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Home / Keno / History
The History of Keno
According to scrolls dating back to Ancient China, Cheung Leung of the Han Dynasty created a game very similar to Keno around 200AD to fund the war that had been going on for several years. the funds for the war were getting low and the people of his city were beginning to refuse to contribute any more of their hard earned wages to it. He decided a game of chance would be the best avenue to creating revenue for his army.

You may have noticed that keno is a lot like a lotto game. That's because keno is a lotto. The name has been changed a few times in the game's 3000+ year history, mostly to circumvent the law or taxes or both. By all accounts, the Chinese invented the game to fund their army and The Great Wall.

They devised the game using the first 120 symbols of the well known poem, "The Thousand Character Classic", which had been used prior as a romantic numbering system, as no two characters were alike. The game became so successful that it was adopted throughout China, even being used to help fund the Great Wall of China. Keno started out using those 120 Chinese characters. Before the game left China, that number was reduced to 90. The game came to America with the wave of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. These were mostly the Chinese railroad workers of folklore. About this time the game was reduced to 80 Chinese characters.

Although illegal, keno thrived among Chinese immigrants, especially around big cities like San Francisco. It became known as the Chinese lottery. English speaking Americans became interested in the game, but had difficulty differentiating the Chinese characters used in the game. Around the beginning of the 20th century, keno operators replaced the Chinese characters with Arabic numbers to entice more players.

Although Nevada legalized most forms of gambling in 1931, the legislature did not legalize lottery. The name of the game didn't evolve from "Chinese Lottery" until the early 20th century, when gambling was legalized in the state of Nevada. The legalization of gambling did not cover lotteries, so the name of the game was changed to "Horse Race Keno", playing on the idea that the numbers were horses and you wanted your horse to come in first. Shortly after, Nevada placed a tax on all Off Track betting, so to avoid the tax, the name was shortened to Keno, as it is known as today.

In 1963 the aggregate keno payout limit in Nevada was $25,000. In 1979 it was changed to $50,000. In 1989 the Nevada Gaming Commission eliminated the cap, and casinos are now free to set their aggregate limits as they wish.

The next time you're in your favorite keno lounge crumpling your loosing ticket, let your mind wonder back 3000 years to the Han Dynasty. You're not the first to be lured by this game, and you certainly will not be the last!

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