QUESTION: Please tell my new daughter-in-law I’m not crazy. She and our son had their wedding at a casino resort, and the whole extended family gambled a little along with some shopping and shows.
Some of the women decided to relax in the keno lounge for a little bit over a drink. I started to fill out a card and told my daughter-in-law I was going to start with four races. She looked at me oddly, and asked who was racing. I told her keno games are called “races.” She said it didn’t say races on the board or in the pamphlets. I think she thought I was imagining things.
ANSWER: Show this to your daughter-in-law, and I’ll certainly tell her you’re not crazy. Though use of the term has declined, keno games have been known as “races” for decades. Some casinos still use the term, as do players long familiar with it.
Like bingo, keno is derived from the Chinese Lottery, and its lottery association is what led to the racing connection. In the early 1930s, bingo halls in Reno started offering keno, but lotteries were illegal under Nevada law. To sidestep the issue, the game was named “racehorse keno,” and each of the 80 numbers was attached to the name of a racehorse.
So it stood until the 1950s, when Nevada introduced a new tax on off-track horserace wagering. Casino operators didn’t want any confusion about what was and was not subject to the tax, so they removed the horse names to leave a game strictly by the numbers.
When I started going to casinos in the 1980s, every casino that offered keno still referred to its games as “races,” even with no horse names included. I suspect the decrease in usage is tied to the spread of video keno, especially on multigame machines where players can choose among slot and video poker options as well as keno games. If as numbers were drawn, we saw horses streaking across the screen, “races” for “games” might still be as commonplace as it once was.
QUESTION: Tell me something about penny slots. My wife and I were playing together, different machines in the same bank, but separated by another player between us. After a while, I spotted another player get up at another bank to leave two seats together. I pointed it out, and my wife said, “We don’t want to move there.” I asked why not, and she said, “I’ve seen three people sit down there and leave in a few minutes. It’s just eating their money.”
It worked out OK, because before too much longer the woman between us left, and I moved over. But I was wondering if there was anything to that, if watching others lose means you should stay away from that machine.
ANSWER: Short-term results are not meaningful indicators of whether a slot machine is a big payer, a coin gobbler or something in between. Losing streaks are a part of the normal probability on slot games, and we’ll win more often than we lose even on the highest-paying machines.
In modern casinos, most machines have payback percentages that are close to the percentages at neighboring machines of the same coin denomination. But it takes hundreds of thousands of plays for the odds of the game to pull overall results toward an expected payback percentage. In a short session or sessions, anything can happen.
Given all that, I wouldn’t read anything into losses by other players, not even a few players in a row. If it was a game I liked, I’d have no problem in taking a machine that was vacant because previous players had lost. Their short-term results have no impact on what’s to come for me.
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