Even blindfolded in a crowded casino, anyone can find the craps table when the dice are hot. Just follow the screams, shouts, and cheers. Jackpot winners on slot machines may be the loudest individuals in the house, but nothing is quite like the collective excitement that builds at a craps table. Whereas blackjack players are quiet studies in concentration, craps players let loose as they win or lose together.
Conversely, nothing is quite as dead as a craps table when the dice are cold. At peak hours, when you see three or four somber individuals at the big table for 24, you can be sure the loser 7s have been coming up all too frequently.
Craps is the fastest-moving of casino table games. An average speed at a busy blackjack table runs around 60 hands per hour, but the house expects about 100 decisions per hour at craps. That, along with the tendency of craps players to have several bets working at once, means that craps requires a larger bankroll than other table games. And craps offers the widest variety of bets in the casino, with dozens of wagering options on the table.
All this can be pretty intimidating to a newcomer. But casino games were not designed to chase customers away, and craps is easier than it looks at first glance. Yes, there are an enormous number of bets available, but only a few are really worth playing. And those few are among the best bets in the casino. In this article, we'll discuss the fundamentals of craps, as well as the wide variety of bets and which ones to place at the right times to increase your odds of winning. We will begin with the layout of the table and the common terminology used for a game.
The Table and Personnel
Most craps tables today are double layouts. At the center of one side of the table is the boxman, who supervises the game and takes cash collected by the dealers and deposits it in a drop box. Directly opposite him is the stickman, who uses a stick to push the dice to the shooter. The stickman controls the tempo of the game. He calls out the results of each roll and keeps up a continuous patter, urging players to get their bets down.
At the center of the table between the boxman and stickman are boxes for proposition bets -- one-roll bets. Also here are areas for hard-way bets -- betting that a 6, for example, will be rolled as two 3s before either a 7 or any other 6 is rolled.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
On the sides are two dealers who take bets, pay off winners, and collect losing bets. The players encircle these side areas. In front of the players is the "Pass" line, a bar that extends all around the table for players who are betting with the shooter. A smaller, "Don't Pass" bar is for players betting against the shooter. The areas marked "Come" and "Don't Come" are for bets similar to Pass and Don't Pass but are placed at different times of the game.
Also on the layout in front of the players is an area marked "Field" for a one-roll bet that one of seven numbers will show up. Boxes marked 4, 5, Six, 8, Nine, and 10 are for "Place" or "Buy" bets that the number chosen will be rolled before the next 7. Six and nine are spelled out because players are standing on both sides of the table -- no need to wonder if that's a 6 or an upside-down 9. Down in the corner at either end of the double layout are boxes marked 6 and 8 -- the "Big 6" and "Big 8" bets that a 6 or 8 will roll before a 7.
Craps Lingo at a Glance
"Comin' out. Bet those hard ways. How about the C and E? Hot roll comin', play the field. Any mo' on yo?"
A fast-talking stickman goes hand in hand with the rapid game of craps. Listening to the chatter, a novice player may have no idea what it's all about. In the example above, the stickman is letting players know that the next roll is a come-out and is urging bets on the hard ways; the one-roll proposition on craps or 11 (C and E); the one-roll bet on the field of 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, and 12; and on the one-roll bet on 11 (yo, or yo-leven).
Once the roll has been made, you'll hear something like, "Winner seven!" (a 7 has been rolled, Pass line bets win) or "Seven, line away, pay the Don't" (a 7 has been rolled, Pass line bets lose and Don't Pass bets win). Many casinos prefer this call to "Loser seven," meaning the same thing, because they want to emphasize the winning Don't bets without forcing the ugly word "loser" into the minds of customers.
Every stickman has his or her own style, and some invent calls for dice combinations. But most calls are well-established throughout the United States, and below is some common game terminology to be aware of.
Craps Trivia and Superstitions
Opposite sides of dice -- tops and bottoms -- always add up to 7. That is, 1 is opposite 6, 2 opposite 5, and 3 opposite 4. Adjacent sides never add up to 7.
