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Keno originates from China at about 200BC and was then played with 120 Chinese symbols. It is also known as "The White Dove Game" and its mythology even says that proceeds from Keno games were even used to fund the Great Wall of China. The Keno game itself is credited to one man, Cheung Leung, who is said to have invented Keno. In his town, where locals were unable to contribute to the war effort it is said that proceeds for Keno games helped the city supply the army with essential provisions that enabled them from protecting it. As such it is revered as having done quite a lot that you wouldn't expect a gambling game to do.

Following its invention the game began to spread throughout the rest of China and became something of a national obsession. The reason it is known as the white pigeon game is that white pigeons were commonly used to spread the results from big cities to small villages.

The original version of the white pigeon game is different to the one that is so popular today. In ancient China it was actually a poem that was used to teach kids how to read and write, so the game was also related to education. The symbols were then arranged in such a way that repeated play made the poem easier and easier to recall. Today instead we use the numbers 1-80. In the 19th century the game spread to the United States by the Chinese construction workers that emigrated to the U.S it then got the name Chinese lottery. This is where the Chinese symbols were replaced with numbers and reduced from 120 to 80.

In fact its rich history does not stop there seeing as when it first spread to the United States it was actually made illegal under U.S anti gambling laws. Then in 1931 as American legalized its lotteries it was made legal. This is roughly when the new symbols started making an appearance, with horse symbols causing it to earn the name the “racing game”.

When the U.S treasury began to tax gambling a few years after the legalization of lottery games the game took on its modern moniker and came once and for all to be known as Keno. Keno is not actually a Chinese word. It derives from the French word for the number 5 which refers to the five winning numbers in a game of Keno.


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