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Is Keno Like Bingo?

Jamie Wall
Written by Jamie Wall

While sharing roots in number selection and matching for rewards, the exploration into keno vs bingo reveals significant differences. We offer insight into the nuanced dynamics of both, their cultural significance, evolution, and answers to the most popular questions.

A former The Guardian journalist, Raj Patel, concluded once that tabletop games may teach patience and the “unpredictable nature of life itself”. If so, then keno, by its nature, is a fine teacher offering both lessons. As, though, is bingo. Among the myriad casino games, these strike not just for their simplicity and accessibility but also for their storied pasts. While both games revolve around the random drawing of numbers and share a common objective — to match these numbers for a prize — their nuances and dynamics present a curious divergence. This divergence raises the question: how similar are keno and bingo, and what distinguishes one from the other? This article explores these questions by discovering each game’s origins, rules, and cultural significance, thereby shedding light on their identities. By comparing and contrasting keno and bingo, we seek to understand their mechanics and place in the wider context of gaming and society.

What is Keno, and What is Bingo

Before answering the posed question, let us recall the bases.

As a table game of chance, keno involves players choosing numbers from a set, traditionally between 1 and 80. After all players make their selections, a predetermined number of these, typically 20, are randomly drawn. The game aims to match the chosen numbers with the drawn ones. The more a player’s numbers coincide, the greater their potential winnings. As in bingo, keno’s particularity lies in training players’ composure and relying on fortune.

Similarly, both games have long remained a staple in brick-and-mortar casinos and have adapted to contemporary online versions. However, to get a clearer picture of what distinguishes them and whether keno and bingo are siblings, twins, or second cousins twice removed, the history of their appearance is the first place to start.

Keno-Bingo History

The origins of keno can be traced back to the 3rd century BCE in China. It was believed to have been created to fund significant state projects, such as the Great Wall of China:

Legend holds that Chéung Léung (205–187 BCE), of the Han Dynasty, devised an early ancestor of keno to raise money for the army and for the defense of the capital, at a time when funds were low. This guessing game called for players to choose 8 Chinese characters from 120; the risk to the players was small and the rewards for a correct selection were great. The game was a success from the start; within a few decades, the operators’ wealth was said to be boundless.

(Bollman 1)

As for the bingo, there are no records confirming that Asian leaders invented the game or that it had any financial-military implications. In contrast, bingo’s roots trace back to the post-Renaissance Genoese lottery, thoroughly described in this article.

Keno - white pigeon ticket

Pàk kòp piú ticket image (Bollman 2)

Tuning back to keno, 22 centuries later, the game turned to be known as baige piao, pàk kòp piú or ‘white pigeon ticket’. The reason for involving homing pigeons in the gameplay was that before the 19th century, the lottery was illegal in China. Therefore, the birds’ task was transporting wagers and winnings between players and operators.

It was mentioned previously that both of the keno ancestors — the Chéung Léung’s version and pàk kòp piú — featured characters instead of numbers. They were taken from The Thousand Character Text — Qianziwen — a popular primary age-children teaching poem used at the time.

Later, around the 1850s, the game was brought to the United States by the Chinese immigrants constructing the Transcontinental Railroad. At that time, the major American market was in Montana because of Chinese mining workers who toiled there. Keno then transitioned roughly 900 miles South to Nevada, which legalised gambling in 1930. Then and there, it became called racehorse keno, which helped it not to become a subject of scrutiny for anti-lottery regulators (remaining in effect on paper). In addition to the name, characters underwent modifications too — reduced to 80 and attributed the names of made-up racehorses. Each horse was labelled with a number (1-80), and it was not until 1951, with a new tax on off-track betting introduced in Nevada, that horse names were dropped, and only numbers remained (Bollman 6). This evolution helped keno to become integrated into the American gambling culture, especially within casinos.

Conversely, bingo’s evolution occurred across Europe, with different names and rules, too. Still, in the US, Southern this time, the game transformed from Beano to Bingo in the 1920s. Largely thanks to Edwin S. Lowe, a toy salesman who encountered the game at a carnival and saw its potential. Lowe’s adaptation turned bingo into a significant fundraiser, especially during the Great Depression.

It is thus clear that both game variations developed in the version we know them today, largely in the US. However, they originated continents apart: in Asia and the Mediterranean Europe. Both keno and bingo became staples in their respective communities and Northern America. So far, the historical similarities and differences hold an equal count. Addressing their gameplay may cast a clearer light on whether to put a sign “equal” or “not equal” in the keno-bingo debate.

How to Play Keno

To play contemporary keno is to follow a simple set of steps:

step 1 Selection of Numbers

Choose your preferred number from a grid of 1 to 80. The quantity varies. You may opt for just one number or choose up to 20.

step 2 Placing of Bets

After selecting numbers, place your bets. The wager amounts can vary, offering flexibility.

step 3 Drawing of Numbers

The game starts with randomly drawing 20 numbers. This can be conducted through a ball machine or electronically, depending on whether you play keno online or physically.

step 4 Comparison and Payouts

Compare the drawn numbers with your selections. Payouts are determined by the number of matches, with more matches resulting in higher rewards.

