History of Keno

The history of Keno is shrouded in some mystery, but most accounts say that the game began in China. According to legend, a Chinese leader invented the game 3000 years ago to help fund a long war. Unable to further tax his citizens, he invented a game similar to keno to raise money. Some accounts even suggest that the money from keno was used to fund the construction of the Great Wall of China! Even if these are just stories, lotteries have existed in many parts of the world for hundreds of years, even if they weren’t exactly like the keno we play today.

Modern, verified accounts of keno in China go back to 1847. These games were known as “white pigeon” lotteries, because the results could be carried from the cities to nearby villages by carrier pigeon. The game was played using Chinese characters from the Chinese poem “The Thousand Character Classic.”

Keno was brought to the United States in the early 20th century. Chinese immigrants brought the game to San Francisco, where even though gambling was illegal, the game was an underground sensation. To make the game more accessible to the American population, numbers were used rather than the traditional characters. As the game spread, it sometime ran afoul of laws against lotteries even in areas where gambling was legalized. To get around this, keno was sometimes referred to as “racehorse keno” in an attempt to disguise the nature of the game. In many casinos, each keno draw is still known as a race.

Today, keno can be found in nearly any casino in the world. The traditional game played with hand-drawn numbers still exists, as do electronic versions that can “draw” numbers instantly. Keno is one of the simplest and most popular casino games, and people might still be playing it 3000 years from now!