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Friday, April 15, 2011

How To Play Craps Vegas Style

[Click to enlarge]

Most casinos in the world have craps tables, alluring and mysterious to the passersby. Want to step up to the table and play the best way possible? Here we go.

Look over the above picture of half a craps table just to orient yourself (the other half is the mirror image of this).  The secret to craps is to understand that some numbers come up more often than others, and the casinos take advantage of the fact that many people don't know that. Here's the same table I reprinted in a recent post that demonstrates how many combinations go into the roll of two dice:

Note that in a pyramid of these numbers we get:

7 (the most likely combination) and then:
6 and 8 (either side of 7)
5 and 9 (etc.)
4 and 10
3 and 11
2 and 12

So, as a general guide, the further the number is from seven, the less likely it is to be rolled.

The craps table is filled with sucker bets. In the top photo observe the part of the craps table layout that says "Field." If you place a bet there and the next roll of the dice hits one of those number it will pay off. That seems like a good bet until you realize that, 6, 7, and 8 are all missing, and, combined, those numbers will hit a lot. The "Field" is rigged for the least likely combinations, and is therefore a loser's wager.

So where should you place your bet? The answer is on the PASS line, which rings the table near the bettors. Place your bet there, right in front of you, waiting until the dealers indicate that the last roll is over and are moving the money around (you do not have to wait until it is your turn to throw the dice—an option you may always refuse when dice are shoved by the "stick man" in your direction).

The basic idea of the game is this:

A. The dealer will pay you even money for your bet if the first roll (called "the come-out roll") is either a 7 or an 11, but your bet is lost if the first roll is 2, 3, or 12 (collectively called "craps").

Jean Stapleton
B. If some other number is rolled, that number is called the "point," and the bettor will win if the point number is rolled before a 7 is rolled, no matter what other numbers are rolled in between. If the 7 comes up first, the PASS line bet is lost. I was once at a table in the old Dessert Inn when actress Jean Stapleton (she of TV's "All in the Family"), a charming woman, had the dice and made twelve passes in a row without hitting a 7. That was a happy, happy table.

After your point number is established, the dealer opposite you will take a round object that looks like a hockey puck and has the word "ON" on it, and move it to the number in front of him, which indicates that that is the point number. Now anyone looking at the table knows the PASS line number at a glance. In the photo below, the point is 4.

Of course with only a PASS line bet there can be many rolls of the dice before the PASS line issue is settled with either the point number (let's say it's 4) being hit or the shooter "sevening out." That could get boring, and craps is not a boring game. Time for some more action.

Let's move to the COME line. Now place your bet there. The COME line is the new PASS line for that bet, and all the above rules apply to that bet. If 7 or 11 is rolled, you will win (since for the COME line this is the start of the game, if craps (2, 3, 12) you lose, and any other number becomes a new point number for you. The dealer will move your COME bet to a number in front of him that corresponds to roughly where you are standing at the table. Let's say your COME number is a 6. Now you have two numbers that will pay: 4 (PASS line) and 6. But if the shooter rolls a 7, you will lose both bets. In the photo below (click to enlarge) the point is 5 (see the ON button), the dice have just rolled a 6, and the dealer is paying off the bets that were moved before the roll from the COME line to the 6 (kept separate by where the players are standing). Notice that there are also former COME line bets on the numbers 8 and 9. They will be resolved, as will the PASS line 5, by future shooting of the dice.

Having established one COME line point number, you can do it again and again until you have a bet on all the possible point numbers. If the shooter doesn't roll a 7, they can all pay off, over and over if you keep making COME bets. When the shooter finally rolls a 7, you will lose all yours bets except your new COME bet, which will pay even money (because the COME bet is always the start of a new game as far as it's concern, and a 7 is a good number on the first roll).

Odds Betting. Now we get to Odds Betting, and that is where savvy gamblers can clean up when standing at a lucky table. The casino will let you place side bets on whether the point number will come up before a 7 is rolled. These side bets pay off at true odds (with the casino getting no advantage of any kind): the smartest bets in gambling. As we've seen, because of the number of spots on the dice, certain numbers are more likely to come up than others, and odds betting reflects this. Think about it for a moment.  The numbers 6 or 8 are good point numbers to have, being rolled a lot. But 4 or 10 are unlikely combinations. Yet all the point numbers on the PASS or COME line pay the same: even money. That's not right. Difficult points should pay more, and they do in Odds betting.

