A History of Keno: An Evolving Lottery-Style Game that Originated in China

Published 6:53 am Friday, December 15, 2023

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Keno can be confused with bingo and other lottery-based games, but it has its own fascinating story behind it and is one of the oldest games that is still played in casinos – the game’s roots in Ancient China are known to date back more than 2,000 years.

Lotteries have always been a draw for people in countries all over the world, and many places even have a specific national lottery game that may be drawn weekly. In the UK, 60% of the adult population plays a lottery game, plus Italy, France, and Portugal are among the other countries in Europe that have lotteries. Keno, you could say, is the root of it all.

How Keno is Played

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Keno is one of the simplest games players will find at a casino, which is probably one of the reasons many people play. Players pick numbers from a pool, a little bit like a bingo game. 80 possible choices can be drawn, and the player’s numbers are picked on a game sheet, a little bit like choosing lottery numbers. 

When the game gets underway, the players watch as numbers are drawn using a random number generator. A manual draw would’ve been the norm in the days before the internet, but this has been replaced by a high-tech alternative now.

Variations of keno do things slightly differently but 20 number draws are the norm, players are trying to match as many as possible and the number of matches correlates to prizes on offer. These prizes vary and are outlined before the draw gets underway.

The Evolution of Keno

Keno has become a modern game that is available to play over the internet or on mobile devices, just like many other casino games and certain lottery games. Keno’s evolution in the 21st century has been digital, and the game has gone from requiring physical cards with numbers crossed off as they are drawn from a container to being a game that uses a random number generator to decide the order the numbers are called in and the matches provided.

A digital boom was later met by a crypto boom, which has created even more locations and methods for potential players to play keno. The cryptocurrency and casino industries are intrinsically linked now, with a lot of sites taking crypto as payment. Some estimate that over 50% of all Bitcoin transactions involve gambling, so it is little surprise that crypto lottery games and Bitcoin keno have become so widespread. Players are often drawn to the portability of crypto casinos as well as the simplicity and anonymity they give when moving money around.

Origins of Keno

Long before the digital evolution of keno, though, there were iterations of the game and changes that were made from the original game devised centuries ago. 

Beige piao was the original name of the game which means “white pigeon ticket” and refers to another betting game Chinese people often played, which involved pigeons. The game’s characters weren’t the first 80 numbers, but 90 characters in the Qianziwen book of script, though they were sometimes accompanied by numbers. 

Chinese immigrants arriving in the United States in the 1800s brought the game with them and continued to play while living in the US, but it continued to grow and many people in the country started calling it the “Chinese lottery” and converted the Chinese symbols used traditionally into numbers to make it easier to track. This is one of the parts of Chinese culture to capture the imagination in the West, along with things like the Chinese New Year which still sees some spectacular celebrations, fireworks, and light shows today.

France has a part to play too, as the name Keno derives from the word quine, which means a group of five in French. Keno sometimes has prizes that are awarded if players match a group of five of the numbers.

Digital keno isn’t confined to borders so players can check out the game no matter where they are based, which has helped the game to grow even further. 


Simple gameplay is one of the key reasons why some people tend to enjoy keno, as it is very easy to follow what is happening, especially digitally where people don’t even have to mark their cards manually. Bingo is a comparable game, but keno can provide some variation on this theme. 

People choose their own numbers in keno, which is a complete game of chance, but some people like to choose their favourite numbers or play the same numbers every time to help them remember.

Keno’s evolution from a game played in Ancient China to a game played on mobile devices over the internet has been a long and interesting tale, but the game is one of the most popular of its kind, often appealing to those who like bingo and other lottery games.