By Spencer Musick
Introduction to Craps
If you have ever walked into a casino and seen a craps table full of hollering patrons, you may said to yourself “It seems like they are having fun, but I would not have the slightest idea how to get in on that game; it looks too complicated.” If so, then you are in the same boat as many average recreational gamblers. The craps layout itself looks more complicated than anything else on felt in a casino, and the average patrons of this game are not always the most welcoming when it comes to new players. But these barriers to getting on the craps table, while very real, are much easier to overcome than you might think. The fact of the matter is, with a very minimal amount of preparation, it is possible for the average recreational gambler to not only play craps well, but to play it against some of the lowest house edges available in the casino. Unlike with other games that offer reasonable house edges like blackjack and video poker, there is no skill involved (beyond smart bet selection and having a sufficient bankroll) necessary to get the casino advantage below 1 percent.
While there is a seemingly endless variety of bets available on the craps table (including some that aren’t even marked on the felt!), there are, in reality, only a handful of good bets available. The smart recreational player only needs to be familiar with how these bets work in order to play against a very reasonable house edge.
How to Play Craps Basics
The basics of craps are quite simple. Each person standing at the craps table is offered the chance to roll the dice, but this is not mandatory. The dice are passed around the table clockwise starting with the boxman (that’s the guy or gal sitting in the middle of the table keeping watch over all of the chips!). When it is your turn to roll, you pick up the dice when they are passed to you by the stickman (that is the person with the big stick! See how simple craps can be?) and lob them to the other side of the table.
It is important to note that the casino crew will want you to make sure the dice bounce off the wall with the rubber grid at the opposite end of the table. If you are new or your first few rolls don’t hit the other end of the table, they will often let it slide with a friendly reminder. But if you keep failing to hit the other end of the table, they may call “no roll” and the reminders (along with the remarks from other players!) could get less friendly. My suggestion is, if you are new to the game, refuse the dice the first few times they are offered in order to get a feel for things.
Come out rolls and point numbers
Your first roll of the dice which is also called the “come-out” roll. If you roll a 7 or 11, you and everyone else who bet on the pass line will automatically win even money. This is called a “natural,” and rolling them is the surest way to get the other players on the table to like you. You get to roll again after a natural. If you roll a 2, 3 or 12 those are all called “craps” and you lose, but you still get to roll again. The only other numbers that can show up are: 4,5,6,8,9 or 10. If you roll one of these numbers, then it becomes the “point” and now you are trying to roll that number again before you roll a seven (this is called “sevening out”).
If you roll a seven before your “point” number, you lose. The stickman will then pass the dice the next shooter. If you roll your point before a 7, then you have made a “pass.” You then win your bet and you get to roll again. That’s all there is to the game of craps.
How to Bet Craps
The most complicated aspect of craps is understanding the different kinds of bets available to the player. But thankfully (for the smart player, at least) the number of bets that offer a reasonable house edge is quite small. The best bets you’ll find on the craps table are the “pass” and “don’t pass” bets. Betting on the “pass” line means you’re betting that the shooter will either roll a 7 or 11 on the come-out roll or make their point number if established.
Pass, Don’t Pass, and free odds bets
To make a pass line bet, the player puts his or her bet your bet right in front of them on the pass line. Pass line bets are paid even-money , for a house edge of just 1.41% You can also bet on the “don’t pass” line. This is also known as ‘dark side,’ betting. You’re betting that the shooter will seven out before rolling their point. To bet the ‘dark side,’ place your bet in front of you in the don’t pass area. Don’t pass bets are also paid out at even-money for a house edge that clocks in just below the pass line, at 1.40%.
The odds against the shooter on the pass line are always 1.41%. They are also in favor of the “don’t pass” bettor by that same amount. Obviously, the casino does not want to give an edge to the “don’t pass” bettor, so they put a rule in place on “don’t pass” bets where if the shooter rolls as 12, the bet is pushed. Do note that some casinos may make this number 2 rather than 12 . Just check the don’t pass area and look for the word “bar,” and the next word will be the number that is called a push. In the above example it says bar 12, so in this casino the rule applies to the number 12. This is how the casino gets its advantage on the don’t pass bets. Which number the casino bars does not matter; the result is always the same 1.40% edge for the house.
So let’s say you put $10 down on the pass line and roll the dice. On this initial come out roll, you will win if you roll a 7 or 11, and lose if you roll a 2, 3, or 12 (craps). Any other possible number will become your “point,” and you need to roll this number again before rolling a seven in order to win even money on your pass line bet.
