It’s the most exciting game in the casino. Everyone says so. And you know it’s true. It doesn’t matter where you are in a casino, you can always hear the whoops and hollers from the tables. People yelling out numbers, flinging chips, standing shoulder to shoulder and clapping each other on the back. There’s always a crowd around the craps table.
If you’ve never played the game, watching one in progress is like watching live trading on Wall Street. It seems like everyone’s shouting at the same time, a hundred things are going on at once, they’re speaking their own language, and there’s never a spare second to ask for a translator.
It’s an intimidating game. It looks completely confusing. And no matter how many times someone tries to explain it by saying “you’re betting on the roll of the dice,” you just know there’s more to it than that.
But they’re having so much fun!
Well, I finally decided to muster up my courage, brave the fear of looking foolish, and find out just how a beginner can get in on the action. This is a “beyond beginner’s” guide to placing your first craps bets. A step-by-step guide to walking up to the table with confidence.
In other words, I looked like an idiot so you won’t have to.
And I’ve got to say, I’m glad I did it. Now I know what all the shouting’s about.
THE LEAST YOU NEED TO KNOW
Quite simply, the goal in craps is to roll the same number twice, without rolling a 7. There are two stages to the game÷the roll(s) before the “point number” is established, and the rest of the rolls that follow, until the shooter either makes his “point,” or loses the round by rolling a 7.
Here’s a very brief example: A new shooter gets the dice (his “come out” roll) and rolls a 6. The 6 becomes his point÷he has to roll it again. On his next roll, he rolls the 6 again, and everyone on the pass line is paid.
Had the shooter rolled a 7 before the point was established (that is, on his come out roll), the whole table would have been paid. But once that point is made, the 7 becomes the loser roll.
In fact, the come out roll has a few ways to win or lose: If the shooter rolls craps (2, 3 or 12), the table loses; if the shooter rolls 7 or 11, the table wins. All other numbers are point numbers, and play proceeds.
After the shooter’s point is made, the whole process starts over again. The shooter keeps the dice until he rolls a losing 7, the house takes all bets, and the dice are passed to the next player.
Understanding the Odds
Really, the explanation “you’re betting on the roll of the dice” isn’t too far off. That’s the foundation of the entire game, and if you understand the way the rolls can be made, you’re well on your way to being able to make that first bet.
All pass line bets are paid even money. But the real profit for the players comes when you take the “odds.” This is where the money is in craps. You can back up your pass line and come bets with odds. Different casinos allow you to take different amounts of odds. Some are 2X, meaning you can place twice the amount of your bet on a number “behind” the bet. So, if you make a $5 pass line bet, you can “back it up” with $10 in odds. Place those chips immediately behind your pass line bets toward the wall of the table. Some casinos offer up to 100X odds, allowing you to have, for example, $5 on the pass line, and $500 behind it: Odds are the best bet in the house because they are essentially even-money bets. Neither the player nor the house has the edge.
THE NUMBERS GAME
When you roll a pair of dice, the outcome is going to be a number between 2 and 12. There are 36 possible ways to roll those numbers. In craps, some numbers are called “Point Numbers,” and some are called “Craps.” And then there’s 7 and 11, which are winners on the come out roll. But, remember: If you’re betting the pass line, the 7 is a loser after the point is established.
Each of the numbers has its own odds of being rolled. These odds determine how much you get paid for rolling that number.
There are six possible ways to roll the dreaded 7: 1+6, 6+1, 2+5, 5+2, 3+4, 4+3.
Thus, statistically speaking, one out of every six rolls is going to come up 7. The odds on the other numbers are calculated in relation to rolling one of those six combinations of 7.
For example, there are three ways to roll the numbers 4 and 10. (Please refer to the “Tumblin’ Dice” chart, page 72.) If you make your point on the 4 or 10, you get paid even money on your pass line bets. The odds that are paid if you roll a 4 or a 10 are 6-3, or 2-1, which means that if you bet $5 on 4, and then roll a 4, you’ll be paid $10, plus your original $5 bet.
There are four ways to roll a 5 and a 9. The odds that are paid if you roll a 5 or a 9 are 6-4, or 3-2. If you bet $5 on one of those numbers and it’s rolled, you should technically get paid $7.50 plus your original $5 bet. But here’s the catch: they don’t have 50-cent pieces in the craps pit, even though you find them at the blackjack and roulette tables, and throughout the slot area. It’s a subtle house edge, but in the end, the casino pockets that 50 cents, and you’re only going to get paid $7, rather than the value of the “true odds.” For this reason, you always want to place bets on the 5 and 9 in even increments ($6, $8, $10, etc.). That way, you’ll always be paid the true odds. For a $6 bet, you’ll get the full $9 back that a 3-2 bet should pay.
