Beginners Guide to the Entertaining Casino Game Called Craps

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Craps Table with dice throw

Unlike many other casino table games, the origins of craps are fairly well understood. The game was originally named “Krabs” way back in 1788, which is a title I suspect they would probably have stuck with had they known how amusing this updated name would become in later centuries!

The game is a simplification of a European game named “Hazard” which dates back as far as the Crusades (circa 11th century). It was brought from London to New Orleans around the turn of the 19th century by an official chap with the longest name ever, Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville, who was a young gambler with a family of wealthy landowners in colonial Louisiana.

In the original game of Hazard, the dice shooter could choose any number from five to nine as their main number. Bernard devised a simplified version of the game which fixed the main number at seven – the mathematically optimal choice. Americans had never warmed to Hazard, and even Bernard’s simplified version initially found little love from members of the upper classes.

Where the game did become popular was with the local poor population, who were already big fans of dice-based games anyway. Krabs made its way up the Mississippi River and its tributaries, a favourite of field hands and deckhands, eventually becoming so popular that a street was named after the game in the newly established subdivision of New Orleans – Rue de Craps.

For decades after it first became a popular gambling game, craps was abused by casinos using unfair dice to cheat punters. A diemaker named John H. Winn from Philadelphia sought to remedy this by improving the betting layout to include the ability to bet on both Don’t Pass and Pass. This was so important because previously the odds of the game were heavily skewed towards certain numbers, making the game easy to take advantage of with a simple pair of crooked dice.

An interesting aside…

Craps is sometimes used as a street hustle type game, similar to three card monty. It is often referred to as “Floating Craps” when played in this way and will usually be operated on portable tables on the backs of pick-up trucks or similarly well-thought-out locations that allow the equipment to be moved from location to location quickly.

Floating Craps was demonstrated effectively on the British television show The Real Hustle, a clip of which is available on YouTube. It has also featured in a Broadway musical named Guys and Dolls.

How to Play Craps

Craps is a die betting game where you place wagers on throws of two dice. You can bet with or against the other players, or for or against the house. While craps is a simple game in some respects – it is just shooting dice after all – learning how to bet on the game can seem very complicated at first. The huge number of betting options makes the game seem very intimidating to players who have not played the game before, even though little strategy is involved.

The reason Craps seems so complex is she sheer number of confusingly labelled bets on the layout. This is all the more curious considering that it is often the strangest bets that have the worst odds and will never even be used by an experienced player who is familiar with the odds and house edge of each of the different bets!

Whether you want to play online or in the casino, you’ll need to get familiar with the structure of the game. Let’s start by looking at how it works in the casino first.

Craps Table Layout

Typical Craps Table Layout

Participants

Around the craps table you will find three groups of participants; The Shooter is the player who is currently in charge of rolling the dice, and this opportunity will be given to each of the players surrounding the table as betting rounds progress. In order for a roll to be considered legal, the shooter must ensure that both dice bounce off the opposite wall of the table. Clearly, these formalities are not relevant when playing online – the computer will handle rolling the virtual dice for you.

Secondly, we have the dealers, or more accurately just casino employees, as they have many jobs at the craps table. Depending on the size of the game you might find up to five members of staff overseeing a game of craps, although three or four is much more common.

The game requires a boxman, who acts as a supervisor, and a stickman, who has a number of jobs including calling out the results of each roll and dealing with the placing and paying of proposition bets. The remaining staff are regular dealers, and at least two are usually required to ensure somebody is always available to handle the changing of money, keeping an eye on the felt, colouring up chips, and various other tasks. It’s easy to see why casinos would rather offer such a labour-intensive game online!

The final group of participants is the remaining players aside from the shooter. These players are eagerly awaiting their turn to throw the dice, and may choose just to watch the game in progress until it is their turn to be the shooter. They can also place bets on the outcome of the current shooter’s rolls. In a virtual online game, you are of course both the shooter and the regular player.