Once a point has been rolled, the dealers (who will be standing at either end of the table) will use a marker (that looks similar the dealer button seen in live poker games) to clearly indicate what your point number is for the other players at the table. The marker has two sides like a coin: a black side with the word “off” and another side with the word “on.” If no point has been established, the marker will be in the “don’t come” box with the black side (off) face up.
So let’s set up an example. It’s your turn to roll, so you pick up the dice and give them a toss. A four comes up. The dealers will take the marker and place it in the “on” position on top of the number four on the layout. This lets everyone at the table (and watching on the security cameras) know that you are going to keep rolling until you either roll a four to win, or a seven to lose.
It is crucial to point out here that, once your point number has been established, you cannot remove your pass line bet until it is resolved, that is, until you either make your point or seven out. This is because the shooter has an advantage on the come out roll (there are 8 ways to win (by rolling a 7 or 11) and only four ways to lose (by rolling a 2, 3 or 12).
But the script reverses once a point has been established. No matter what the point number is, the odds are always against the player rolling it again before a seven comes out. This is how the casino gets its edge on these bets, and they obviously aren’t going to let you get away with only having a bet down when the odds are in your or the shooter’s favor. So, once you put a bet down on the pass line, leave it there until it is either taken away or paid out. Otherwise, you risk a rebuke from the floor staff.
Although the pass line bet is, by itself, already one of the better bets in the casino, there is a way for the player to lower the house edge even further. This is because, once a point has been rolled, the casino will let you back up your pass line bet with a separate bet that will be paid off at the true odds of the shooter rolling that number. This means there is no house edge on this bet which is almost unheard of in a casino, which gets its advantage on almost all of the games offered by paying less than the true odds of the player winning a given bet. This bet can only be made in conjunction with a pass line bet.
So in our example, because your point was a 4, the true odds are 2-to-1 against you rolling it before a seven, and that’s is exactly what your second bet will be paid if you manage to make your point: $2 for every $1 you bet. This is called a “free odds bet,” or “betting behind the line.” To make a free odds bet, simply place your chips directly behind your passline bet after a point number has been established. How much you are able to bet in free odds varies from casino to casino. In general, the nicer or more upscale the casino, the more restrictive the odds limits are likely to be. In addition, the pass line bet minimums will almost certainly be higher in an upscale casino, making playing at these tables an expensive proposition! More on this later when we turn our discussion to bankroll.
The lack of a casino edge on the odds bets has the cumulative effect of lowering the overall house edge on your pass line bet. The house edge on the pass line bet alone is 1.41%, but taking single times odds (that is, an amount equal to your original wager), the player can lower the house’s overall edge to .85%. Double odds lowers the edge further still, to .61%. Three times odds gives as house edge of .47%. Some casinos offer 10 times odds, and this lowers the house advantage to only .18%. This means that, for every $100 you put on the table, you can expect the casino to keep 18¢. Do note that this is a statistical expectation that will play out over time; you can and will have sessions where you do better and worse than this expected amount of money lost.
But no matter what level of odds the casino allows, betting behind the line lowers the house edge considerably, and it does so on an already reasonable bet. A smart gambler will always fight for every percentage point they can whittle away from the casino’s edge, so it is always a good idea to take advantage of the odds bet.
Let’s return to our example above. To place our 2x free odds on the point number of 4, we simply put $20 behind the line. Note that you won’t need to say anything to the staff when making this bet, they will know what you are doing. We will then keep on rolling until the bet is resolved. If we hit our point, we win even money on the $10 pass line bet, but get paid 2-to-1 on the free odds bet, for a total win of $50. Sevening out means we lose both bets for a total loss of $30. So as you can see, we are risking less money than we stand to win if we make our point.
We used four as our point number here, but what if we had rolled another point on the come out roll? The odds of different point numbers appearing on the dice before a seven vary: the 4 and 10 have odds of 2-to-1; the 5 and 9 have odds of 3-to-2; and the 6 and 8 have odds of 6-to-5. An easy way to remember which point numbers have the same odds of appearing is to simply start with the two numbers (4 and 10) on the outside of the strip of boxes that contain the point numbers, and work your way in from there. So let’s say our point had been a 6 or 8 instead of four.
7 = 6 ways 1+6,6+1,2+5,5+2,3+4,4+3
6 = 5 ways 1+5,5+1,2+4,4+2,3+3
8 = 5 ways 2+6,6+2,3+5,5+3,4+4
There are 6 possible combinations that add up to 7 which makes us losers, but only 5 ways to make a 6 or 8 to make us winners. Therefore, the true odds are 6-to-5.
