History of Keno
The game of Keno was invented over 3,000 years ago by Cheung Leung, who was a ruler during the great Han Dynasty. At the time, Leung's city was in the midst of a long and brutal war, one that had all but exhausted the city's resources. Unable to draw more tax money from the residents, Cheung Leung conceived of an idea that would both fill his city's coffers and would not place extra taxation on his citizens.
The game was based on a popular poem at the time, "The Thousand Character Classic." This poem was then, and remains today, the most popular way for people to learn how to count, using one thousand Chinese symbols, none of them repeating. Comprising two hundred and fifty phrases with four characters each, the poem was written by Zhou Xingsi. Out of the 250 phrases, 120 were used, subdivided into eight characters to each subdivision. In order to regulate the winning or losing, it was decided that whoever would guess right a whole subdivision would be rewarded ten taels, a Chinese form of currency.
The game allowed Cheung Leung to earn enough money in order to finance the war. As the game's popularity spread, it became known as the "Game of the White Pigeon." This was because it was played in the main towns and cities, and with communication being difficult in mountainous China, the news of successes and losses were often relayed to the surrounding countryside by dove. When the largest national project in Chinese history was first conceived, The Great Wall of China, it was funded and paid for by Keno draws.
Keno did not leave China until the beginning of the twentieth century. Brought to the shores of the United States by Chinese sailors, Keno was an instant success, though an underground one. At the time, gambling in all forms was prohibited by law. However, Keno was played avidly, with the Chinese characters changed to numbers in order to facilitate the needs of American players.
Gambling was authorized in Nevada in 1931, however lotteries were not and Keno was seen as a lottery at the time by the Federal Government. In order to get around this, Keno operators changed the name to Racehorse Keno, effectively masking the real aim of the game. Each number was designated as a horse, even though the game had nothing to do with racing. When the government passed a law that taxed off-track betting, thus legalizing the game, the name was changed back again to Keno.