Dice can be rotated so that 1, 2, and 3 come into view in succession, then turned so that 4, 5, and 6 come up in rotation. It's an anticheating device, so that players and casino personnel know dice with all numbers are in the game.
Casinos do not use dice with round corners. Modern dice have square corners and are manufactured to a tolerance of 1/10,000th of an inch.
Dice made from sheep's knuckles have been found at archaeological sites, including a die with 4s on two faces found at a Roman site.
Superstitious players consider it bad luck to change dice in the middle of the roll. If, in the middle of a hot roll, the shooter throws one or both of the dice off the table, he'll often call "Same dice," just to make sure.
Don't be surprised if the table clears if a player yells out "Seven." The word is considered unthinkable, let alone unspeakable.
A penny thrown under the table is supposed to be good luck. More likely, it's just a lost penny.
It's supposed to be bad luck to throw both dice in the air while preparing to shoot. Toss one up and you'll look like an old pro; toss both and you'll have 'em heading for the exits.
Knowing the table layout, terminology, and common calls are a good start, but it's also important to know how to bet. Players have dozens of wagering options available to them and they need to make wagering decisions within seconds. We will discuss the various types of bets, and when to use them, in the next section.
Craps Betting and Etiquette
The betting sequence starts with the come-out roll, which is the first roll of the dice. The come-out roll is the time to place Pass bets, by placing a chip or chips on the Pass line directly in front of you, or Don't Pass bets, by placing a chip or chips on the Don't Pass bar. Pass bets are betting with the shooter, and Don't Pass bets are against the shooter. A player designated the shooter then flings the dice to the opposite wall of the table. If the come-out roll is 7 or 11, Pass bets win and Don't Pass bets lose. If the come-out roll is 2, 3, or 12, that's craps, and Pass bets lose. Don't Pass bets win on 2 or 3, but 12 is "barred"; Don't Pass bets neither win nor lose if the come-out roll is 12.
If the come-out is any other number, that becomes the "point." If the point number is rolled again before the next 7, Pass bets win and Don't Pass bets lose. If a 7 comes up before the point number, Don't Pass bets win and Pass bets lose. When the shooter "sevens out" -- fails to make the point -- the dice are passed to a new shooter. Opportunity to shoot is passed around the table clockwise.
If the shooter is coming out, a plastic disk, black side up with the word "Off" in white, will be placed in a corner of the layout, usually in a box marked "Don't come." If the disk has been flipped over to its white side, labeled "On," and placed in a numbered box, that number is the current point, and the upcoming roll is not a come-out.
"Field" bets -- for a one-roll bet that one of seven numbers will show up -- don't have to wait for the come-out; they may be placed before any roll by placing a chip or chips in the field area. Likewise, you may bet propositions or hard ways before any roll by putting a chip or chips on the layout and telling the dealer what bet you want.
The Best Bets
Although you may bet on any two-dice combination you can imagine, newcomers should limit themselves to the handful of bets that offer the lowest house edge:
Pass/don't pass: The basic bets in the game, as explained above, are also the best bets, especially when coupled with free odds. The house has only a 1.41 percent edge on a Pass bet and 1.4 percent on Don't Pass. Most players bet the Pass line, partly because they like the camaraderie of rooting for the shooter to make the point. Pass-line players are called "right bettors," as opposed to the "wrong bettors" who play Don't Pass and bet against the shooter.
The come-out is the best part of the sequence for a Pass bet -- there are six ways to roll 7 with two dice and two ways to roll 11, for eight winning rolls on the come-out. And there are only four losing rolls -- one way each to make 2 or 12 and two to make 3. Conversely, the come-out is the danger point for Don't Pass bets -- three ways to win, since the 12 is barred, eight to lose. Once a point is established, the Don't Pass bet is the favorite to win. Pass/Don't Pass bets are paid off at even money; that is, a winning $5 bet will return your original $5 plus $5 in winnings.