How about in our example above? If our point was a 4 or a 10 the odds are:
7 = 6 ways 1+6,6+1,2+5,5+2,3+4,4+3
4 = 3 ways 1+3,3+1,2+2
10 = 3 ways 4+6,6+4,5+5
We can see that there are 6 ways to roll a 7 and only 3 ways hit a point of 4 or 10, so the true odds are 6-to-3, which is simplified to 2-to-1.
And if our point was a 5 or 9? There are 6 ways to roll a 7, but only 4 combinations that give us a 5 or 9. This gives true odds of 6-to-4, which simplified, is 3-to-2.
7 = 6 ways 1+6,6+1,2+5,5+2,3+4,4+3
5 = 4 ways 1+4,4+1,2+3,3+2
9 = 4 ways 3+6,6+3,4+5,5+4
Remembering these numbers is the most important skill for a smart craps player to have under their belt. This is for two reasons. The first reason is that player should always verify that they are paid the correct amount when they win. Craps dealers have to handle lots of bets and calculations at once, so mistakes happen frequently, and it is always up to the player to catch them. The second is that the player wants to make sure that she or he makes odds bets in amounts that will be paid off evenly.
So let’s say we have rolled a point of 5 and have $5 on the pass line. We don’t want to bet $5 behind the line, because the 3-to-2 odds mean that the casino would owe the winner $7.50. But casinos don’t deal in change and will always round down! So if we are making an odds bet on either the 5 or 9, we must always bet in even amounts to take advantage of the true odds paid by the casino. In the above example, the casino will almost always allow you to add an extra $1 chip, for a total $6 out so that they could pay out $9 to a winner.
The only other pair of combinations where this must also be taken into account is on the 6 and 8, where the payoff is 6-to-5. If either of these numbers is our point, we want to make our bets in multiples of $5. If your passline bet is $15, most casinos allow the player to put $25 behind the line because it is quicker and easier for them to pay a winner $30, rather than dealing in $1 chips to pay out $18 for $15. It is always best to take advantage of these allowances that the casino makes for simplicity’s sake if they cut in the players favor!
All About Betting Don’t Pass in Craps (The Dark Side)
If we return to the craps layout above, we can also see the smaller box marked “don’t pass.” The most important thing to keep in mind about don’t pass betting is that everything which makes a pass bettor win will cause a don’t pass bettor to lose.
So let’s say we are feeling contrarian and want to bet against the shooter. We put $10 on don’t pass. We will win on the come out roll if the shooter rolled a 2 or 3, we will push if the shooter rolls a 12, and lose if the shooter rolls 7 or 11. If a point is established, the don’t pass bettor will win if the shooter sevens out before hitting the point.
The don’t pass bettor can also make odds bets, but because the chances of the shooter sevening out after establishing a point are always in their favor, they must bet more than they expect to win. This is called laying odds rather than taking odds.
Let’s reverse our above example. If the point is 4 or 10, in order to bet the don’t we must lay 2-to-1, or bet $10 to win $5; on 5 or 9 we need to lay 3-to-2, or bet $6 to win $4; and on 6 or 8 we must lay 6-to-5, or bet $6 to win $5.
The effect of these free odds bets lowers the casino advantage slightly on the overall don’t pass bets to .68% with single odds; .46% with double odds; .34% with triple odds and .12% with 10 times odds.
The way to make a free odds bet on the don’t pass is slightly different than making it behind the pass line. To lay odds, place your odds bet right next to your original bet and place a chip on top to connect the two bets. Another thing to remember is that, when making a free odds bet, casinos allow players to make their bets based on the payoff, rather than the original don’t pass bet amount.
So if the point was 4 and you had $10 on the don’t pass, the player will be allowed to bet $40 to win $20, or double the amount of your original $10 bet. It is this feature of don’t pass betting—having to lay down more money than the casino will pay out, that turns off most players from betting against the shooter. Another thing to consider is that often, the players betting the pass line are not fond of any don’t pass bettors at the table. This should not stop you from making these bets if you want to fight for every percentage point, but it is something to keep in mind!
Social conventions aside, in terms of the math it makes no difference if a player is laying or taking odds: the effect of lowering the overall house edge is the same in both cases.
Another thing to note about don’t pass betting is that the casino will allow you to remove your bet after a point has been rolled. Never, EVER do this! Once a point has been established, the odds are in favor of the don’t pass bettor because there will always be more combinations that the shooter can throw to lose than to win. The don’t’ pass bettor would be foolish to take down a bet where they have the mathematical advantage.
Come and Don’t Come Bets
Let’s shift our focus to the area marked “come” and “don’t come.” Put simply, “come” and “don’t come” are just pass/don’t pass bets made after the shooter has established a point.