It’s convenient to examine similarities and differences through comparison tables to better understand the nature of keno and bingo.

Keno VS Bingo

To adequately address whether keno is like bingo, there is no better way to confront their features visually. These are, starting with resemblances:

Aspect Keno Bingo
Number selection Numbers are randomly drawn Numbers are randomly drawn
Gameplay Players mark off numbers on a card Players mark off numbers on a card
Location Played in casinos and online Played in community halls and online

On the contrary, what sets them apart is:

Aspect Keno Bingo
How numbers are chosen Players choose their numbers Numbers are pre-assigned on cards
Number of draws 20 numbers are drawn The number of draws continues until a winning pattern emerges
Winners Determined by the number of matches Determined by completing specific patterns
Pace Flexible pace, players decide when to play Fixed pace, dictated by the caller or game host

Keno offers a more solitary experience where the player’s choices directly influence the game’s outcome. In contrast, Bingo revolves around matching patterns and is often played in a more communal setting, emphasising the social aspect of gaming. Both games possess a mix of luck and strategy within their gambling pursuits yet characterise themselves by different player dynamics.

To Sum Up

All the aspects addressed above, what is keno, keno’s history, how to play keno, and keno vs bingo, in comparison to the bingo game, lead us to answer the main question. In the end, is keno like bingo?

The conclusion is that the keno game is, truly, a bingo-like casino game. Yet, their similarities do not mean that the games are identical twins. So, the simple answer is no, keno is not bingo. And nor its variety. However, by exploring the question a level or two deeper and scrutinising the features exemplified in this article, it will be safe to say that keno is like bingo in certain aspects.

This article has illuminated the distinct characteristics and shared heritage of keno and bingo, inviting further reflection on their roles within the broader spectrum of games of chance. Such an inquiry enriches our appreciation of these games and opens pathways to explore the cultural, psychological, and social dimensions of gambling practices worldwide.


  1. Bollman, Mark. Mathematics of Keno and Lotteries. Taylor & Francis Group, 2018.
  2. Budd, Pat. Be A Winner At Keno. Smashwords, 2011.
  3. Kaye, Marvin. The Story of Monopoly, Silly Putty, Bingo, Twister, Frisbee, Scrabble, Etcetera. Stein & Day, 1992.
  4. Keno, revised and updated by William L. Horsch. Encyclopaedia Britannica, February 15, 2024. https://www.britannica.com/topic/keno. Accessed March 29, 2024.
Jamie Wall
Jamie Wall Casino Analyst

Former NetEnt developer with MSc in Casino Game Development from the London School of Economics and an article featured in The Times of Malta. Jamie dissects each game & casino, so you can read reviews that blend passion and insight. You’ll never meet a person who knows more about game mechanics than him.


How does the number drawing mechanism vary between keno and bingo?

While both games involve the random selection of numbers, keno typically uses a machine or software to draw a fixed set of numbers from a pool, often 20 out of 80. Bingo’s draw continues until a player achieves the winning pattern, with numbers called out individually until the game concludes.

What influences the length of a game session in keno compared to bingo?

The duration of a keno game is relatively short and consistent, primarily dictated by the quick selection of 20 numbers. In contrast, the length of a bingo game can vary significantly, depending on how quickly players achieve the required pattern, leading to potentially longer sessions.

Which game has better payout probability, keno, or bingo?

If you choose between keno and bingo, the latter typically offers a more favourable payout probability. This is due to the structure of the games and how winnings are determined:

  • Bingo: Participants have a statistically higher chance of winning smaller amounts more frequently. The game concludes with at least one winner for the drawn pattern in each session, making the probability of winning in any given game relatively high compared to keno.
  • Keno: The game is known for its potential to deliver significant sums for a small stake, but the probability of hitting a high payout is extremely low.

Are there any superstitions in keno and bingo gameplay?

Superstitions play a notable role in the gameplay of both keno and bingo. Many players follow personal rituals or pick lucky charms to boost their chances of winning. Some may pick numbers based on significant dates, recurring dreams, or patterns perceived as lucky in keno. Bingo players often choose specific seats in the bingo hall, lucky dabbers (markers), or special arrangements of their bingo cards to invite good fortune. These practices do not affect the outcome, of course, but are deeply ingrained in the culture of these games.

If I want to play with my friends, and we're seeking alternatives for bingo, will keno be a good choice?

Keno can be an interesting alternative to bingo for groups looking for a different number-based game. While keno does not inherently facilitate the same level of communal participation as bingo, friends can still play, comparing their chosen numbers, celebrating matches, or even competing to see who predicts more winning numbers. Consider setting up a friendly competition or pooling resources for collective bets.