Order of Play

  • The shooter initially chooses to make a bet on either the Pass or Don’t Pass line. Betting on the pass means wagering that you will be successful in either scoring a natural – an instant win – or landing a point. Betting on don’t pass is to wager that you will “crap out” with a 2, 3 or 12.
  • The shooter will then roll the dice, making sure to use enough force to see both dice bounce off the opposing side of the table. This is referred to as the come-out roll.
  • The first round of bets on Pass or Don’t Pass will now be settled according to the outcome of the come-out roll. If the player crapped out or scored a natural, this round is now over. Otherwise, the player has landed a point, and the game continues.
  • The point numbers are 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10. Once a point has been established, the shooter will now roll the dice again in the hope of hitting their point number once again. If they fail, they can try again – as many times as necessary. If they roll a 7 at any point, they lose and the round is over.
  • The dice are then passed in a clockwise motion to the next player, who now becomes the shooter.

Placing Bets – The Come Out Roll

Whilst the shooter must make a bet on Pass or Don’t Pass before their come-out roll, other players are free to make these bets or wait to see if the shooter scores a point instead. It’s mathematically a good idea to wait before placing many possible bets, just in case the shooter craps out.

In truth, this is where the game starts to get a little confusing, and is one aspect where playing the game online is ideal, as only the bets which are currently available will allow you to place chips on them, and a tooltip will usually tell you the odds for that bet too as you are placing your chips.

After the Come Out – Natural, Craps or Point

First let’s talk about the dream result, the natural – if the shooter rolls a seven or eleven, this is called a natural and the shooter automatically wins the current round. Pass bets are now paid out as well as bets on the Pass Line and any wagers placed on the numbers 7 or 11.

Then we have the nightmare scenario – hitting one of the craps, which is the opposite of a natural. If the shooter rolls a two, three or twelve this is referred to as crapping out. The shooter automatically loses the current round, but if they chose to bet on Don’t Pass, they could still make a profit.

Either of these two scenarios ends the round immediately, and the dice pass to the next shooter. Where things get a little more interesting is the third scenario called hitting a point number. The shooter needs to roll a 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 or 10 to establish a point, and hitting any of these makes that number the target for the remainder of the round.

Types of Bets in Craps

So, that’s the way the dice roll, but how about the betting? You can make craps as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, and whilst there are a lot of confusingly named – and confusingly calculated – bets, you really only need to memorize a few of the most important ones. Remember that some casinos might offer some or all of the bets listed below, and maybe even a couple more not listed here.

Pass line or Don’t Pass

Pass line or Don’t Pass are the most important bets to know, and the truth is that as far as making the most money is concerned, sticking to these bets and simply betting on the result of the come-out roll is mathematically the smartest thing to do. You may imagine there would be a significant difference in the house edge between these two bets because a pass bet is wagering on two common numbers whereas don’t pass is betting on three. This is not the case, however, as the don’t pass bet includes the numbers 2 and 12, both of which are the most unlikely outcomes because there is only one possible combination of each.

As a result, the house edge for the pass bet works out at 1.41% whereas don’t pass comes in at 1.40%. Both bets pay even money. This might not sound very exciting, but you won’t find many better bets whilst playing casino games unless you are willing to put the time into learning the perfect strategy for blackjack or video poker.

Come or Don’t Come Bets

Come or Don’t Come Bets are basically the same as the pass/don’t pass bets except for the fact they relate to dice throws which have been made after the come-out roll and a point has been established. Place a bet on Come and you are wagering that the point number will appear before a seven or any of the craps numbers. Should the point number be hit, the come bet wins. Once again, the come bet pays even money.

As you would expect, the Don’t Come bet is the opposite of this – you’re hoping the shooter hits craps or a seven instead of a point, so the bet wins if the shooter hits any of these before his point number. Payouts for the “don’t come bet” vary depending on the point number – A point of 6 or 8 pays 6:5, as these are the most common results. Next, a point of 5 or 9 pays out 3:2, and finally If the point is 4 or 10 the payout is 2:1.