So to set up an example: a shooter has established a point number (let’s say it’s 6). To make a come bet, place 5 dollars into the box marked “come.” This is the same as making a pass line bet, except the shooter’s next roll becomes the “come out roll.” The outcome is determined just as it is with pass line betting: A 7 or 11, will make your come bet a winner. A 2,3, or 12 will mean that you lose. Any other number comes the point for that particular bet, and must be rolled again before the shooter sevens out. Let’s say the shooter rolled a 4 in the above example. The dealer will move your $5 come bet to the center of the box marked 4, where it will stay until the bet is resolved.
The house edge on the come bet is identical to the 1.41% edge on the pass line bet. The player is also allowed free odds bets on come bets, but the correct way to do it is slightly different. The odds bet on the come is not “self-service,” meaning, the player cannot make the bet his or her self. To take odds on the come bet, give your chips to the dealer and indicate that you would like to take the odds. Quite often, dealers know what the players want when chips are thrown their way on the first roll after a come bet has been made, but it is always best to give a verbal indication in case of any confusion.
The dealer then places your chips just off center on top of your original come bet, in order to indicate to the boxman and dealer that this is a free odds bet. It is important to note here that, if your come bet wins, the dealer will pay out the bet inside the “come” box. So be sure to take your chips back before the next roll, otherwise your bet will be considered another “come” bet.
Also keep in mind that your come bet is always working, even on a come-out roll. This may seem strange, but think about it this way: if you make a come bet and the shooter hits their point, because the shooter did not roll a seven yet, the come bet is still working. But this only applies to the come bet itself and not to any odds you may have taken.
So in the above example the shooter rolled an initial point of 6 and we made a $5 come bet. Then out came a 4. This became the point for our come bet. Our $5 come bet was moved to the middle of the 4 box at the top of the table. We placed 10 dollars in odds on the 4, and on the next roll, the shooter rolls a 6 to make the pass line win.
Although the pass line bet has been resolved, the come bet has not. The same shooter will roll again, and on this new come-out roll, the odds bet on our 4 will be off. Let’s say the shooter then rolls a 7. The pass line bettors will be paid even money, but our $5 come bet lost since the shooter hit 7 before rolling a 4. Our 10 dollar odds bet will be given back to us since it was not in effect on that shooter’s second come-out roll. Note that the player can ask the dealer to leave their odds bet working on the come-out roll. The dealer will put a marker on top of your bet to indicate to the cameras and staff that your odds bet is in effect on the come-out roll.
If we return to the layout, we can also see a box marked “don’t come.” Just as is the case with pass line betting, everything which causes the come bet to win will cause the don’t come bet to lose, and vice-versa.
So let’s say we are on a table and the point is 5. We make a $5 bet don’t come bet. The shooter’s next roll will become the come-out roll for our don’t come bet. A 2 or 3 will make our come bet a winner, and a 7 or 11 will cause us to lose. A 12 will cause our bet to push, and anything else becomes the shooter’s point, and we will win if a seven appears before the point number. So in the above example, if the shooter rolled a 10, the dealer will move our don’t come bet to the upper edge of the box marked “10,” where it will stay until the bet is resolved.
As is the case with the don’t pass bet, the house edge on the don’t come bet is a reasonable 1.40%, and we can lay odds in the same way that we do with the other bets, by giving our chips to the dealer and saying we want to lay the odds. The dealer will then place those chips next to and on top of your don’t come bet to show that it’s a free odds bet. Importantly, take note of the fact that don’t come bets (along with any odds we back them up with) are always working, even on a come out-roll.
Craps Place Bets
Let’s now turn our attention to place betting. Place betting involves the six possible point numbers: 4,5,6,8,9 and 10. At any point during a shooter’s series of rolls, you can make a bet that one of these numbers will show up before a seven. These bets are paid off at just below the true odds. So the true odds that a 4 or a 10 will be rolled before a seven are 2-to-1. But the casino pays off a place bet on the 4 or 10 at 9-to-5. This gives the casino an edge of 6.67%.
5 or 9 have true odds of appearing on the dice before a 7 of 3-to-2, but the house pays this bet off at 7-to-5 for an edge of 4.0%. Things look much better for the player on place bets of 6 and 8. The true odds are, as we said above, 6-to-5 that either of these numbers will be rolled before a 7. The casino pays this place bet off at 7-to-6 for a much more reasonable 1.52% advantage for the house.
Obviously the place bet on 6 or 8 gives the best odds for the player, making this bet the best you will find on the craps table (other than pass and don’t pass along with their identical come bets).
