The origins of Keno: Its history

Keno has been ubiquitous in Nevada’s casinos since the 1930s, but its history goes back much further than that. The concept behind the game is not exactly « wizardly » and has been reproduced in lotteries, raffles, raffles and other mutations. For this reason, the linear history of the game is not clear, nor is the origin of the name « keno ». In fact, much of what has been accepted as the history of Keno – or more accurately, the game we now identify as Keno – is a mixture of history, speculation, superstition, tradition and so on.

The entire history of Keno: From its beginnings to the present day

Knowing the story may not be part of the game of keno or any other game. That being said, it does help. Knowing the history helps you understand the strategy because you can get a complete picture of what worked in the past and what doesn’t work anymore. In some cases, ideas that worked in the past but have been forgotten can be « modernized » to be effective in modern times. At the very least, knowing the history of the game will allow you to put everything into context.



One of the most interesting things about the history of Keno is that the history of the name doesn’t seem to have much to do with the development of the game itself. The word « keno » seems to be of Latin or European (most likely French) origin. There are similar words and expressions in both languages which literally translate into « five winning numbers« . This definition is approximate compared to modern keno but still not too precise. Although the origin of the word « keno » is credible, it is difficult to understand where the game and the name became synonymous and/or how they came to North America. There are anecdotal accounts of a similar game known as « keno » that was popular in several disjointed American cities in the mid 1800s, including Houston, San Francisco and Denver.

This is most likely true, but the problem for our purposes is that it doesn’t really fit the history of the game itself. Before going into the most widely accepted origin of the game itself, we will give this caveat – the game itself is conceptually very simple, meaning that similar games could have developed independently and « unified » at some point in history. This is probably the simplest and most viable explanation of how a game originating in China ended up with a French derived name.



The more things change, the more they stay the same and the game we now know as « keno » would have originated as a lottery designed to extract more money for the « government » from an already overtaxed population. In this case, it goes back two hundred years BC to the Han dynasty. The Han dynasty was led by Cheung Leung and – in another great similarity to modern times – was in severe financial disarray because of a seemingly endless war. Cheung Leung believed that he had already taxed the citizens as much as he could, so he had to find a way to get them to voluntarily provide the income he needed. In a movement that would be copied by governments for centuries to come, he invented a lottery to raise the funds he needed. Promising the chance of a huge financial windfall for a minimal investment (not to mention the astronomical odds against such an event), the public bought and provided the funds needed to end the war. The game he invented is considered to be the source of modern keno although it involved 120 Chinese characters that players had to match. The game has been used in China throughout history, notably as a means of subscribing to the construction of the Great Wall of China. At some point the game began to be called a « Chinese lottery », although it is doubtful whether this is what the game was called at the time.

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