There are five ways to roll a 6 and an 8. The odds that are paid if you roll a 6 or an 8 are 6-5, which means you’ll get $6 back for every $5 bet. For this reason÷to get paid the full odds, and to avoid clumsy mathematical calculations÷you always want to bet in multiples of $5 on the 6 and 8, even if you’re playing on a $2 minimum table.
Understanding the odds is vital to understanding the game, but don’t feel like you have to memorize all of this to make your first bet. As long as you remember to always bet even amounts on the odds for the 5 and 9, and in multiples of $5 for the odds on the 6 and 8, the dealers will take care of the rest. And if you forget that, the dealers will remind you. Since the 4 and 10 pay double your odds bet, the amount you bet there doesn’t matter.
There are dozens of other bets at the craps tables, but the vast majority of them are “house bets,” with advantages that favor the casino too heavily to even consider. There are a few exceptions, and the one bet even the beginning player should understand is the “come” bet.
A bet on the come line is made after the point has been established, and is the best way to get more bets on more numbers. Basically, you’re betting on the next roll of the dice. If the shooter rolls craps, you lose your come bet. If the shooter rolls 7 or 11, you are paid even money on your come bet, but you lose your original pass line bet. If the shooter rolls any other number, the dealer moves your come bet to that number on the top of the table layout. You are now “on” that number. You are betting that he will roll that number again, before he rolls a 7. The come bet is just like any pass line bet. You can take odds in the same manner on the come bet as you do on the pass line bet. So when the point is established on your come bet, tell the dealer you’d like odds on that bet, and he will place them for you.
There are other bets that have a very small house edge and are wise bets for the player to make, such as the “don’t pass” bet, the “place” bets, and the “buy” bets. But for the beginner, it’s advisable to learn the game a little at a time, so we’ll save the explanation of those wagers for a later article.
Craps has a very colorful and exciting layout that seems to reach out to the players and suggest that if you make a certain bet, you’re sure to win something. Just remember, the layout is like a billboard. It advertises all the bets that favor the house. You’ll notice that the layout says nothing at all about odds bets. That’s because they are the most advantageous bets in the house, and the casino doesn’t want you to know about them. The following bets are ones to avoid, even though the layout description sounds enticing.
A Field bet is a one-time bet that the next number that is rolled will be either a 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11 or 12. You get even money unless it’s a 2 or a 12, in which case you’re paid 2-1. Sound good? It isn’t. Here’s why: Out of 36 possible combinations of the dice, 20 of them are not on the Field bet. Skip this bet and concentrate on the more profitable ones.
Big 6 or 8
Another bet that sounds good. For this bet, you wager that the 6 or 8 will come out before a 7 appears. The problem is that the payoff is even money, when it should be paid 6-5. The house edge is too big. Avoid this bet.
These are the bets located in the center of the table, and they can be made for as little as $1. For the most part, you’re going to want to stay completely clear of them. They have the highest casino edge, and are generally referred to as “sucker” bets. With the exception of the hardways, they are one-time bets. If you hit, the payouts are high. But they are long-shots.
Here are a few of the more common ones:
You are betting $1 that the very next roll of the dice is going to be an 11 (a “yo” in craps parlance). If it is, you’ll be paid 15-1. Sounds good, but think about it: there are only two ways to roll an 11 (6+5, 5+6). Out of 36 possible combinations, at 15-1, you’re not even getting true odds on your bet.
“Any” refers to “any craps.” In this case, you’re betting $1 that the next roll is going to be either a 2, 3 or 12. If it is, you’ll be paid 7-1. In reality, this isn’t a good bet either, but it’s one I enjoy making on a come out roll. Here’s why: if the shooter rolls craps, and I have $5 on the pass line, I’ll lose it. If I have $5 on the pass line, and $1 on any craps, and the shooter rolls a 2, 3 or 12, I’ll lose my $5 pass line, but I’ll be paid $7 for my “any” bet. It’s kind of an insurance policy to me, though experienced craps players will tell you it’s a waste of money in the long run.
C & E
This means you want a $1 bet on any craps, and a $1 bet on 11. Throw the dealer $2, and say “C and E.”