Place bets are also not self-service bets. To make a place bet, put your chips down on the felt and tell the dealer which numbers you would like to place. If we wanted to place the 6 and the 8, we would put our chips down and tell the dealer “place 6 and 8.” The dealer will then move our chips to the edge of the boxes marked 6 and 8. One interesting thing to note is that the dealer will place your chips at a place on the box that corresponds to where you are sitting at the table. This helps them remember which person at the table placed that bet. Still, the smart player should always remember all of the bets that they have working to ensure that they are paid correctly on any winnings.
Crucially, always make sure to bet in multiples of $5 on the numbers 4,5,9 or 10 and in multiples of $6 for 6 and 8. This is to ensure that you always get paid off the correct amount for any winning place bets. The author sees this particular mistake quite often in casinos. Players will bet in incorrect multiples, say for example putting $3 on the 6. In this case, the player will only get back even-money since the casino rounds off the extra .50 cents that the bet should have paid. This means you are surrendering a bigger advantage to the casino.
Place bets, unlike pass line bets, can be removed at any time. To do this, simply tell the dealer that you want your place bet taken down and she or he will return your bet do you. You can also let the dealer know that you didn’t want your bet to be working on a given roll by turning the bet off. Just say to the dealer at your side of the table: “off on the 5” or something similar. The dealer would then put a little button on top of your bet that said “off” and he would remove it when you told him you wanted that number working again. Note that place bets are never working on the come-out roll, but you can indicate to the dealer that you want your bet working, and they will mark the bet with a button that says “on” just as we discussed with come bets.
If you happen to win a place bet, the dealer will ask what you want to do for your next bet. The player has three choices: she or he can make the same bet by saying “same bet.” The dealer will give you your winnings only, and leave your original bet working. If you don’t want to leave the bet working, just say to the dealer “take it down.” The dealer will return your original place bet along with your winnings. You can also double your bet by saying “press it.” The dealer will then add your winnings to your other place bet and return any extra chips to you. So, for example, if you won a $10 place bet on the 5 the dealer will owe you $14 in winning chips. But if you wanted to press your bet, the dealer will take $10 of your winnings and put it with the original place bet before returning the remaining $4 to you.
Once again, always keep track of the place bets you have down on the table and make sure that you are paid off correctly for any winnings. Dealers are keeping track of multiple bets at once, and especially on a busy table, it is easy for even experienced dealers to make mistakes. Don’t be shy about letting the dealer know if they have made a mistake; this happens all the time on craps tables. Dealers would much rather have their mistake corrected by a player than a supervisor!
In addition to place betting, another way that the player can bet that one of the point numbers will be rolled before a 7 is to do what is called buying a number. A buy bet is the same as a place bet, except that the house takes a commission of 5% of the amount of your bet in return for paying you off at true odds if you win. Buy bets should always be at least $20, since 5% of $20 is $1 and casinos, as we mentioned before, don’t deal in change. The house edge on any buy bet of $20 works out to 4.76%. Let’s compare this to the house edges for the various place bets:
|Point Number||Casino Edge: Buy Bet
||Casino Edge: Place Bet|
|4 or 10||4.76%||6.67%|
|5 or 9||4.76%||4.00%|
|6 or 8||4.76%||1.52%|
The only numbers that the player should buy instead of place are the 4 and 10 since the 4.76% edge on a buy bet is more favorable than the 6.67% edge on a place bet. The 5 and 9 have a edge on the buy bet that is over 3/4ths of a percent worse (4.76%) than the 4% advantage for the house on a place bet. And finally, for the 6 and 8 the 4.76% house advantage on the buy bet blows the 1.52% edge on the place bet out of the water.
The above makes it clear that all of the buy bets should be avoided, but here is how to make them if you do feel like needlessly giving the casino a bigger edge: If you wanted to buy a 4 or 10, for 20 dollars, simply put your chips down on the felt and tell the dealer “buy the 10.” If you put down 21 dollars, the dealer will then keep the $1 chip for the house commission.
Your $20 will be put in the same area as the place bets, with a button on top that says “buy” to indicate that you bought the number instead of placing it. Like place bets, buy bets can be taken down at any time and are never working on a come-out roll. The house will give your 5% commission back if you decide to remove a buy bet.
Like the pass and come bets, buy bets have inverted versions that will win any time a buy or place bet would have lost. These are called lay bets, and when you make them, you are betting that a shooter will seven out before the number you have selected appears.
