Rolling the Dice: Craps

Step into any casino and follow the noise — and you no doubt end up at the Craps table. Craps is loud. Craps is fast. And Craps is definitely where the action is. While the poker tables emit a restrained energy, the mood of the Craps corner is one of exuberance — irrational and otherwise. Above the jabbering of slot machines, whirring of roulette wheels, and ca-ching-ing of payouts, you can hear the Craps crowd cheering and moaning as luck shifts with each roll of the dice, the heart of the game.

Despite all its heart-pounding intensity, Craps can be one of the best games in the house. Depending on which bets you make, the house edge can be less than 1 percent. And even though Craps may seem incredibly complex, it’s easy to play. After all, in essence, you’re betting on the outcome of two rolled dice.

This chapter gives you the lowdown on Craps, including how you play and what your best (and worst) bets are. So let your ears lead the way. Listen for the roar of the crowd and get ready to rock — and roll.

Setting the Craps Stage

Craps is like no other casino game. The sheer variety of bets means you and other players at the same table may all be playing different games. A single dice roll may mean a win to you, a loss to another player, and absolutely nothing to a third.

Before you can start making your bets, you need to know how to play Craps.

This section looks at the game’s objective and its important props and characters. We also have a short section on how to properly behave at a Craps table.

Casting the dice

The dice are the heart and soul of the Craps game. No doubt, you know a die (the singular form of dice) when you see it: that six-sided cube, one to six dots (or pips) marking each face.

In the game of Craps, the objective is to bet on the outcome of the roll. So you can help yourself by understanding the various combinations of dice throws. Take a look at Figure 7-1. A pair of dice has 36 possible ways to land on a given throw, which means that you have a 1-in-36 chance of rolling any single combination. But for the most part, the dice total is what matters in Craps. A 7 is still a 7, whether the dice come up 5 and 2, 6 and 1, or 3 and 4. Because some totals have multiple combinations, certain rolls are more likely than others.

In Craps, you have the following possibilities of outcomes:

Six ways to roll a 7, or 16.7 percent

Five ways to roll a 6 or an 8, or 13.9 percent for each

Four ways to roll a 5 or a 9, or 11.1 percent for each

Three ways to roll a 4 or a 10, or 8.3 percent for each

Two ways to roll a 3 or an 11, or 5.6 percent for each

One way to roll a 2 or a 12, or 2.8 percent for each

Don’t think of Craps as a game of just dice rolls but as a game of dice-roll sequences. Craps is more than a toss of the dice; it’s a series of tosses. Most bets win or lose based on numbers thrown in a certain order. Knowing the terminology can help you keep it straight: A throw is a single toss of the dice, and a roll is the series of throws that result in a win or loss for the main Craps bets. Sometimes you even hear the word hand, which refers to every roll (as in sequence of throws) a single shooter (see “Shooting for the whole table,” later in this section) has before relinquishing the dice to the next player.

Surveying the lay of the table

Before you can start to play Craps, you need to know the landscape. You play Craps on a long, narrow, felt-covered table (see Figure 7-2) that has a foot-high ridge running all the way around, making it the perfect mini-arena for tossing dice — or racing hamsters. The standard Craps table is large in order to accommodate up to 14 players at a time. Craps is a stand-up game — no chairs for you or the other players. At the top of the ridge is the rail with two grooves (the rail rack) perfectly sized to hold casino chips. But make sure you keep your drinks, purse, cigarettes, and everything else off the rail. A built-in shelf at your knees keeps your personal items safely out of the way of the game.

FIGURE 7-2: The Craps layout.

Depending on how you choose to bet, you place your bets in the designated area of the layout (the playing surface). Figure 6-2 shows the jigsaw puzzle of betting boxes. (We explain these boxes in “Relying on Strategy to Place the Best Bets,” later in this chapter.) The layout consists of two parts:
The center section is for long-shot bets (see “Avoiding ‘Sucker’ Bets” for more on high-risk bets).
The left and right wings are for the main bets.

The left and right halves of the table are identical to each other, so you can pick either one. Some space-constrained casinos have smaller Craps tables consisting of a center section and a single wing. But other than the truncated table (and reduced dice trajectories), game play at those tables is identical to play at full tables.