Odds Bet on the Five
To place an Odds bet on the Pass line, once the PASS line point number is established, put the relevant amount of money (see below) behind the line between you and the Pass Line. To place odds bets on COME line points, hand the money to the dealer and state "Odds." The dealer will add your Odds bet to your COME line bet as it's moved to the numbers in front of the dealer.

The Odds bets must be in the following increments, depending on the point number:

Points of 6 or 8: bet in increments of five dollars; the casino will pay six dollars for each five bet.
Points of 5 or 9: bet in even number increments; the casino will pay three dollars for each two bet.
Points of 4 or 10: bet anything you like; if these points are hit, the casino will double your odds bet.

If you can't remember these, simply ask the dealer what Odds bets are possible.

The best way to play craps has this Golden Rule: place the minimum amount of money you can afford on the Pass Line/Come Line, and the maximum amount of money as Odds bets. In the photo below the player has not understood this. The big bet should be the Odds bet and not the PASS line bet.

Even better, most casinos will allow bigger Odds bets than the PASS line bet (which itself will have a table minimum). There will be a little plaque on the table announcing this: "Five Time Odds" (or some number) it will say. Choose a casino that allows small PASS line bets and big Odds bets. The best of these in Vegas are right downtown and not on the strip. If Caesar's Palace has a five dollar minimum for PASS line bets and "Five Times Odds," but the Horseshoe downtown has a one dollar PASS line and a "hundred times Odds bet," where is the best place to play?

Wrong Way Betting: Notice that the craps table layout has a section marked "DON'T PASS" followed by the word "BAR" and a drawing of two dice adding up to 12. People placing bets here (or on the similar DON'T COME) are betting against the shooter, and thus hoping that sevens will be rolled before the shooter's point. They are called "wrong way bettors," and, in effect, are on the side of the house. However the BAR 12 keeps them from winning if 12 is rolled as craps on the come-out roll, taking away some of their advantage. Wrong way betters also have to reverse the Odds bets, wagering more money to win less (if the point is 8, the wrong way bettor would have to place an Odds bet of six dollars to win five—this upside down betting is called "laying the odds"). If you're a professional gambler and spend your life playing craps there is a very small statistical advantage to being a wrong way bettor. But the times I've done so I've always given it up quickly. Why? Because if the shooter has established a lot of points, and so has everyone else at the table, when the shooter rolls a 7 and everyone groans, you are laughing and cleaning up. You'll get looks. People who just lost their rent will truly hate you.

More about sucker bets on the table. Take the Hard Ways. Say that the point is an even number. If the point (say, 6) is rolled before a 7 in such a way that the dice are the same (3 and 3), that is said to be making the point the "hard way." If you'd placed a bet on the Hard Six (the middle of the table in front of the stickman), dice showing 3 and 3 would pay you 10 for 1 if 6 is the point. Why is that a sucker bet? Because the true odds are 10 to 1, cheating you out of a dollar ("for" versus "to"). The only time I ever play the Hard Way or other sucker bets is when I'm tipping the dealers during a good run.

If you start to win, place the bigger chips in your pocket ("salting them away") and never, never touch the salt until you are at the cashier's cage turning them into real money. When things are going well, increase your Odds bets. Basic strategy of all gambling: increase bets slowly when things go well, but decrease them fast and ride out a bad streak. It always helps to have hot shooters who can only find a 7 on the first roll (when it's a winner).

If you do shoot the dice, there are some rules to keep magicians and cheaters from switching dice: (1) only one of your hands can touch the dice, (2) don't put the dice out of sight (say below the table), (3) and throw them hard enough they bounce off the other end of the table. If you get confused about anything, the dealers are there to help you. Ask questions.

I recommend taking a $100 to the craps table as a minimum. First stand and watch the action for awhile until you are used to the rhythm of the game and can tell what's going on (and see who's playing smart and who not). When a spot you like opens up, step up, and place your money on the PASS line.

Oh, and good luck!
Related Posts:
"Far Too High in Las Vegas," September 1, 2010
"Playing Blackjack With an Old Chinese Woman," April 3, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013


  1. Great, great post! It’s something I have never thought about, really, but it makes a whole lot of sense. Thanks for sharing

  2. I just started playing craps and I always bet the don't pass . So far I've won more than I've lost. I play poker several times a week so I'm very used to having the other players mad at me when I win. If there is a statistical advantage to the don't pass line then I'll take it. Who cares what the other players think or feel about me winning?

    1. your there to win not lose. you play the odds in your favor not the odds against. i agree if they don't like it and there losing there doing something wrong bet the other way

  3. Thanks for sharing evveryone should read this before going to Craps school