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Craps is a game where players make wagers on the outcome of the roll, or a series of rolls, of a pair of dice. The craps table at any casino is always packed because this isn’t your typical game of dice. Saying that craps is a casino game played with dice is like telling people that Mount Rushmore is a sculpture of some dead guys. Both claims are technically true but neither one really suggests the intensity of what people experience when they make the trip to a casino.

From the Table to the Streets

At the casino, craps is played at a specialized table with a fabric surface. The table is about the size of the average bathtub, and along one side of it is the casino’s table bank. The opposite side contains a long mirror. Because the table is U-shaped, approximately eight players can stand around.  

A craps table is run by four casino employees:

  • The boxman is the seated employee behind the casino’s bank and is in charge of managing the chips.
  • Two base dealers stand at either side of the boxman to collect and play the bets of the players on their side of the table.
  • The stickman stands directly across from the boxman, takes and pays the bets from the center of the table, calls out the results of each roll, and is responsible for moving the dice across the layout with a long wooden stick.

Craps can also be played without the table. This version is known as Street Craps and requires nothing more than a pair of dice.

Craps Betting Terms

Craps is a game with distinct terminology. Before we get into the way to place your bets, take a quick minute to learn the betting terms associated with the game.

  • Bank: The stacks of chips that the casino has on the craps table while the game is going on.
  • Come bet: Bets made after the Come Out roll to ascertain another point number for the player. These bets win on rolls of 7 or 11, and lose on rolls of 2, 3 and 12.
  • Come Out roll: The first roll that starts a new game. 
  • Crap: The numbers 2, 3 and 12.
  • Crap out: Getting a 2, 3 or 12 on the first roll.
  • Don’t Come bet: To win on a roll of 2 or 3, lose on rolls of 7 or 11, and push on a roll of 12. This establishes a Don’t Come point for the player on their next roll. If you do get a Don’t Come point, you can lay free odds against it.
  • Don’t Pass bet: A bet made during a Come Out roll. This bet wins with rolls of 2 or 3, loses on 7 or 11, pushes on 12, and creates a Don’t Pass point for the player on the next roll. Following a Don’t Pass point number, a 7 must be rolled before the point number for the Don’t Pass bet can win. 
  • Line bet: Any bet made on the Pass Line.
  • Pass Line bet: This bet wins when 7 or 11 happen on the Come Out roll. Losses occur when 2, 3 or 12 show up on the Come Out roll. Should a box number be thrown, it needs to be repeated before the 7 in order for the Pass Line bet to win. Pass Lines are the most common bets in craps.
  • Point: When 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 or 10 is rolled on the Come Out. 
  • Seven Out: The losing roll of 7 that ends your turn.

Making Craps Bets

Craps bets are the driving force behind craps action. The game would be pretty dull if everybody just stood around waiting for an outcome.

Bets are based on the roll of a pair of dice. Once a shooter has established a point, they will on average roll eight more times before setting the Pass Line bets one way or another (by making the Point or sevening out). Fortunately for adrenalin junkies, craps only gets more exciting after the point has been established.

How do I bet in Craps?

Betting in craps comes in different forms and there are different types of wagers you can make. When it’s your turn, you become the shooter. This means you’re the one rolling the dice and you are required to make a Pass Line bet or a Don’t Pass Line bet. 

This is a fundamental craps bet because it signifies a wager for the shooter to win. The bet must satisfy the table minimum at the very least and the table maximum at the most. On a Pass Line bet, the house has only a 1.41 percent edge. On a Don’t Pass Line bet, the house edge is 1.4 percent. The majority of craps players bet the Pass Line and are called “right bettors” because they are betting with the shooter. Those who bet the Don’t Pass Line are called “wrong bettors” since they are betting against the shooter.

A chunk of the craps table is reserved for Come/Don’t Come bets. These are essentially the same as Pass Line/Don’t Pass Line bets except that they always treat the next roll as a Come Out roll. 

