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That’s What Drove Aunt Matilda to Cribbage With Cocoa

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I enjoy playing video keno. I have tried every combination of numbers and I just can't win. Do the numbers bear any meaning on winning or does the machine work like a slot with a timed chip in it. I am at my wit’s end over this game and I have been playing it for 15 years. You would think I would have figured it out by now that it is impossible to win. I need some sanity in my life.
Lori M.

Raise your hand, Lori, if you desire to win more money in the casino. Fantastic! Now hands down. Note, Lori, I didn’t say, win more money at video keno.

Our journey towards sanity and cents begins with, “Do the numbers bear any meaning on winning…?” As for the number of spots played, yes, but as to which number will appear, no. All of today’s video machines, including video keno, operate using microprocessor technology and randomized sequencing. On a properly functioning video keno machine, no specific numbers or combination of numbers are any more likely to appear than any other number or combination of numbers. But I do know the three main reasons why your hard-earned money could be finding its way into the casino’s coffer. They are the house edge, spots played, and speed of the game.

The reason you seldom win, Lori, is because video keno is a negative-expectation game, meaning; it’s got a house edge, and a decent one at that. On the plus side, the house edge on a video keno game is much lower than that on a live keno game. For a live keno game it’s 28%, whereas with video keno it can be as low as 7.5%. Hence, video keno has better paytables. But, at $1 a ticket, the most you could lose on a live keno game played conservatively is about $15 an hour. But zippy video keno can increase the speed of the game more than tenfold. That superficial sense of sweetness we get in comparing video keno’s 7.5% casino advantage to the 28% live game advantage is illusory, because your monetary servitude to the house can end up being much, much higher. Which leads me to my first bit of advice. The slower you play, the less hard-earned money you’ll put through the shredder.

The next question begging attention is, exactly how many spots are you trying to hit? Is it five, 10, no, not 15? If you are, like many players I’ve seen, leaning on some form of celestial luck to hit a 15-spot, you might as well fugedaboutit! Chances of hitting this critter are approximately 428 billion to one. A 10-spot? Those chances of hitting 10 of 10 are, at best, one in 10 million.

Or, take for instance my personal five spot (2, 25, 55, 73, 78). In the 18 years on the inside working the Green Felt Jungle, figure five days a week, eight hour shifts, I have seen my 5-spot appear only four times. And believe me, I was always glancing at the keno board, amongst other things.

The Eureka! Message here, Lori, is that video keno might just not be your game. I mention changing games cautiously, not knowing how averse you might be to doing so, but possibly I can convince you to play something else among the games that are often mentioned in this column. If not, well, I tried.

So, Lori, if you so choose to stick with video keno, I’ll begin with my badgering narrative: “The smarter you play, the luckier you’ll be.” You do that by hunting for the highest-paying paytable. Scrutinize each paytable to find which one gives you the lowest house edge. Play far fewer spots so the odds against hitting a winning ticket are not so astronomical. Deliberately play at a leisurely pace. Use your slot club card to offset the losses you can, no -- will certainly experience on such a negative-expectation game.

As for a “which numbers to play” strategy, sorry, Lori, I can’t offer any. The numbers are chosen at random and each draw is independent, so playing providential numbers you think are lucky, or numbers you feel are "due," just doesn’t work.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week:
"To win without risk is to triumph without glory." –Corneille