Odds Bets

Odds Bets are considered a side bet, as they can only be made at specific points during a round. After the pass/don’t pass and come/don’t come bets are done and assuming the action is still flowing, you can now choose to make an odds bet. Online this will appear as an option when the time is right, but if you are playing in a land-based casino you should place new chips next to your existing bet. Essentially, this is just a way of increasing your existing wager in response to the current state of play at the table.

Hardway Bets

Hardway Bets are another tricky one to follow, and a godsend when playing online and letting the computer do the tracking for you! Essentially, the hard numbers are the 6, 4 8 and 10, all of which can be made by a pair of equal numbers on the dice. If you place a hardway bet you are hoping that your hard number will appear before a “soft” alternative – IE, a 5 and a 1 instead of two 3’s for a hard six. You also need to dodge the 7, as this is an automatic loss in all situations. If you are brave enough to place a hardway bet you stand to make 9:1 for a hard 6 or hard 8 (house edge 9.09%), or a 7:1 for a hard 4 or hard 10 (house edge 11.11%).

As you can see the house edge of these bets is very high, so they are best avoided!

Place Bets

Place Bets can be made on any of the numbers 4,5,6,8,9 and 10. Place a bet on five, and you will win as long as a five appears before the dreaded 7. Betting on 6 or 8 returns 7 to 6 (house edge 1.52%), 5 or 9 returns 7 to 5 (house edge 4.00%) and 4 or 10 return 9 to 5 (house edge 6.67%).

Place to Lose

You can also Place to Lose instead if you wish, wagering that a 7 will appear before your chosen number. The odds are slightly different in this case, so betting on 6 or 8 returns 4 to 5 (house edge 1.82%), 5 or 9 returns 5 to 8 (house edge 2.5%), and 4 or 10 pays 5 to 11 (house edge 3.03%).

Buy Bets & Lay Bets

Buy Bets and Lay Bets are two similar wagers which involve a commission fee, which is normally set at around 5% of the amount staked. This commission is usually non-refundable, whether your bet wins or loses. The buy bet works the same way as a place bet but has a much simpler payout structure as all wagers pay even money. Whilst this is easier to understand, the house edge of 4.76% is much higher than all the place bets except 4 and 10, where this bet is superior.

The lay bet works in much the same way; however, the amount of the commission is based on the resulting win amount rather than the amount of your stake. This is effectively just the same as betting on Place to Lose, but once again the house edge when betting on 4 and 10 is lower at 2.44%.

Field Bets

Field Bets are the simplest wager you can make, as you are simply betting on the result of the next roll. The field bet includes the numbers 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11 and 12, and if lady luck is looking down on you as the dice bounce from the side of the table and delivers any of those numbers, you will be a winner. With so many possible winning outcomes you stand a great chance of a win here. You are getting odds of 5 to 4 and a low house edge of just 2.78%, making this one of the best options at the table. This comes at a price, of course – the field bet only pays even money unless the outcome is a 2 or a 12, as these numbers have payouts of 2 to 1 and 3 to 1 respectively.

Big 6 & 8

Big 6 and 8 are another two straightforward wagers, which work similarly to the place bet. If a six or an eight is rolled before a seven finishes the current round, you will be a winner. Notice anything? That’s the same as a place bet, isn’t it? Well, yes, it is, but the difference here is in the payout. Betting on the big 6 or big 8 has a return of 1 to 1 rather than the 7 to 6 pay out of the place bet, making this one of the most pointless bets on the table. The house edge is 2.78% rather than the 1.52% offered by the equivalent place bet. Forget about this one!

