HistoryThe following account of the history of the game is an excerpt from Stewart Culin's paper published in 1891:
This game is an old establishment, and was first introduced by Chéung léung of the great Han Dynasty. When the city was hard pressed, and provisions were beginning to fail, they (the besieged) were anxious to increase the contributions, and to exhort the people to subscribe more for the army, but were unable to do so. Hence they established a game of chance (to guess characters), by which they hoped to tempt the people to hazard their property. In order to fix a method of losing or gaining at hazard, they chose 120 characters for the whole game and eight characters for one subdivision. If the people lost one (whole) subdivision they lost three lí of property; if they gained one division they were rewarded with ten taels. These regulations being once established, who would not sacrifice a little in order to gain much? The two games in the morning and evening were attended by men and women who tried their luck by guessing. They had only opened the game for about ten days, when they had accumulated more than 1000 pieces of silver; and after a few more decades their wealth was boundless. The money thus gained was considered a contribution to the army for the reduction of the empire.
At present the people practice the game as a profession. They borrow the characters from the Thousand Character Classic, of which eighty are chosen and arranged after a new plan, ten characters forming one division, which the people are permitted to purchase for more or less (for whatever they please.)
Three cash gaining ten taels makes the people covet the game without loathing. When they guess five characters they gain five lí; when six characters they gain five candareens; when seven characters they gain five mace; when eight characters they gain two taels and five mace; when nine characters they gain five taels; when ten characters they gain ten taels.
When this game was first established, the houses were often at a great distance, and communication being difficult and the people anxious soon to know the result respecting their gaining or losing, they employed letter doves to carry the news to the parties, whence the present designation: 'The Game of the White Dove.'
Modern kenoKeno, in its modern form, is like a lottery or bingo in that it is a numbers game. Unlike bingo, the keno player picks the numbers for his or her ticket. Keno cards have 80 numbers; the keno player can pick as many (or as few) numbers as desired. This is done by circling or otherwise marking them with a pencil. Once the player has picked their numbers, they must bring their card back to the clerk at the keno booth. The clerk will then issue a receipt after recording the player's numbers.
After picking numbers and recording them at the keno booth, the player will then watch either a "big board" in which winning keno numbers will light up or on a video monitor showing the selected numbers. As the winning numbers light up, the player usually marks them on his or her card with a bright-colored marker. The amount of numbers the player originally picked that match winning numbers of a particular drawing will determine if any money is won and, if so, how much. The winning ticket needs to be taken to the keno booth immediately if it is an individual game ticket, as drawings usually take place every five minutes. If the player tries to redeem a winning ticket when the next drawing starts, it is void and no money is paid out.
To avoid having a void ticket, a keno player can purchase a "multi-race" ticket with the same picked numbers on anywhere from 2 to 20 tickets. When the maximum number of games (matching the number of tickets) is finished, the player can then redeem any winnings and avoid the peril of a void ticket. Another option is the "stray and play" ticket, which is usually a number of games greater than 30. Unlike standard keno tickets, the "stray and play" doesn't have to be redeemed immediately and is often good for up to a year after purchase.
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