, and is here to mingle to try to pick up the odd tip. Willie was indeed one of the foremost keno players in the world in the mid-90s - winning the 1994 Atlantic City Kenopalouza by a record margin -- but the advent of the new-age "two circle" and "grouping" strategies has caused the formerly glamorous 7-play to slowly be relegated to the back bins of keno tactics.

On hand to open our custom crayon boxes is none other than the Casino Boss himself. There are small boxes with a polish gold key-locked face - really just nice looking bank boxes - that the keno high-rollers use to hold their marking instruments. And certainly, the quality of the marking instruments rises to the level of the keno crowd, with several members having exquisite German-made crayon holders (several of the players also have cheapie Taiwanese crayon-sharpeners in their boxes - the only sharpeners you can really trust in a pinch - but these are quickly slipped into pockets and out of sight).

After inviting everybody to dinner later on his treat at the Casino's best restaurant, the Casino Boss points out the latest innovation - electronic seat warmers for the several dozen keno chairs arranged around the parlor. The Janitor is impressed by the highest quality leather for these chairs, as he is by all of the finest things in life, but Easy Slim points out that the casino is still using plain printed paper for its casino cards - a crime in Easy Slim's mind (still, he doesn't say anything to the casino boss, obviously looking forward to the free dinner).

Everybody is seated, and the first round of keno betting begins. Several of the more mathematical of the group whip out their scientific calculators and set to work, while the "chartists" in the group pour through several of the old tickets trying to define patterns. The best of the chartists is Big Bill, formerly the CFO of Pan-American, but now is trying to establish himself as simply the best keno chartist in the history of the game. Big Bill has a quiet rivalry with Davie, an artist whose non-linear thinking has given him slightly better results during the last couple of tricks. Davie has a controversial strategy, whereby he will attempt to translate the numbers into pictures, and then use those pictures to predict the next winning numbers. "If you see a picture of a ship three games in a row (from different angles of course) then your odds are that the numbers are coming up ships, and your next pattern could be a sloop," says Dave.

After the first couple of games, the group isn't doing too well. Willie Smith won $4 on one of his seven cards, and Davie thought he was seeing pictures of lawn furniture, but couldn't get a grasp on what type. The wives of a couple of the players have left to play Blackjack, a game which is scoffed at by the hardcore keno'ers as being purely luck.

Finally, the group takes a break, and retires to a private dining room where they have the Hostess bring in a platter of Excaliburgers and fries. Talk is of the bad luck, and how the worm must turn. Big Bill is studying his charts, and predicts a long term increase in winnings. "I've won only a couple of cards," says Twenty Betty, "and that was only because I didn't get any of the numbers right."

Back to the parlor and the number are heating up. I'm playing Civil War, meaning I picking numbers on both sides of the split. The Janitor is really hitting on the peripheral numbers, but everybody is looking for the chartists to get into swing.

The numbers coming hotter than ever, threating to "melt our crayons" in big-dollar keno parlance. I double-up on a sneak twenty, while Easy Slim hits his two number. You can see the look of worry on the keno croupier's face, and we all start watching the balls to make sure he has the count right. One of the pit bosses walks over, and calls the Casino Boss with an update. If we keep winning like this, he won't be able to afford dinner.

The betting hits a fevered pitch as Davie identifies three aardvarks in a row, and predicts the next card will be a possum. We all beat the limit, and as the balls start to upload into the machine, we scream "Possum! Possum! Possum!" As two-thirds of the balls are called, it is obvious that it will be a Possum, and the pit boss makes a last call to inform the casino owners of the bad news.

The Truth . . .

. . . is that the entire foregoing story is completely bogus (in case you hadn't figured it out). Nobody has ever cleaned out a casino playing keno, and in fact there are no "high roller" casino players. The reason for this is simple:

"Keno has a reputation as the king of the sucker bets. And the rep is earned. The typical house edge is so exceptionally high - 25% to 40% -- that it causes vertigo in smart gamblers." American Mensa Guide to Casino Gambling; Winning Ways.

Keno is nothing more or less than the lottery, but played every five minutes. Special waitresses walk around the casino, the coffee shops, and the buffets picking up Keno cards, and there are keno boards everywhere so that you can immediately see your game's results.

What keno is good for is if you are bored while waiting for your food, or you are tired from walking around, and need a place to sit down and have somebody bring you free drinks. You can also get some cheap entertainment value from keno, in that $20 played $2 at a time will get you through 10 games, or about a couple of hours of "excitement" while the cocktail waitresses serve you free cocktails.

Keno Betting Strategies

There are none; this is pure luck.

Keno is good for beginners. Keno is readily grasped, and from there bettors can go on to bigger and more mentally-challenging games, such as the slot machines or the Wheel of Fortune.

Video Keno

As if regular keno wasn't stupid enough, the casinos have concocted "video casino" that let you play your own games of keno for 25 cents. This is for the people who are overwhelmed by video-poker, which has much better odds.

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