A “hardway” refers to rolling doubles. There are four possible hardway bets: 4 (2+2), 6 (3+3), 8 (4+4), and 10 (5+5). Hard 6s & 8s pay 9-1, and hard 4s and 10s pay 7-1. Unlike the other proposition bets, this bet stays up there until the shooter either rolls a 7 or rolls your number the “easy” way. For example, if you bet $1 on a hard 8, and the shooter rolls a 5+3, you would lose your $1 bet. If I’m in a gambling mood, I’ll make a $1 hardway bet if the point is either 4, 6, 8 or 10. Let’s say the point is 10. I have my pass line bet, backed up with my odds, and if the shooter makes the point by rolling 5+5, I get a bonus payout of $7. Again, it’s not a real smart bet.
There are other proposition bets, but none of them are wise. As a newcomer to the game, do yourself a favor: save your money and don’t worry about them.
Next to understanding the game, knowing how to act at the table is the best way to take the fear out of craps. The game moves very quickly, so learning the basics of “craps etiquette” before you get to the table will save you a lot of nervous energy and frustrating moments.
1. Set all bets on the tableThe dealers are not allowed to take the money from your hands, so you’ll want to place your cash and chips on the table. Make sure you have the dealer’s attention when you do this. If you put it in the wrong place, and it’s not noticed or understood what you want to do with it, it could be construed as a bet. Usually the dealer will correct you. Take a minute to watch the other players, and you’ll quickly catch on.
2. Keep your hands out of the way of the tableThis is vital. As soon as the dice are out, they’ll be rolled. If they hit your hand and an unfavorable number comes up, you’ll be blamed. Watch the stickman. As soon as you see him pushing the dice to the shooter, get your hands out of the way.
3. Try to place your bets in their proper spots on the pass and come linesThis isn’t always easy to figure out. Each spot around the table has a corresponding spot on the table. This is how the dealers keep track of whose bets are whose. The best rule is to put your bets down directly in line with your body. If you put it in the wrong spot, the dealer will move it over and show you where he needs it to be.
4. Wait until the dealer has paid everyone before throwing your new money out thereA craps dealer has a lot to keep up with. With each roll of the dice, he’s either taking money or paying it out on a multitude of bets. Let him take care of business on the last roll before telling him what you want to do on the next one.
5. Speak up, be polite, be patient, and let the dealer know what you want to doDon’t worry about missing the next roll. It’s the stickman’s job to make sure all bets have been squared away before the dice are pushed to the shooter. As long as you speak clearly and loud enough for the dealer to hear you, your bet will be placed properly. If the dice get pushed before you’ve made your bet, don’t throw money down. Tell the dealer what you want (for example, “$5 on the come”). He’ll acknowledge that you want a $5 bet on the come line for this roll. Once the dice are rolled, you can put your money out there. Unlike blackjack, dice dealers can book a “call” bet.
6. Try not to crowd the shooterThe tables can get cramped, especially when they’re “hot.” But do your best to give the shooter plenty of space. Craps players are notoriously superstitious. You don’t want to knock into one just as they’re letting go of the dice.
7. Don’t forget to tipThe dealers are a novice’s best friend. They can make the experience very enjoyable, and put a new player completely at ease. A good dealer will quickly pick up on how you bet, remind you to take your odds if you forget, help you if you’re confused, and make sure you’re betting to take full advantage of the true odds.
They deserve to be tipped.
Craps dealers and stickmen split their tips, so you don’t have to give your money to just one dealer (though you can).
The best way to tip is to put a dollar on the pass line, right next to your pass line bet. If you really want to show your appreciation, back it up with an additional dollar or two behind. If the point is made, the dealers win too.
TIME TO PLAY
Now you know the numbers, you know the terms, and you know how to act like you know what you’re doing. It’s time to step up to the table and start having fun. Here’s a step-by-step guide to walk you through your first time out at a $5 craps table.
1. Find an open spot.
2. Put your money down on the table, outside of the playing field, and ask for change. A realistic buy-in at a $5 table is $100. You can do it for less (I wouldn’t bother with less than $50), but $100 will keep you playing for a while, barring any disastrous rolls.
3. Pick up your chips and put them in the rack in front of you.
4. Wait for a come-out roll.
5. Place a $5 chip in front of you, on the pass line.
If the shooter rolls craps, you lose. Put $5 more out there.
If the shooter rolls a 7 or 11, you win even money. Pick up the $5 the dealer gives you and put it in your rack.
6. Once the shooter rolls a point number (let’s say he rolls a 6), put your odds bet (start with single odds, or $5) directly behind your pass line bet. The dealer will mark the 6 on the table with a white “on” button. That’s the point the shooter has to make before he rolls a 7. Also, before the next roll, put $5 on the come line.
If the shooter rolls craps (2, 3 or 12), you lose your come bet. Put $5 more out on the come line.
