History Of Keno

The history of keno is a little mystical with a few stories floating around it out there. The truth, as with all history, is a matter of opinion. Several different versions on origin of keno exist.

The keno history dates back to187 BC in China, where the game is said to be developed by the head of state, Cheung Heung of the Han Dynasty. One theory states that Cheung's city was at war for several years. Beginning to run out of money and supplies, it turned to the citizens for help, who refused to contribute additional funds for a useless cause. Cheung then thought of a brilliant idea of generating the necessary finances for his battles. He created a game that would attract huge numbers of people under his command, entertaining them and generating cash to cover his expenses simultaneously. The game was an instant hit and is believed to be the real cause of the victory of Cheung's forces. The game is also credited for providing resources and funds to the massive building the Great Wall!

Since carrier pigeons were used to inform surrounding towns and villages of the winning numbers, the game soon became known as the White Pigeon game. This gave way to the birth of a Chinese poem of a thousand character classic, a historical event. But the poem became so popular that the characters are now often used as a romantic numbering system. Starting with as many as 120 characters originally, the number dropped to a more familiar 80, once the game left China.

The mid 1800's in the history of Keno, saw the game arrive in the US with thousands of Chinese immigrants, who came to work in the mines and on the railroad. Initially outlawed, Keno continued to be played in secrecy by these new immigrants. It was commonly known by the name- the "Chinese Lottery". It continued to use Chinese characters.

Much later, when it entered the popular mainstream American culture, it was modified to include the numerical system. With the legalization of gambling in the state of Nevada in 1931, the lotteries were still not covered under the legislature. This led to the change of the name ('Chinese Lottery') to something else, thus, it became known as “horse race Keno” .It was played off of the idea that the numbers are horses and you simply want your horses to finish first.

With the government passing a law that taxed off-track betting, Nevada quickly changed the name again, shortening it to just Keno. The next time you're playing your favorite keno game, let your mind wader back 3000 years to the Han Dynasty, tracing the origin of Keno. Remember that you are not the first to be lured by his game and certainly will not be the last!


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