The casino pays lay bets off at true odds less a 5% commission. The only difference with lay bets is that this commission is taken out of the amount you stand to win, not the amount of your bet. Just as with buy bets, lay bets should always be made based on a payoff of $20 so that the commission can be charged. Here are the casino edges for lay bets of $20 dollars on the various point numbers, along with the amount of money needed to lay them:
|Lay Number||Payoff||Casino Edge|
|4 or 10||Bet $40 to Win $20||2.44%|
|5 or 9||Bet $30 to Win $20||3.23%|
|6 or 8||Bet $24 to win $20||4.00%|
The only lay bets that have a somewhat reasonable house edge are those on the 4 or 10. Still, this 2.44 percent is only favorable in comparison to the other lay bets and all of the buy bets. The player has other bets available that are well below one percentage point, so there is no good reason to be laying numbers.
To make a lay bet, place your chips down on the felt and tell the dealer that which number you want to lay. So if you put down $41 and said “lay the 10,” the dealer will take the $1 chip for commission and put your $40 in the same part of the layout as the don’t come bets, with a button that says “buy” to help him keep track of it. Lay bets are always working on come-out rolls and can be removed at any time. The player will be given the 5% commission back.
There are just a few more bets at the ends of the table left to explain. Two of them, the big 6 and the big 8, are both awful bets and should be avoided. The casino makes the big 6 and 8 self-service bets, and they place it on the felt in an area easily accessible to the players, right above the pass line. They are trying to make this very bad bed as easy to make, and as enticing, as possible, but don’t be fooled. To make a big 6 bet, place your chips in that area on the layout. If the shooter rolls a 6 before sevening out, you will win even-money. The same applies to the big 8. Both bets can be made at any time and are always working, even on a come-out roll.
The house edge on the big 6 and the big 8 is an ugly 9.1%. What makes this horrible edge for the house even worse is the fact that it is the exact same bet as placing the 6 or 8! Rather than being paid off at something close to the true odds (7-to-6), the player is giving the casino the same shot at taking their wager only to be paid less money if the bet is a winner. This is the textbook definition of a sucker bet. So, unless you are feeling charitable and want to help the casino suits pay the electric bill for the month, avoid the big 6 and 8 like the plague!
Field Bets in Craps
Finally, let us take a look at the box marked “field” on the player’s side of the layout. The field is a one-roll bet. Money bet on the field will be either taken or paid based on the outcome of the next roll. The player is betting that the next roll will be a 3,4,9,10,11 or 12. The player will be paid even money if a 3, 4, 9, 10, or 11 or 12 is rolled and 2-to-1 if a 2 or 12 is rolled. This is a self-service bet, and while it is not nearly as bad as the other one-roll bets on the layout, it is still not great.
On the surface, the field does not seem like a bad bet at all. There are 7 numbers that would make the player win and only 4 that would make the player lose. The author has heard countless players give exactly this logic for why they bet the field. But consider that there are 20 combinations that will yield the 4 losing numbers and only 16 ways that the 7 winning numbers can be rolled. This gives the house a 5.6% edge over the player, even after taking into account the 2x payoff.
Some casinos pay 3-to-1 on either the 12 or the 2. It does not matter which of these two numbers has the 3-1 payoff, the effect is the same, cutting the casino edge in half to a much more reasonable 2.8%. This is called a “full-pay field,” and can be found at many casinos both on and off the Las Vegas strip as of this writing.
Many players do seem to enjoy the excitement of one-roll bets. For these players, a full-pay field is the only way to scratch this itch without throwing away their bankroll too quickly. Finally, keep in mind that if you win a bet on the field, your winnings will be paid in that same area on the felt. Be sure to collect your bet and winnings, or else it will be considered a new field bet on the next roll!
Craps Prop Bets: A fast way to lose your money!
Finally, let’s turn our attention to the center of the table. This area is called the proposition bet layout. On it, the winning payoffs for the various bets are prominently labeled. The minimum bets on this part of the table are always much lower than the pass line bet, often only one dollar. These low minimums and high payoffs are there to entice the player to make these bets. Do not be fooled. It is impossible to stress this point enough: the correct strategy for proposition bets is not to make them.
Most of these bets are resolved in one-roll, and all of them have unreasonably high house edges. The combined effect of these two factors (the speed at which the bets are resolved and the awful house edges) makes these bets one of the fastest ways you can lose your money on a table game in the casino. Even if you make low wagers on various prop bets throughout a playing session, the house edge will quickly grind down your bankroll, unless you get exceedingly lucky.
