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Deal Me In: Live keno vs. video keno

23 December 2011

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: My favorite game is keno. Unfortunately, casinos where I play have removed the live game and have replaced it with a few video keno games spread out over the casino floor. Since video keno is now the only game in town, is it a better game than live keno? In addition, when drawing numbers, are the numbers drawn based on a random number generator like slot and video poker machines? Vicky F.

Good news, Vicky, well, sort of. The loss of flesh and blood dabbing spots is your gain, to a point. The house edge on video keno is much lower than that on a live keno game. Live, it’s approximately 28%, whereas with video keno it can be as low as 7.5% simply due to video keno’s having better paytables.

On the other hand, with a live lounge game, you can buy a ticket for as little as a buck, drink free hooch and watch sports in cushy chairs, and the most you can lose on a game with a 28% house edge is about $15 an hour. When playing video poker, the speed of the game increases almost tenfold, so, that 7.5% casino advantage versus the 28% live game edge is deceiving, because your hourly loss to the house can end up being much, much higher.

This, Vicky, leads me, to dole out some advice when playing the cybernetic version. First, you want to search for the highest-paying paytables. The higher the payouts for the spots you play, the lower the house edge. Play fewer spots so the odds against hitting a winning ticket are not so astronomical. Deliberately play at a leisurely pace, because the slower you play, the less of your hard-earned money plunks into the casino’s coffers. Finally, use your slot club card to offset the losses you will experience on this negative-expectation game.

As to your second question, Vicky, like the cards displayed in video poker or the symbols of a slot machine, a random number generator determines all numbers drawn in video keno. All 80 numbers on a keno game have the same chance of being drawn.

Dear Mark: Where I play, they do not offer a full 9/6 video poker game that you often recommend. In its place, they have 9/5 and 8/6 Jacks-or-better machines. Between the two, which one is better? David W.

As mentioned often in this column, the numbers used to identify Jacks-or-better video poker games usually refer to the payoffs for full houses and flushes. A 9/5 machine pays 9-for-1 for a full house and 5-for-1 on a flush. An 8/6 machine would be eight for the full house and six for a flush. One machine lowers the payoff on flushes, the other the payout on full houses.

The difference in the house edge, between these two Jacks-or-better variations, is so minuscule it overlooks caution on switch-hitting between the two. For the perfect basic strategy user, the 9/5 version pays 98.44%, while an 8/6 game returns a nickel less -- 98.39%. Contrast this, David, with a marquee 9/6 paytable, which returns 99.5% to the polished VP player.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “The typical gambler might not really understand the probabilistic nuances of the wheel or the dice, but such things seem a bit more tractable than, say, trying to raise a child in this lunatic society of ours.” —Arthur S. Reber, The New Gambler's Bible
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.