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
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 . . .