Position or Proposition Bets

Position or Proposition Bets are a group of strangely titled bets that are simple as they win or lose on the next throw only. You should simply avoid these bets, as the house edge is usually extremely high. Because prop bets can vary significantly from one casino to another, no house edge is listed here for the individual bets. To give you an idea though, the Any Seven bet often pays just 4 to 1 resulting in a house edge of 16.67%, and the Any Craps bet usually pays 7 to 1 for a house edge of 11.11%

  • Any Seven, as the name suggests, wins if the shooter rolls a 7
  • Any Craps, returns a win if the shooter hits a 2, 3 or 12.
  • Any Deuce is a winner when the shooter rolls a 3 only
  • Aces / Snake Eyes wins when the shooter scores a pair of ones on the dice
  • Boxcars returns a win if the shooter scores a 12 only
  • Horn covers the numbers 2, 3, 11 and 12

Summary of Craps Bets

There is no denying that the huge number of different bets at a craps table is a lot to take in, and it’s easy to see why the game can be so intimidating for newcomers to the casino. Playing online is definitely your best bet to learn the game, starting with the virtual games before moving on to the live dealer games if you enjoy it.

If you want to maximize your play time and extend the life of your bankroll, you should always stick to the bets with the lowest house edge. At the craps table this means just sticking to the pass line bets only, with their low house edge of roughly 1.4%. Whilst that is undoubtedly the best option mathematically, it probably wouldn’t be much fun at a land-based casino. With that in mind, it’s worth knowing a few other bets you can make that won’t cost the earth!

House Edge per Bet

Here’s a summary of the house edge of all the bets listed above, to make them easier to view at a glance:

Pass1.41%
Don’t Pass1.40%
Buy4.76%
Field2.78%
Big 62.78%
Big 82.78%
Position/Prop Bets
Any Seven16.67%
Any Craps11.11%
Any Deuce11.11%
Aces/Snake Eyes13.89%
Boxcars13.89%
Horn12.50%
Hardway Bets
6 or 89.09%
4 or 1011.11%
Place to Win Bets
6 or 81.52%
5 or 9 6.67%
4 or 106.67%
Place to Lose Bets
6 or 81.82%
5 or 9 2.5%
4 or 103.03%
Odds0.00%

A little note about the odds bet… this may seem like the best one to go for because there is no house edge, but you must have already placed another bet that DOES have a house edge to make an odds bet. Your chances of winning or losing do not change when making these bets, but the point is that if you feel like you are in a good position, why not increase your wager?

Why Play Craps Online?

Playing craps online doesn’t require the same level of knowledge as playing at a land-based casino – you can simply press the various buttons and work out what the different bets are doing, or read a guide on Google. On the other hand, the large number of different ways to bet can make walking up to a craps table in a land-based casino very intimidating for those who are not yet familiar with the game.

There are other advantages to playing online too, such as:

Lower Table Stakes

Because Craps is such a labour-intensive game for a casino to operate requiring a minimum of four dedicated staff at each table, this forces these establishments to insist on relatively high minimum stakes to run the game profitably. Especially if you are new to the game, being forced to make large wagers at every turn is bound to make you nervous! Online casinos don’t suffer from these same issues, with the gaming servers taking the place of the boxman, stickman and dealers – there’s no need for security or surveillance staff either! As a result, you can expect to find online craps from as little as $1 per roll, sometimes even less.

Less Waiting… and You Are Always the Shooter

Sure, sipping a drink around a craps table and soaking up the casino environment can make for great entertainment, but when it comes to winning money you want to spend as much time as possible making and winning bets. The trouble with the land-based craps table is, like most table games, the large amount of housekeeping tasks that have to be performed to keep the game running.

With the gaming server taking over the job of calculating and paying bets, and no physical chips to be removed from the layout, the delay between gaming rounds is virtually eliminated. Moreover, as you are always the shooter you are free to stick to betting on the pass line bets only, so you won’t be tempted to make riskier bets out of boredom whilst waiting for your next turn to shoot the dice!