Beliefs and superstitions closely intertwine with the customs and habits of Craps. And because Craps brings out obscure beliefs and quirky superstitions more than any other game in the casino, we suppose that intertwining is only fitting. Even the most rational people develop strange habits, like rubbing the dice three times on the felt, refusing to look another player in the eye, or blowing on their dice for luck.

You take turns rolling the dice with other players, but the outcome of everyone’s good fortune rides on the shooter, who can be the hero or the goat with a flick of the wrist. The bettors loudly cheer a hot shooter if he can hit a series of point numbers, but they shun him like a leper if his dice turn cold.

Getting to know the Craps crew

Before you start to play, you need to understand who’s who at a Craps table. The following four people man a standard Craps table. (You can also check out Figure 7-2 to see where these people stand during play.) They’re listed according to how much you interact with them during a session at the Craps table.

Two dealers: Each dealer covers one wing of the table. The dealer’s job is to change your currency into chips, help place your bets, and pay off winners.

Stickman: The stickman, who stands at the middle of the table and opposite from the dealers, is in charge of the dice. His job is to retrieve and deliver the dice to the felt in front of the shooter by using a long, straight, putter-shaped stick. The stickman also makes the call (announcing the results of the roll to the entire table), oversees the central betting area (placing all bets in that area for players), and instructs the dealers to pay out winners.

Boxman: Sitting across from the stickman at the center of the table, the boxman is also the bossman, overseeing the entire game, releasing stacks of chips to the dealers, and collecting cash for the house. He watches the bets and keeps a wary eye on the dice, the other dealers, and you and the other players to make sure everything’s on the up and up.

Shooting for the whole table

The shooter is a key character in Craps because she’s the player who’s rolling the dice. In Craps, shooting, or dice rolling, is a rotating affair. Each player gets a turn to roll for the entire table, and the honor moves clockwise around the table. When your turn comes around, the stickman pushes five dice toward you, and you select two. The only requirement to shoot is that you have a bet riding.

If you’re a Craps newbie, you can refuse your turn to roll the dice, but we recommend you give it a try. Shooting is part of the experience of Craps. Even if your first roll goes completely off the table or lands in someone’s drink, pocket, sleeve, mouth, or cleavage, the game continues, and nobody gets too upset. The stickman (when he’s done laughing at you) calls, “No roll.” Then the boxman inspects the errant die and gives you another shot at getting it right.

Minding Mr. Manners at a Craps table

When you’re playing Craps, most of the etiquette-related manners focus on the dice, so pay attention to where the dice are at all times. When the stickman yells, “Dice are out!” the shooter has permission to roll the dice. This is your signal to get your hands up and out of the way (assuming you’re not the shooter).

The following are some of the simple do’s and don’ts of Craps etiquette:

Keep drinks away from the rail. And definitely don’t hold your drink over the rail. Craps is a fist-pumping, back-slapping, wild game, so you’re bound to get jostled and splash your whiskey on the felt.

Don’t touch the numbers. Craps dealers keep a lockdown on parts of the layout. Players are only allowed to place chips on the bets right in front of them: the pass-line and don’t-pass bets, plus the come, don’t-come, field, and Big 6/8. The unspoken demarcation line is the come box; any bet in the numbered squares requires a dealer’s assistance. The same is true for all bets in the middle area; the stickman places those bets for all players. (Check out “Avoiding ‘Sucker’ Bets,” later in this chapter, for more info about these bets.)

Handle the dice with one hand only. When your turn comes, never use two hands — and keep the dice where the crew can see them. Casinos are justifiably obsessed with cheaters who might sneak crooked dice into the game, so these rules limit those chances of cheating.

Do your best to toss a valid throw. Toss the dice so they hit the far wall of the table and bounce off. This move ensures a random outcome and is considered a valid throw. Also, don’t toss the dice too high or too soft, and keep the arc lower than the tallest player at the table.

Leave the fancy pitches to baseball. Don’t fling the dice like a hotshot grounder to third — you’re likely to leave piles of rubble in your wake and generate a dirty look from the boxman. As a dealer once said of dice, “They’re small, light, and not made of dynamite.”

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