Nowadays, keno is a popular casino gambling games in which players attempt to ‘spot’ between one and ten numbers, from a pool of 80 numbers, 20 of which are drawn, randomly, at regular intervals. The name ‘keno’ is an Americanism, coined in the early nineteenth century and derived from the French word ‘quine’, meaning ‘five’, and the word ‘lotto’. Nevertheless, keno is of Chinese origin and has a history dating back at least two millennia.
Keno was originally known as ‘baige piao’, which translates into English as ‘white pigeon ticket’, reflecting the use of homing pigeons in the early form of the game.
Baige piao was popular throughout China from the third century BCE onwards; so popular, in fact, that under the auspices of Cheung Leung, ruler of the Han Dynasty, it reputedly financed the construction of a portion of the Great Wall of China.
Baige piao travelled to America with Chinese immigrant workers in the mid-eighteenth century, where it was initially played, illegally, by the Chinese community and hence became known as the ‘Chinese Lottery’. Over time, Keno became more widely accepted and the original ticket, which featured the first 80 Chinese characters in the so-called ‘Book of a Thousand Characters’, was modified to include Arabic numerals instead. Of course, Keno is a game that can be played alone, without interaction with others, and requires no special skills, yet offers the potential of a huge payout for relatively small outlay; these factors have led to the enduring popularity of the game.