Keno comes to Asheville as controversial lottery game gets established in N.C.


Keno locations in Asheville, via the N.C. Education Lottery.

Keno, a controversial new N.C. Education Lottery game, is popping up around Asheville as the game gets established around the state. Time to break it down:

The start: The state’s lottery commission approved Keno last year. It debuted at the end of October 2018. There are hundreds of locations around the state to play. In Buncombe County, there are currently about 16 locations to play Keno. The locations are mostly gas station convenience stores. One bar, O’Henry’s in downtown Asheville, is advertising Keno. Expect more restaurants and bars to sign on.

The money: State lottery officials last year estimated that Keno would bring in $80 million in sales for the 2018 fiscal year, the first year of the game.

The drawings: Carolina Keno is “draw” game, and it happens fast. Unlike Powerball, Mega Millions or Carolina Cash 5, where winning numbers are picked twice a week or twice a day, Keno has drawings every five minutes. They start at 5:05 a.m. and end at 1:45 a.m.

The game: A player can bet between $1 and $10 when choosing between four and 10 numbers that are called “spots.” Twenty numbers between 1 and 80 are selected during each drawing. The odds get longer when a bettor plays more spots. The top prize is $1 million. A Raleigh couple became the first to win $100,000 at Keno last month, according to lottery officials. The approximate odds of winning a $100,000 prize are 1 in 8.91 million.

More on the game: Keno is seen as a “social” game that groups of people play together. It also has a video bingo or video poker vibe to it as people lay down their bets, then can hang around to watch their numbers drawn, with the knowledge that they’ve got a new chance to win every five minutes.

The opposition: That combination of speed and risk has led a number of groups to oppose the approval of Keno in North Carolina, arguing that it can be an addictive form of gambling.

Flashback: North Carolina lawmakers spent years fighting to get rid of illegal video gambling machines that were hidden away in the back of gas station convenience stores in the 1990s. Video gambling led to corruption, as folks in Asheville well remember. Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford was convicted on federal corruption charges in a sad tale of taking bribes and looking the other way as illegal video poker machine owners and operators raked in hundreds and thousands of dollars from gamblers.