From National Debt to Popular Casino Game: The Progression of Keno

The game of Keno is simple: select 4-10 “spots,” or numbers, anywhere from 1-80. Next, numbers are either drawn manually or electronically, and depending on the numbers chosen you either figure your payout or try again.

Yet, despite the simple nature of this common lounge game, there is a lot of history behind Keno dating all the way to around 200 B.C. and is considered to be the first national lottery game ever invented.

Starting during the Han Dynasty, under the ruler Cheung Leung, Leung’s city was involved in war for several years and the city’s money and supplies were depleting fast. On top of dealing with the war, Leung’s citizens were also becoming agitated with constantly being expected to provide contributions to the cities war funds.

In order to counteract this depreciation and unwillingness of his citizens, Leung decided on making a game similar to Keno, where instead of having 80 numbers he used 120 symbols. Not realizing the real purpose behind of the game, the people of Leung’s city loved the game. Not only did the game have an immediate impact on fixing the city's financial hardship, it ultimately saved the city. The game’s success also allegedly carried on into funding part of the construction of the Great Wall.


Before the game was given the name Keno, it was referred to by the ancient Chinese as the “White Pigeon Game” or “White Pigeon Ticket,”  due to the fact that smaller villages in rural areas received the winning numbers by carrier pigeons.

Keno started to take shape in America during the mid 1800s, being referred to as the “Chinese lottery.” At first, many Americans weren’t partial to the game due to the fact that the Chinese continued to use symbols, and it wasn’t until later that the game saw instant success once the symbols were converted to numbers.

Keno was taken in by casinos starting in the early 1930s under the title “Horse Racing Keno” because at that time lotto games weren’t deemed legal. The gameplay of the game was slightly altered to have players select one number, designated as a horse, and hope that their horse was selected. Eventually once the law on lottery games was uplifted in U.S. casinos, the ancient Chinese game took its final form as Keno.

The extensive history of Keno is only half the of the fun because you have yet to make Keno history yourself! If you want to further your keno and casino knowledge with a chance to rake in some real money there are several secure and well established casinos online! These casinos, such as Guts.com, an established UK licensed online casino, offer interactive keno games as well as a seemingly endless database of fun and engaging games.