Let’s say you’re the shooter and you start by putting $5 on the Pass Line, but you didn’t roll a natural (a 7 or 11). Instead, your Come Out roll was a 4, so to make your point (and win your Pass Line bet), you need to roll another 4 before you roll a 7. Since you are twice as likely to roll a 7 as you are to roll a 4, you may already feel your $5 bet on the Pass Line slipping away.

You’re not allowed to remove that $5 bet, but you can take the sting out of sevening out (losing your first roll) by putting $5 on the Come. A Come bet treats the next roll as a Come Out roll. If you throw a 7, then you win your Come bet at the same time that you lose your Pass Line bet because as far as the Pass Line is concerned, you just rolled a natural (a 7 or 11 on the Come Out). 

Essentially, Come/Don’t Come bets allow you to play embedded rounds of craps within a single round, each of which can have a different point than the one established by the shooter’s real Come Out roll.

Don’t Come Bets

Let’s return to the earlier scenario with the shooter taking a slightly different approach. After putting $5 on the Pass Line, let’s say you roll a 4. You don’t feel good about your chances of making your point before sevening out, but you also don’t feel a natural coming on the next roll. You decide to hedge (protecting yourself against making the wrong choice) by putting $5 on Don’t Come.

You then roll a 10, which doesn’t settle either bet. You still need to roll a 4 before a 7 to win your Pass Line bet, but the point for the Come/Don’t Come bet that you just placed has now been established as 10. If you had placed a Come bet, then you would want to see a 10 before a 7, but since you placed a Don’t Come bet, you now want to crap out before rolling a 10. You are as likely to roll a 4 as you are to roll a 10, but still twice as likely to roll a 7 as either of those two established points. If your next roll is a 7, then you lose the Pass Line bet (of course), but you win the Don’t Come bet because you crapped out. 

Getting involved in too many Come/Don’t Come bets can easily leave players confused about which outcomes are desirable. But, don’t assume that these bets are bad just because they can be confusing. In fact, Come/Don’t Come bets have the same low house edge (<1.5%) as Pass/Don’t Pass bets. Since these bets are completely a matter of luck, it doesn’t really matter how confusing they are.

What is the Best Craps Strategy?

Experts agree that there are three foolproof strategies for winning at craps. 

1.    Use loaded dice. These dice work wonders up until someone notices you’re cheating, which is when you should probably run. 

2.    The second craps strategy you can try is to steal Doc Brown’s DeLorean and travel back in time to the moment before any given roll to place your bet on an outcome you already know. The problem with that is that once you’ve stolen the time machine, you won’t have time to play craps since you’ll have to make sure Biff doesn’t get his hands on Grays Sports Almanac.

3.    The third way to win at craps is to open a casino and let people play at your craps table according to the standard rules of the game. It doesn’t matter how lucky those people are because if they stay at the table long enough, they will eventually lose all their money.

Obviously, craps is a game of chance and there are no clear ways to win. However, you can try the following to ensure that you have a good time playing and exercise some mathematical skill:

  • Stick to Pass/Don’t Pass or Come/Don’t Come bets.
  • Support those wagers with the largest craps odds bets the house will allow.
  • Define in advance how much money you need to accumulate to walk away a winner.
  • Leave the craps table as soon as you lose your bankroll or hit your target. If you find yourself saying, “I know I reached my $1,000 goal, but I’m hot, so I’ll keep going,” then prepare to lose even more money. 

Should I Make Craps Odds Bets?

The magic of craps odds bets is that even though they can only be made in support of Pass/Don’t Pass or Come/Don’t Come bets that have already sacrificed a small edge to the house, the odds bets themselves yield no advantage to the house or the player. Just about every other possible wager in the casino favors the house by some margin, but odds bets in craps offer gamers a level playing field. 