None of the proposition bets are self-service. This is because of where they are located on the layout. The stickman must make these bets for the player. To bet $1 bet on “any craps,” throw a $1 chip to the center of the table and tell the stickman “$1 any craps.” They will then place that bet in the corresponding area. Note that all prop bets are left working by default. If your bet wins, the stickman will assume you want to let it ride unless you tell him to take it down.
Only four of the proposition bets are not resolved in one-roll. These are known as the “hardways:” the hard 4, hard 6, hard 8 and hard 10. Rolling a number the “hardway” means rolling it as doubles rather than as a combination of two different numbers. So rolling a 3 and 3 is a hard 6, but rolling a 4-2, or 5-1, is not. The two number combinations are called “easy” because they are more likely to show up than doubles.
So let’s say we are again feeling generous and want to give our money away to the casino. We place bets on the hard 10 and hard 4. In order to win the hard 10 bet, the shooter has to roll double 5’s before rolling either a 7 or any combination of an easy 10 such as 6-4 or 4-6. To win our bet on the hard 4, the shooter must roll double 2’s before rolling a 7 or an easy 4. The chances of rolling the hard 4 or hard 10 are 8-to-1, but the casino will only pay you 7-to-1. This gives the house an advantage of 11.1%.
The hard 6 and 8 are slightly better for the player, but not by much. Although the true odds of a hard 6 or hard 8 showing up on a pair of dice is 10-to-1, the casino pays these bets off at 9-to-1 for a house edge of 9.1%.
All of the other proposition bets are one-roll bets. This means that the bet will be resolved after the next roll, regardless of whether it is a “come out roll.” As is the case with the hardways, the house edge on these bets is extremely high.
Bets in the box marked “any craps” will win if a 2,3,or 12 shows up on the next roll. Any other number will cause these bets to lose. The true odds of rolling any craps are 8-to-1 but the casino pays out these bets at 7-to-1 which gives them an edge of 11.1%.
Craps 2 bets (also known as snake eyes, will win only if the next number rolled is a 2. The true odds of this happening are 35-to-1, but casinos pay the bet out at 30-to-1 for an edge of 13.9% Be wary, because in some casinos, the felt will read “30-for-1.” This is an extremely deceptive trick. 30-for-1 means that the winner will be paid 30 times his bet, but the house will keep his original wager. This means that the casino is really paying the winner 29-to-1, for an even bigger edge of 16.7%.
A craps 12 (also known as box cars or midnight) has the same true odds as craps 2 (35-to-1) and the same casino edge of 13.9% results from the 30-to-1 payout. Be wary of the same “30-for-1” trick that puts the house edge up to 16.7%.
The true odds of rolling a craps 3 on the next roll are 17-to-1, but the casino pays these bets off at 15-to-1 for a house edge of 11.1% Once again, be wary of the 15-for-1 labeling, which increases the house edge to 16.7%.
The 11 bet has the same odds and house edges as the craps 3 bet, and the same trick to look out for that increases the house edge further.
One thing you will notice at the craps table is dealers and players throwing around the word “yo.” This is because 11 sounds phonetically similar to 7, so dealers and players will say “yo” or “yo-leven” to avoid confusion. So if we wanted to make a $10 bet on 11, we would throw our chip to the stickman and say “$10 yo.”
Another prop bet available is called the horn bet. A horn bet means you are betting on the 2,3,11 and 12 all at the same time. This bet must be made in multiples $4 because that’s how many bets you are making at once and you will win only if one of the above numbers is rolled. The player is paid off at the odds for the number that showed up and will lose the rest of the bets. So an $8 horn bet is really just betting $2 on the 2, $2 on the 3, $2 on the 11 and $2 on the 12. If the number 2 showed up, the player will be paid off at 30-to-1 for $60 in winnings, but the house keeps the $6 that were bet on the other numbers. Horn bets are nothing but a combination of four bad bets at once. If you see a player making them at the table (and you inevitably will), be kind. Remember that they are helping keep the lights on and the drinks free!
Saving the least for last, the worst wager on the craps table is a prop bet called the any 7. This bet wins if a 7 is rolled next and lose otherwise. The true odds of rolling any 7 are 5-to-1, but the casino will only pay you 4-to-1 for an edge of 16.7%
New craps innovations: bubble craps and crapless craps.
A electronic version of craps known as bubble craps has proliferated on casino floors over the course of the last decade. Even in casino markets where craps was not previously popular at all, such as Macao, bubble craps can be found at almost all of the large casinos. These games are made up of several terminals arranged in a circle around a plexiglass bubble with a comically large pair of dice inside. Players sit at the machines and make their bets electronically. The chance to be the “shooter” rotates around the circle, creating a reasonable facsimile of the communal experience at the craps table.
