I’ve been writing about gambling and casino games for over 20 years. And one of my favorite questions is, what casino game has the worst odds?
The casino game that has the worst odds is keno. You measure how good or bad the odds are in a casino game by how big the house edge is. The bigger the house edge, the worse the odds are for the casino gambler. In keno, the house edge varies from casino to casino, but it almost always runs between 25% and 60%. When you have other casino games with a house edge of between 0.3% and 16%, it’s clear that keno offers the worst odds.
Why Are the Odds in Keno So Bad?
Keno is just like a private lottery administered by a casino. It’s all luck. If you’ve ever played in your state lottery, you’re probably already familiar with the basics of how keno works.
In both games, you pick numbers that you hope will be picked at random in a drawing.
The big difference between keno and the lottery is that you have more ways to play in keno, and keno offers more prize opportunities than the lottery.
The odds are still lousy, though.
Why does keno have the worst odds in the casino, though?
The casinos claim that keno’s overhead is higher than that of any other casino game.
Should You Play Keno Even Thought It Offers the Worst Odds in the Casino?
Some people love keno, and the game does have its advantages over other games. For one thing, the pace of the game is glacial. You might see one drawing every 5 to 10 minutes, which means you’re only placing 6 to 12 bets per hour.
Contrast that with the average slot machine player, who makes 600 spins per hour.
Keno’s also a game that can be played in multiple places, but it’s especially a good game if you want to stay in action while you’re eating any of your 3 meals in a casino restaurant.
Also, it only costs $1 to play keno.
Most other games, excluding gambling machines like slots and video poker, cost a minimum of $5 per bet to play.
With the right mindset, playing keno is just fine. The slow pace of the game means you might lose less money playing keno all day than you’d lose in an hour or 2 at the craps table.
How to Play Keno
You can play keno from anywhere in the casino — even your hotel room. The keno results are broadcast on the casino’s television network. You’ll find keno tickets and crayons throughout the casino.
You’ll also find brochures that list the payouts for the game.
The casino also employs keno runners who will take your money and your ticket while you play. It’s polite to tip your keno runner regardless of whether you win.
A keno ticket has 80 numbers, 1-40 on the top and 41-80 on the bottom.
The computer chooses 20 numbers at random from between 1 and 80. In some casinos, you might still find a hopper with rubber balls, but computerized keno is more common. The winning numbers get displayed on TV screens throughout the casino.
You’ll win money based on how many of the numbers you picked were among the 20 numbers that were drawn during the game.
You’ll choose between 1 and 15 numbers on your ticket. The more numbers you choose, the more you need to get right to get a payout.
But you don’t need to get all 15 numbers — usually, if you choose 15 numbers, you need to catch 6 of them to win a payout.
If you choose 6 numbers, you’ll get enough of a payout for catching 3 numbers that you’ll break even.
But the casino also offers other kinds of ways to play your tickets, too — combination tickets, king numbers, and way tickets. They’re all just ways of playing multiple straight tickets using a single ticket, though.
An Example of a Keno Pay Table Explains What Casino Game Has the Worst Odds in Concrete
Here’s an example of a keno paytable along with some analysis of the odds:
You choose 6 numbers for $1. The payouts look like this, based on how many numbers you catch:
- Catch 3 numbers, and you get a $1 payout.
- Catch 4 numbers, and you get a $5 payout.
- Get lucky enough to catch 5 numbers, and you get a $75 payout
- Finally, catch all 6 numbers, and you get a $2000 payout.
Sometimes the payable will include payouts for wagering $2, too, but the payouts are just doubled. You don’t get better odds just because you bet twice as much. (This is in marked contrast to video poker, by the way.)
Your expected return for a casino game is the payout multiplied by the probability of that payout. When you add all the possible payouts together, you get the payout percentage for the game.
You have an 8% probability of getting 3 numbers right when you choose 6 numbers. 8% X $1 = 8%
You have a 1% probability of getting 4 numbers right. That’s 1% X $5 = 5%.
You have a 0.06% probability of getting 5 numbers right. That’s 0.06% X $75 = 4.5%.
Finally, you have a 0.0125% probability of winning $2000. That’s 0.0125% X $2000 = 25%
8% + 5% + 4.5% + 25% = 42.5%, which is your expected return.
If you subtract the expected return from 100%, you get the house edge, which, in this case, is 57.5%.
What’s the Best Strategy for Improving the Terrible Keno Odds?
Strategy for keno is easy:
There is no strategy.
The only thing you can do is shop payables from one casino to another to find the casino offering the biggest payouts.
No matter what, though, the house edge is going to be at least 25% — you can count on that.
The problem is this:
People who are motivated enough to calculate the payout percentages for various casino games are usually too smart to play keno in the first place.
What’s your strategy?
Or, if you decide to play, just take advantage of the slow pace of the game and enjoy daydreaming or whatever else it is you’re doing while you play.
Are the Odds in Video Keno Better?
Usually, when you contrast the video version of a casino game with its traditional version, the house edge is much higher on the traditional version. Video blackjack is a good example of this because most video blackjack games offer even money payouts on a blackjack, which increases the house edge by almost 3%.
Video keno is an exception because the house edge in video keno rarely exceeds 12%.
Here’s the problem, though:
With video keno, you’re probably playing at least 300 games per hour instead of 12 games per hour.
Your expected loss playing keno at 12 games per hour with a house edge of 25% looks like this:
$1 X 12 games X 25% = $3
You expect to lose $3 per hour playing traditional keno.
But with video keno, you’re looking at the following equation:
$1 X 300 games X 12% = $36
You expect to lose $36 per hour because you’re playing so many more hands per hour.
What Casino Game Has the Worst Odds? Conclusion — Keno
It’s easy to answer the question, what casino game has the worst odds?
It’s keno, with its house edge of between 25% and 60%.
This doesn’t make it the worst game in the casino, though. If you bring enough money to the casino, it won’t even matter.
The thing to remember about the question what casino game has the worst odds is this:
Multiple other factors affect how much money you lose over time playing a casino game — especially the rate at which you make bets per hour.