Craps odds bets yield rewards that are perfectly proportioned to the risk assumed when placing them. If the odds are 2 to 1 against an outcome (such as rolling a 4 before a 7), then the house pays 2 to 1 on a winning wager. You will lose twice as often as you’ll win, but you’ll win twice as much as you risk, which means that if you had an infinite bankroll and an infinite amount of time to place odds bets against a casino, you could expect to break even forever. That’s a far better position to be in than just about any other gambling opportunity afforded by casinos. But since casinos are in the business of relying on a house edge, they won’t let you just come in and make an odds bet. 

You can only place odds bets after you have already sacrificed a small edge to the house by placing a Pass/Don’t Pass or Come/Don’t Come bet. And that’s exactly what you should do if you’re serious about maximizing your winnings (or, more realistically, minimizing your losses). 

Most casinos allow craps players to place 2x odds bets in support of Pass/Don’t Pass or Come/Don’t Come bets. In such cases, if you put $5 on the Pass Line, you can place an odds bet of $10 as soon as the point has been established. Some casinos allow 3x odds bets (for a maximum wager of $15) or 5x odds bets (for a maximum wager of $25). The smart play is to make the maximum odds bet allowed in support of your initial Pass bet. Since odds bets give the house a zero percent edge, every dollar you place in an odds bet whittles away at the edge you conceded by making the Pass/Don’t Pass bet in the first place. The bigger your odds bet, the more the house edge approaches zero on the packaged wager of the Pass/Don’t Pass bet plus the odds bet.

When is a 7 a Lucky Number in Craps?

Seven is the most important number in craps, but it has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with probability. If you roll two standard dice, you’ll produce 7s more often than any other total.

No matter what number comes up on the first die, there is always a number on the second die that can bring the total to 7 (1+6, 2+5, etc.). That’s not true of any other number between 2 and 12. If the first die comes up as a 2 or higher, then there is no way to achieve a total of 2 because the other die will add at least 1. Similarly, if the first die comes up as a 5 or lower, there is no way to roll a 12 because the most you can get from the second die is 6. The closer a number is to 7, the more likely it is to come up, but 7 is the king.

However, there is a time during the game when 7 is considered a lucky number. Let’s say you’ve just placed a $5 bet on the Pass Line and it’s your very first roll (the Come Out roll), then 7 is good luck. When you roll a 7 or an 11 on a Come Out (a natural), all bets on the Pass Line are paid EVEN money.

Conversely, if your Come Out roll is a 2, 3 or 12, then everyone with money on the Pass Line just lost. If your Come Out roll is anything other than a 2, 3, 7, 11 or 12, then the bets on the Pass Line remain in play because whatever number the dice totaled (4, 5, 6, 8, 9 or 10) has now been established as the Point.

History of Craps

Because dice are one of the oldest gambling interests known to mankind, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how far back the game of craps goes. Nevertheless, historians can trace craps to an earlier game called hazard that was popular in Europe at least as far back as the medieval period. Fun fact, dice used to be made from the bones of dead animals, especially pig knuckles.  In the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer (considered the father of English literature by people who like boring books) referred to dice as “bones” in his writing. The phrase “roll the bones” first appeared in print in 1897 specifically in reference to the game of hazard (the precursor to craps). Furthermore, the popularity of hazard surged in England in the 1700s when Falstaff, the buffoon penned by Shakespeare, made a quip about playing dice in Henry IV. 

Where Did the Name Craps Come From?

In the decades before the American Civil War, a Louisiana playboy named Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville introduced a simplified version of hazard to the community of gamblers in New Orleans. The reason craps is called such is because it’s a shortened version of the word crapaud, which is French for “toad.” The game is named after a leathery-skinned, short-legged frog because when de Marigny and his boys were playing the game on a street corner, they looked like toads in the way they were hunched over the dice.

The Origins of the Modern Game

Once de Marigny presented crapaud in New Orleans, an American dice manufacturer named John H. Winn introduced the Pass/Don’t Pass mechanic in the 1860s. With that alternation (along with a handful of other tweaks), Winn gave us the version of craps we play today.