These machines have a few advantages but also some disadvantages. On the plus side, the minimums on bubble craps will always be much lower than at a live table, while the house edge on pass/don’t pass and the other good bets remains unchanged. This makes them a very attractive proposition for low-limit players. These machines usually accept a player’s club card and award points based on how much you are betting.
The rate at which points are awarded varies from casino to casino, but in general, these machines accumulate comp dollars/points very slowly, especially if the player is only making pass/come bets (or their dark side opposites) and taking or laying the odds. This is a big drawback to bubble craps. You will get very little back in the way of comps for the time spent gambling on the machine.
In some casinos, these machines do not accept a player’s card at all. For the low-limit player (those betting in units of 5 dollars or less) this may not make a big difference. But for even lower-medium limit players who bet in units of 5 dollars or more, playing craps on a live table will almost always generate more in the way of comps.
Another disadvantage to bubble craps is that casinos are often stingy on these machines with the maximum amount of free odds that the player is allowed to take or lay. While practices vary from casino to casino, the electronic version of craps will almost always have more restrictive odds limits than the live game in that same casino. All of this said, bubble craps can still be a good option for many players.
Particularly if you are new to craps, these machines can be a great way to learn the game, because you won’t have to worry about not knowing the correct table etiquette and upsetting other players. Assuming the player sticks to the good wagers outlined in this article, the slow rate of comp accumulation and often stingy odds do not make these machines a bad bet, by any means. They are just usually not as good a bet as the live table game.
Anther innovation that has appeared in casinos recently is a live table game known as “crapless craps.” On the surface, this appears to be a version of craps where the casino has eliminated the possibility for the shooter to crap out on their come-out roll. But an important rule of thumb to keep in mind with any casino game is that new versions which are invented always have rule changes that cut against the player.
Think about it: casinos would not take the time to pay the licensing fees for new versions of games such as craps unless they stood to make more money by spreading that game than they would with the standard version. This rule holds true for crapless craps as well.
Crapless craps eliminates the possibility of losing on the come-out roll. Instead, it turns the 2, 3, and 12 into point numbers. Importantly, the game also turns the 11 into a point number, so if you roll this on the come-out, you will not automatically win. The problem with this change is that all of these numbers are difficult to roll on a pair of dice. The increased frequency of points being established, combined with the fact that these points show up rarely, inflates the house edge on the passline bet considerably, to 5.38 percent. The come bet has the same ugly house edge.
Depending on the odds that the casino allows, the player can lower this edge a bit, but will never be able to get the house advantage anywhere near what is possible in a standard craps game. Much like 6-5 blackjack, crapless craps is a game designed to take advantage of players who are unaware of how seemingly benign rules changes can turn a good game for the player into a lousy one. Thankfully, the game is not very common at the time of this writing, but steer clear if you do encounter it.
The game of craps includes some of the best and some of the worst bets available in a casino. In terms of games that require no skill beyond learning to select the right bets and to bet properly, it does not get any better than craps. Players can easily get the house edge below one percent given liberal odds allowances. But despite all of this, craps is still a negative expectation game. Your expected loss might be miniscule, but you will always be playing at a disadvantage. Still, the smart player can increase her or his chances of walking away from the table a winner by exclusively making the bets on the table that offer a house edge below two percent. To recap, these are:
- Pass/don’t pass backed up with the maximum amount of odds allowed in that casino.
- Come/don’t come and their corresponding odds bets.
- Place bets on 6 and 8.
Importantly, the player should make sure they are sufficiently bankrolled to take advantage of the odds bets. Also, be mindful of the amount of money that you have out on the table at once. Keep in mind that a single roll could wipe out all of it. In his earlier version of this article, Steve suggested at least 7 times the maximum amount that you expect to have on the table, with 10 times being an even safer amount. This will allow your bankroll to survive the inevitable cold streaks and get you to the long term. If you are unable to bring this amount of bankroll with you, then it is best to stick to making just the pass/don’t pass bets and backing them up with the greatest amount of odds that the casino (and your bankroll!) will allow.
If you follow the above guidelines, it is possible to play craps against a miniscule house edge, all the while having fun and enjoying the comradery of the craps table. Good luck!
Spencer Musick is an advantage video poker player and sports journalist. He is based in Beijing, China, and one of his favorite pastimes is traveling to different casinos around the world. He enjoys the opulent casinos of Macau every bit as much as the grind joints of downtown Las Vegas, where he began playing craps to break up those long video poker sessions. The author would like to thank John Grochowski for the information on crapless craps, which was detailed on his blog at: https://www.888casino.com/blog/craps-strategy/crapless-craps
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