Pick from Different Table Variations

You may find a few slight variations of craps in land-based casinos in the large casinos of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, but outside these gambling mecca’s you will almost certainly only ever find the generic game offered for play. There’s a good reason for this – craps can be a confusing game anyway, as we’ve already discussed, and once you start changing a few rules and altering the payouts, there’s always going to be a chance of one or two punters becoming confused and unhappy if they haven’t read the details of the table they are playing before beginning to bet.

Once again, no such problem in the online world – you’ll find a multitude of different craps variations, some old that have long since disappeared from the casino floor, and some new that might eventually find their way into the land-based environment one day. You may find a variant that suits your betting strategy better than regular craps, or one where you seem to have extraordinary luck – who knows?

Online Casinos Offer Huge Bonuses

Online casinos are notorious for giving away large deposit match bonuses to their new and existing players, and with a bit of careful planning you can use these bonuses to lower your house edge when playing games like craps and turn the odds in your favour. It’s a lot harder now than it used to be – craps has a low contribution to wagering requirements at many casinos, but if you mix up your dice shooting with some slots you can still make a profit from playing with these bonuses. On the other hand, if you just fancy a little extra playtime or the chance to make bigger bets than you normally would with your deposited funds only, you can enjoy either of these options using an online casino bonus.

If you are taking a casino bonus intending to make a profit, the maths will very likely not make sense if you only intend to play craps. Be sure you understand the wagering requirements and contribution percentages before accepting these bonuses, and read the terms and conditions thoroughly too – even if they are many pages long. You don’t want to see your hard-fought winnings confiscated at withdrawal time because you played the wrong game, placed too large a wager, or didn’t realize there was a limited betting spread permitted when playing table games.

Craps Variants

Most variants of craps follow the basic structure discussed on this page fairly rigidly, but the online world allows developers to experiment and throw wild ideas out there, something that just will never happen on the casino floor. Some of these games have different rules, different ways to bet, different payouts, and alternative table designs, so you might want to take a little time to make sure you understand how they work before beginning to play them for real money. On the other hand, some of these games were created purely for the reason of increasing the casinos advantage over the player, so we’ve prepared a summary of the most common ones below to help you choose:

Crapless Craps

The best bet you can make at the craps table is on the pass/don’t pass wager on the come out roll, so not being able to lose this bet would make craps a sure-fire way to become a millionaire… wouldn’t it? Not so fast, the casinos know that a change like this will instantly draw the attention of gamblers who like to stick to the pass line bets, but seasoned players know that you always have to give something up to receive an advantage like this.

In the case of Crapless Craps, the “don’t pass” bet is removed completely and rolling an “11” on the “come out roll” no longer guarantees you a win. This essentially halves your chances of scoring a natural, multiplying the house edge by five times… so I wouldn’t go putting a down payment on your first yacht just yet! Those that frequent land-based casinos have become wise to this trickery, so the majority of real casinos have long since abandoned Crapless craps tables. The online casinos are still trying their luck with this high house edge variant though, so it’s worth knowing about… and steering well clear of.

High Point Craps

This variant is a little more interesting than crapless craps, and doesn’t suffer from quite the same eye watering house edge as the basics of the pass line bets remain the same as the regular game. It’s still a worse bet than playing regular craps on the whole, however, but at least its interesting enough that it might be worth playing for some punters.

Rolling a “two” or a “three” on the “come out roll” doesn’t result in you crapping out in High Point craps, and you’ll score a natural if you roll an “11” or “12” instead of the usual “7” or “11”. The reason this works is that there is only one way of rolling a “12”, so whilst it’s harder to crap out its also harder to score a natural. After a point has been set, you’ll need to roll a higher number to win, too, so best hope your point is a low one. You’ll find this game in quite a few land-based casinos, but it is very common online with a version offered by all the major gaming software providers. It’s definitely worth a look.

Simplified Craps

This isn’t really craps at all in total honesty, and may as well just be called “dice”! If you just fancy a quick bet on the roll of a couple of dice then this might be for you, but it’s unlikely to be of interest to anyone that actually enjoys the game of craps. It doesn’t offer much to beginners either, as you can’t learn much about the main game from playing simplified craps.

