The History of Keno - The Origins of Online Keno

A review of the origins of the ancient Chinese game of keno and how it arrived in the United States and developed into the casino game of keno we have today.

The Creation of the Game of Keno

The game of Keno was created approximately 3000 years ago (in 200 BC) by Cheung Leung who was a ruler of the Han Dynasty at the time. At the time, the city in which Leung lived was involved in a drawn-out war that had depleted the city's resources. He could not charge his residents more taxes and as such, Leung had to find another way to continue funding this war. Thus was born the game of keno. Leung decided that the game would raise money to fund the war while placing no extra burdens on the people of the city.

The Original Game of Keno

The game that Leung created was similar to the modern game of keno. The game was based on the popular poem, "The Thousand Character Classic." It used a thousand Chinese symbols as a way to help teach the people how to count. The game that Leung created used 120 of the original symbols from the poem which was then subdivided into eight sections. The winner would be the person who guessed a subdivision correctly.

Development of Leung's Game

Leung's game fulfilled its purpose of financing the war and also became popular with the people. It was played in many of the main towns and cities. The game became known as "Game of the White Pigeon" as pigeons were used to send news of winners to the outlying villages by way of pigeon. So successful was the game that the Great Wall of China was financed by keno draws! The number of characters in keno was reduced from 120 to 90 and then later, again down to 80.

The Spread of Keno around the World

Keno was brought to San Francisco by Chinese sailors and railroad workers in the 1800s and it became an instant success. It was known as the Chinese lottery. It was illegal at the time, in America, to gamble, even in the form of lotteries so Keno was played on the sly. The Chinese characters were changed to numbers at this time in order to attract more American players who were became confused by the Chinese characters.

The Legalization of Keno in America

In 1931 gambling was legalized in Nevada, however, lotteries were still considered illegal. As Keno was considered to be a lottery, it was not legalized along with other gambling games. Keno operators would not be put off so easily and they changed the name of the game to "racehorse keno." Each number represented a horse and thus, with the apparent change of the aim of the game, racehorse keno became legal. The government later enacted a law that would tax off-track betting and also legalize keno and the name was then changed back to "keno." Even today, some casinos still refer to each separate draw as a race.