Come/don't come: These are the same as Pass/Don't Pass, except they are placed on rolls other than the come-out. For example, if 5 is established as the point on the come-out, you now may place a Come bet by placing a chip or chips in the area marked "Come." If the next number rolled is a 7 or 11, the Come bet wins; if it is 2, 3, or 12, it loses; if it is any other number, that becomes the point for your Come bet. If a 9 is rolled, for example, the dealer moves your wager into the box marked "Nine," and if another 9 is rolled before the next 7, your Come bet wins. If the 7 comes up first, the Come bet loses. If you wish, you may then place another Come bet. Don't Come bets work exactly like Don't Pass -- they lose if the next roll is 7 or 11, win on 2 or 3, push (neither win nor lose) on 12. If a point number is rolled, Don't Come bets lose if that number comes up again before the next 7 and win if the 7 comes first.
Free odds: This is paid off at true odds and is the only dead-even bet, with no house edge, in the casino. Once a point is established, a player may back a Pass or Come wager with a bet of an equal amount. This is done by placing a chip or chips directly behind a Pass-line wager. On a Come bet, the player must place the chips on the layout and tell the dealer it is odds on the Come bet. The dealer will move the odds bet into the same box as the Come number.
If the point number is rolled before the next 7, the Pass or Come wager will be paid off at even money, but the odds bet will be paid at true odds of rolling that number -- 6-5 on a 6 or 8, 3-2 on 5 or 9, or 2-1 on 4 or 10.
The combination of a Pass or Come bet with an odds bet lowers the house advantage to .8 percent. Modern casinos commonly offer double odds, in which the player may bet twice his original Pass or Come wager at true odds. This lowers the house edge even more, to .6 percent. Competition has sparked ever-increasing free odds offers. Some casinos accept free odds wagers of five, ten, and even 100 times the pass or come bet.
Don't Pass/Don't Come bettors may lay odds after a point is established, giving the house the same odds the house gives a Pass/Come bettor on an odds bet. For example, if the point is 4 or 10, a bettor with $5 on the Don't Pass line can bet another $10 to win $5 if a 7 is rolled before the point (2-to-1 odds). That might not sound like a good deal, but remember that once a point is established, Don't Come bettors will win more often than they lose. Don't Come bettors who lay odds also lower the house edge to .7 percent with single odds, .5 percent with double odds.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Place/buy bets: Instead of waiting for a number to be established for Pass or Come bets, you may place the number by putting chips on the layout and telling the dealer what number you want. If that number comes up before the next 7, you win. The player may ask the dealer to take these bets down at any time, which cannot be done with Pass/Come bets. Pass/Come bets remain in effect until a decision is reached.
After 7, the numbers next most likely to be rolled are 6 and 8. There are five ways to roll each of these numbers, compared with six ways to make 7. So the true odds are 6-5. If the player "places" 6 or 8 in multiples of $6, the house will pay winning wagers at odds of 7-6. That leaves a house percentage of 1.52 percent--not as good as Pass/Come with free odds, but better than most other bets in the casino and an acceptable alternative for a bettor who wants quick action on these two numbers.
The other percentages aren't as favorable: The casino pays 9-5 on 4 or 10, for a house edge of 6.67 percent, and pays 7-5 on 5 or 9 for an edge of 4 percent.
Alternatively, the player may "buy" a number by paying the house a 5 percent commission on the wager. In exchange, the casino pays Buy bets at true odds. Since the house edge is less than 5 percent on 5, 6, 8, and 9, it doesn't pay to buy these numbers. However, buying the 4 or 10 can reduce the house edge to 4.76 percent.
Unless the player tells the dealer his numbers are "working," Place and Buy bets are usually off on a come-out roll. The bets will stay in the appropriate numbered box, but if the shooter rolls a 6 on the come-out, there will be no payoff for Place bets on 6. This is so that a 7 that's a winner on the Pass line does not also wipe out all the Place bets.
| House Payout Odds For Winning Wagers
Other Possible Bets
Hard ways: There are four hard-way numbers -- 4, 6, 8, and 10. The number is rolled the hard way when both dice come up on the same number -- that is, a hard 6 is two 3s. On a hard-way wager, the number chosen must come up hard before a 7 or before the number shows up any other combination. House edge is 11.1 percent on the 4 or 10, 9.09 percent on the 6 or 8.