If the shooter rolls a 7, the roll is over, but you win even money on the come line. Pick up your money and start over, putting $5 on the pass line.
If the shooter rolls a 6, he’s made his point. Everyone cheers. You’ll be paid $5 for your pass line bet, plus $6 on your odds bet. Your $5 come line bet will be moved to the 6 on the board. Pick up all your winnings and put them in your rack, leaving $5 on the pass line. The odds on your come bet are “not working” on the come-out roll, so don’t worry about placing odds on your 6 until the shooter rolls a new point. The reason is this: should the shooter roll a 7 on his new come out roll, you’ll be paid on the pass line, but you’ll lose the money you bet on the come line (in this case, the 6). Should he roll another 6 as his point, you’d be paid even money on your $5 bet, but nothing on the odds.
If the shooter rolls a 4, 5, 8, 9 or 10, your come bet will be moved to that number. You’ll win on it if the shooter rolls that number before he rolls a 7. Put down $5 on the table and tell the dealer that you want odds on that number (remember, if the number is a 5 or a 9, you’ll want to bet in even increments, so put $6 on the table). Also, put $5 more down on the come line. You want to have two numbers plus the point number, for a total of 3 numbers marked. This is enough to keep you busy, give you a fair shot at making some money, and give you enough to root for without breaking you. Don’t forget to put your odds on the second come bet.
When one of those numbers is rolled, you receive even money on the $5 bet, plus your odds, plus your original money back. You are no longer on that number. So, pick up your winnings, and put $5 back out on the come line. Remember, you want to keep a total of three numbers in action.
OK, you’re done betting. You have your pass line bet. You have two come bets. You have your odds on all three numbers. Guess what? You’re playing craps.
Hoot. Holler. Cheer the shooter on. High-five your buddy when he makes his point or rolls one of your come bet numbers. Get the feel of this. Get used to where you’re putting your money down, when you’re picking your winnings up, what the rhythm of the table is, and what the rhythm of the game is. You want to be very comfortable with these fundamentals before you even think of going any further.
Shooting the Dice
The dice move from shooter to shooter clockwise around the table. Eventually, they’re going to get to you. Now, you don’t have to shoot the dice. You can pass. But you’ll be missing out on part of the fun of playing the game.
The stickman will push five dice towards you. Choose two of them. He’ll take the rest of them back. As soon as he pushes you the dice, you can roll. It’s his job to make sure the dealers have already placed all the bets, and that everyone’s ready. He’ll keep the dice in the middle of the table until that happens.
Two important points: You must use only one hand when touching the dice. Don’t cup them in both your hands, or shake them up with both your hands. Only one-handed rolls are allowed. Also, you must keep the dice over the table at all times. Don’t pick them up and move away from the table, or turn around with them, or reach down to get a drink. Keep them in plain sight, over the table.
You want to roll the dice all the way to the other end of the table. I was afraid of mowing down the bets on the opposite side. Don’t worry about it. If you knock into other chips, the dealers will take care of restacking them.
If you should roll the dice off the table (it does happen), the roll will be declared a “no roll.” A pit boss will pick up the downed dice. Some shooters are superstitious and will request the same dice to roll with. The boxman will inspect the die that hit the floor, and the stickman will return them to you. Otherwise, the stickman will just push you new dice to choose from.
It can be scary holding the dice. On one of my first rolls, I hit a dealer in the face with them. They bounced off his cheek, hit the table and landed on 7. Believe me, that’s the worst that can happen, and, though I haven’t yet lived it down, it wasn’t so bad, once everyone stopped laughing.
Also, don’t feel intimidated about the amount of money out there. Don’t feel bad when you “seven out.” It’s a fact of the game, and no one rolls forever. Even if players grumble and groan, remember they’ll eventually hold the dice and seven out on you. So, relax. Have fun. Find your groove. And throw the dice.
IS IT WORTH IT?
With so much to remember, and so many fears to overcome, you might ask yourself if craps is worth even trying to learn.
If you like to gamble, if you like excitement, the answer is most definitely “yes.”
Once I got used to it (and believe it or not, it doesn’t take long at all to catch on), I found myself thoroughly enjoying the experience. The camaraderie is fantastic, and the pace is enthralling. After about an hour, I was shouting in the lingo and placing my bets like a pro. And if you stick to the basic bets and place your odds, craps is one of the best bets in the casino.
If you’re lucky, you’ll even have a moment of glory. While learning to play at a $2 table, I held the dice for 40 straight minutes. Before I knew it, betting conservatively, I had turned $40 into $700. The players were cheering. The dealer’s were rooting me on. I could roll no wrong.
It was thrilling.