According to scrolls dating back to Ancient China, Cheung Leung of the Han Dynasty created a game very similar to Keno around 200AD to fund the war that had been going on for several years. the funds for the war were getting low and the people of his city were beginning to refuse to contribute any more of their hard earned wages to it. He decided a game of chance would be the best avenue to creating revenue for his army.
He devised the game using the first 120 symbols of the well known poem, “The Thousand Character Classic”, which had been used prior as a romantic numbering system, as no two characters were alike. The game became so successful that it was adopted throughout China, even being used to help fund the Great Wall of China. The game also became known as the “White Pigeon Game”, as carrier pigeons were often used to relay the winning numbers to remote towns and villages. The game continued as such until the introduction to the Western Hemisphere.
In the 19th century, the Chinese brought their Keno game to North America when they came over to build the railroads. The game soon became known as the “Chinese Lottery” for it’s use of Chinese Symbols. The game was adopted to numbers, and the amount of numbers dropped from 120 to 80, in the city of San Francisco, where it caught on with the local population.
The name of the game didn’t evolve from “Chinese Lottery” until the early 20th century, when gambling was legalized in the state of Nevada. The legalization of gambling did not cover lotteries, so the name of the game was changed to “Horse Race Keno”, playing on the idea that the numbers were horses and you wanted your horse to come in first. Shortly after, Nevada placed a tax on all Off Track betting, so to avoid the tax, the name was shortened to Keno, as it is known as today.