Proposition bets: These are one-roll bets. A bet on any craps, for example, wins if the next roll is 2, 3, or 12; it loses if any other number is rolled. House percentages are huge: 16.67 percent on any 7, 13.9 percent on 2, 13.9 percent on 12, 11.1 percent on 3, 11.1 percent on any craps, 16.67 percent on 2 or 12, 16.67 percent on 3 or 11, 11.1 percent on 11. These are all very fast ways to lose money. Avoid them.
Odds for One-Roll Propositions
Field: Another one-roll bet, the field pays even money on 3, 4, 9, 10, or 11 and 2-1 on 2 or 12. With so many numbers working, this is a very popular bet, but the house edge is 5.6 percent. A few casinos pay 3-1 on the 12, lowering the edge to 2.7 percent. That's not great by craps standards, but it takes the field bet below the house percentage in most other games.
Big 6/Big 8: These work much like placing the 6 or 8 -- a Big 6 bet wins if a 6 is rolled before the next 7. Unlike the place bets, Big 6 and Big 8 are usually paid at even money instead of 7-6. That gives the house a 9.09 percent edge. Don't make these bets -- place the 6 or 8 instead.
| House Payout Odds for One-Roll Propositions
||Ways to Roll
2,3, or 12
To buy chips, place currency on the layout before the shooter is given the dice, and ask the dealer for "change only." Do not try to hand cash to the dealer -- the dealer is not allowed to take cash or chips directly from a customer's hand.
You may make Pass/Don't Pass bets, the odds bets backing them, and Come bets yourself by placing chips in the appropriate spaces on the layout in front of you. You also may make field bets by placing chips in the field yourself. On other bets, place chips on the layout and ask the dealer to make the bet. Once you've made your bets, pick your hands up out of the table area. Remember, craps moves fast, and you don't want to disrupt the game by deflecting the dice with your hands.The table has rails all the way around for players to store their chips. Keep yours directly in front of you, and keep your eye on them. Some players have been known to sneak a chip when another player is not looking.
When you are the shooter, you must fling the dice hard enough to hit the far wall of the table. The table supervisors will want to see the dice in the air -- you may not skid them along the layout.
Cheer the shooter, root for the point to come up, be as loud as you like -- provided you are betting with the shooter. Don't Pass bettors are not encouraged to join in the revelry. They are betting opposite most of the players at the table, and right bettors have been known to take it personally when a wrong bettor openly roots for them to lose. A player who lets loose with a loud "Come on, seven!" is likely to endure glares or worse from the rest of the table.
You'll be facing the minimum house edge at all times if you start with a Pass or Don't Pass, followed by two Come or Don't Come bets, all backed with odds bets as large as the house will allow. If you're on a winning streak, you might increase to three Come bets following the Pass bet.
Alternatively, players anxious to have the most common numbers working could start with a Pass bet, and if the point number is anything other than 6 or 8, then make place bets on those numbers. But keep in mind that the percentages aren't as good this way, and the Pass/Come method will have better results in the long run.
Craps requires a larger bankroll than most casino games. At a table with $5 minimum bets in a casino offering double odds, a player making the best percentage wagers at any given time will have $5 on the Pass line backed with $10 in odds, and perhaps two Come bets with odds in the same amounts. That's $45 on the table, all of which could be wiped out by one 7 roll. A player making $5 minimum bets at blackjack or baccarat will never be in position to lose so much at once. On the other hand, if the point numbers are 4, 5, and 6, and all come up before a 7, the player could see a return of $62 plus the original $45. Craps is the table game with the most potential for fast, large wins.
A few gambling jurisdictions have $1 minimum tables with proposition bets for as little as 25 cents. But in much of the country, $5 minimum tables are as low as they go. A couple of bad sequences at these tables can wipe out a $100 bill in no time. To have enough cushion to wait out the inevitable bad streaks, figure on buying in at a $5 table for at least $100, with another $500 in reserve for the session.
Craps is a fast-moving table game. The dice roll constantly, and players need to know the ins and outs of the various types of bets so they can place them within seconds without second guessing themselves. The guidelines in this article can help you make those quick wager decisions.
©Publications International, Ltd.