None of this would matter much if the game was a fair bet, but it really isn’t. The game itself is as simple as rolling the dice, and being paid out on one set of outcomes and losing on the other. Unfortunately, the winning combinations are the 2, 3, 4, 10, 11 and 12, which those familiar with probability theory will know are significantly less likely to land than the remaining numbers.

The house edge isn’t awful for a casino game at 2.8%, making it roughly equal to European Roulette. It’s hard to imagine finding this at a land-based casino as its so basic, but because it requires so much less human interaction to run the game securely, it does appear here and there. Once again though, do bear In mind that regular craps has an overall house edge of just 1.41% if you stick to the pass line bets, and doing that is simple too.

Die Rich Craps

The name might be overstating this games appeal just a little, but many would say that Die Rich Craps is simplified craps done right. The game is a recent invention from a Nevada dealer that has only recently passed verification with the gaming control board, but it’s already finding its way onto the casino floors and several online gaming providers have scrambled to create versions as quickly as possible, perhaps to avoid having to pay a license fee later if patents were to be filed outside of North America.

The game is played with a single die, and like regular craps starts with a come out roll. Rolling a “one” results in a crap out whereas a “six” awards as natural, with the remaining numbers setting a point. This is very similar to regular craps, and it’s somewhat easier to understand the logic behind all of this when just one die is involved. It’s easy to get your head around the fact you have a 1/6 shot at an instant win or loss, without needing to understand the combinatorial theory that two dice introduces!

After a point has been set the player gets three more chances to try and hit their point again before the round is lost. Simple, straightforward and fun, Die Rich Craps has a low house edge too making it arguably the best variant on this list.

New York Craps

This is actually a British variant, and was probably given the name New York Craps to make it seem more exotic and to give it the kind of sexy image that casino gambling and Las Vegas in particular has over in England. The rules are a little different, facilitating a different table layout, and there are no come/don’t come bets which forces you to bet on the individual numbers directly if you wish to cover them all.

The main advantage of New York Craps is that almost every bet pays true odds, which would make it a zero house edge game were it not for the fact that the casino takes a commission of 5% on every bet. It’s a fun variant, but doesn’t really add much to the established formula.

Live Dealer Craps

Whilst most online craps games are played by a single player and use a random number generator (RNG) to determine the value of each dice roll instead of an actual pair of dice, online casinos are slowly beginning to offer live dealer versions of craps in addition to the regular roulette, blackjack and baccarat. Many players dislike virtual casino games and don’t trust the RNG to give them a fair game, and whilst these reservations are definitely completely unfounded, it’s understandable that some people prefer to play with real dice.

Live Dealer craps allows you to watch a real dealer (or a die rolling robot – we are in the future now!) roll the dice and place bets with other players, usually with a facility to chat to them as well if you wish. This results in a game experience much closer to playing craps in a land-based casino.

Be warned though, minimum stakes are often a little higher than computerized versions of craps, though not as high as playing in a real casino. The pace of the game is much slower than a virtual game too, which may make your bankroll last longer but can also be frustrating for some players too.

Not all online casinos offer live dealer games, and out of those that do you may find the majority offer just Blackjack, Roulette and Baccarat, instead of craps.

Playing Craps on Mobile

Online casino software has come a long way over the last decade, and now that the older Flash standard for web animations has been abolished completely as of December 2020, software providers can finally create just a single version of their games that they can be sure will function identically across all devices.

The problem for a game like craps is that the large number of betting options doesn’t lend itself well to the smaller screen format, so custom versions of the software ideally need to be developed anyway. Some casinos and software providers have already done this, whilst others are dragging their feet – despite the fact gamers using mobile devices now makes up more than 50% of all online gamblers.

If you stick with the larger gaming software providers you shouldn’t have too much trouble playing craps using your mobile device, but don’t be disappointed if you do find the odd variant that is cumbersome or completely impossible to navigate using a small screen device.

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