Keno History

The game of Keno has a long history that goes back thousands of years. One of the oldest gambling games, the game of 'Keno' has a name with Latin or French roots. However, the game is believed to have originated in China during the Han Dynasty 3000 years ago.

Legend has it that the Han Dynasty, which was ruled by Cheung Leung, was tied up in a long and hard war that was depleting the city’s funds. Cheung Leung could not get any more money from the city residents, as he had taxed them as much as he could. Therefore, he came up with the idea for a new game - Keno. Keno was invented as a lottery to help raise money to finish the Han Dynasty war. Years later, Keno was used once again to raise funds to build the Great Wall of China, according to legend. However, according to historical records, the Chinese lottery was not actually licensed until the 1800’s, so whether there is any truth to these legends is not known for sure.

When Keno was first invented it was a much different game than it is today. Instead of using 80 numbers the game of Keno was played with 120 Chinese characters. In China the game is still played today with Chinese characters, although the number of characters has been reduced to 80, just as Keno in the Western world is played with 80 numbers.

Although other lottery like games were played in Europe and in the United States before Keno was introduced, the game was an immediate success when it was first brought to the shores of San Francisco by Chinese sailors in the early twentieth century. It was during this time that the Chinese characters were changed to numbers, as this made things easier for American gamblers who could not read Chinese.

In the early twentieth century gambling was legal in Nevada. However, lotteries were not and the government viewed Keno as a lottery game. Therefore, Keno operators called the game “Racehorse Keno” to disguise it as a racing game instead of a lottery. The 80 numbers on the Keno card were tied to different racehorses and each drawing was called a race. When lotteries were legalized many casinos changed the name back to Keno. However, in live casinos today you may still find games of “Racehorse Keno” and casinos that refer to each Keno drawing as a race.