A Crash Course in Craps

Crash Course in Craps

Craps is another classic casino table game that can be intimidating to new gamblers. If you've never darkened the door of a casino before, you probably know the name "craps" and associate the game with a pair of dice. But that's probably about all you know. Craps has a reputation as a difficult game, but that's all due to its complicated betting layout. The game itself is not complicated, and once you learn a little bit of craps jargon, you'll be ready to play like an old pro.

This page is designed to teach you how to play craps, and give you the confidence to make a craps bet, over the course of a few thousand words. The page includes an FAQ, information about the game's history and rules, a section detailing all the different bet styles in craps, plus notes on strategy and game etiquette. In short, it's a crash course to craps, and it includes everything you need to know to gamble like an expert.

An FAQ for Craps Beginners

What is craps?

Craps is a casino table game that produces results based on the roll of a pair of dice. Craps players are betting on the outcome of that dice roll, or the outcome of a longer series of dice rolls. Two dice are always used, and the total of the two dice will always determine the number used to determine winnings.

Craps tables are usually surrounded by people, but you only need to pay close attention to two of them, the shooter and the stickman. The shooter is the player whose turn it is to roll the dice. Players take turns in the shooter role. The stickman is the employee whose jobs include calling out the total of the dice and returning the dice to the shooter with a long-handled stick device. These two make up the most important action around a craps table.

We cover the history of craps in a section below, but let's just say here that craps came to America as a gambling tradition with roots in France and other parts of Western Europe. Craps and roulette have that in common - both are classic games of chance that made it to the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas after centuries as a back-alley gamble.

Where does that awful name come from?

While the name might sound a little rude in English, there's a perfectly normal explanation. Remember that craps is French. Then, armed with the knowledge that "crapaud" means toad, maybe you can put two and two together and figure out where the name came from. Still stumped? Picture a group of men playing craps on the sidewalk. They're not sitting in chairs, and they're not on their knees - they're huddled around the dice, squatting like little toads while they gamble. This is apparently where we get the modern name of everyone's favorite dice-tossing game.

Isn't craps for hardcore gamblers?

Craps can be a high-stakes game favored by casino VIPs with huge wads of cash in their pocket. But it can also be played as an advantage game, favored by gamblers who prefer not to lose a dime of their bankroll.

Like any gambling game, craps is all about risk and reward. Every one of crap's infamously-complex bets offer some risk and some reward. Many of these bets give the casino a huge statistical advantage against bettors, but all you have to do to avoid those long odds is avoid the bets that carry them. Learning to play craps means learning how to bet the smart way and avoid the high-roller bait wagers that have become a part of the game.

The truth is that some of the wagers available on every craps table in the world give the house an edge of less than two percent. That puts these bets in good company with other low-risk games like video poker and blackjack. We cover more on game odds and rules further down the page.

A Crash Course in Craps History

Dice are the oldest gambling props in recorded history. Before tiles, dominoes, and playing cards, humans gambled with dice or dice-like gadgets that can be easily carved or whittled from wood, bone, or other materials. No doubt humans have been gambling on craps-like games for thousands of years. We don't think any primitive dice games had betting structures as complex as craps, but the basic idea must have been the same.

As far as games with an actual resemblance to craps - the earliest game that historians point to is called "hazard," a dice game that was wildly popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. You could compare the craze around hazard in the 1600s to the Texas hold'em poker craze. People from the medieval period were absolutely mad for this simple dice game played with dice made from the small bones of pigs and other livestock. The two games share more than basic rules - they share jargon. The poet Geoffrey Chaucer is the first to use the word "bones" to refer to dice, and the phrase "roll the bones" first appeared in print in 1697, in a reference to a hazard game.

When did hazard become craps? Around the time of the American Civil War, a French noble living in Louisiana (with the incredible name of Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville) shared a simplified version of hazard which he'd picked up on holiday in England in years past. The gamblers in New Orleans who learned the game absolutely fell for it. One of them, an American by the name of John Winn, made his living by manufacturing gaming props. Looking for a new market in which to sell dice, he formalized the rules, and (most importantly) introduced the pass/don't pass bet. That game spread from New Orleans all the way to the frontier by the end of the 1860s.

At some point, the name popped up, a bastardization of the French "crapaud," and when Las Vegas casinos opened in the 1930s, they featured craps heavily in their game lineups. Craps is thus one more game made more appealing and more accessible by the boom in US gambling since the early part of the 20th century.

What's happening in craps in the years since? A 2013 study out of UNLV found that craps is producing a weak revenue stream for casinos that invest in it. Thirty years ago, craps made up 30% of casino revenues in Nevada. By 2012, it was consistently producing just shy of 10% of gaming revenue in the state. This is just one example in one state - we couldn't find a single state reporting an increase in craps revenue. While craps is shrinking from live casinos, with many hosting it by rote or in honor of tradition, it is still available in a big way online. You won't find a Web-based casino that doesn't host at least one version of the game.

A Crash Course in Craps Rules

A new round of play starts when the shooter receives the dice from the stickman. The shooter's first action is to place a bet on the Pass line. The first roll that the shooter makes is called the come-out roll. After placing his bet on Pass, he makes the come-out roll. Bettors can wager either with the shooter (on "Pass") or against the shooter (on "Don't Pass."). We cover these bets in greater detail further down the page. For now, just know that this initial bet is required, and most bettors will bet with the shooter on his come-out roll. The shooter must toss the dice down the length of the table. Most casinos require that the shooter toss them hard enough to make them bounce off the back wall.

At this point, if the shooter rolls a 2, 3, or 12, the play is "craps," and the round is over. Any bettors who bet with the shooter on the Pass line lose their bet. On the other hand, if the shooter rolls a 7 or 11 (called a "natural"), all bettors who bet on the Pass line win their wager, as does the shooter. At this point, the shooter can choose to make a new come-out roll, or pass the dice to another player, relieving himself of his turn as the shooter.

IIf the come-out roll comes up any other number besides 2, 3, 7, 11, or 12, that number becomes the "point." The shooter (and anyone betting with him) has a totally new objective - to roll that point number again before the number 7 comes up. If the shooter reaches the point before he rolls a 7, anyone who bet on the Pass line wins. If, on the other hand, a 7 comes up first, the round ends, and the people who bet on the Pass line lose their money.

A Crash Course in Craps Bets

Of course, a real game of craps isn't quite that simple. That would get boring after a while, wouldn't it? Craps offers a variety of betting options. That's one of the appealing things about craps - the variety of experience available to bettors, from low-risk advantage bets to long-shot big payday affairs. In this section, we describe every craps bet and give some information about its payout and the house edge.

A Crash Course in Craps Strategy

To some people, the concept of gambling strategy is laughable. After all, games like craps are designed to win. The fact that we posted all those house edge numbers above is proof - besides a couple of oddball 0% house edge bet options, every wager in craps will eventually favor the house. That's the way the game is designed. To that end, how can you create any kind of strategy?

We like to think of things a bit differently. We think there's plenty of strategy to be found in things like game choice, bet size, betting options, and plenty of other features. Remember - gambling is a form of entertainment. Gambling is just like going to the movies, shopping at the mall, or playing a round of golf. You're exchanging money for fun, for experience, and (with gambling) for a tiny chance of winning some money to take home. The second you forget that, there's no need for strategy.

Stick to Odds bets

Sure, every wager on the craps board gives the casino an advantage. But the trick to craps (and other casinos games) is that some advantages are tiny and others are enormous. Our first tip involves focusing all your bets on the game's best wagers - the 0% house edge Odds wagers.

Odds bets are the only totally level playing field in the casino that doesn't require card-counting.

Odds bets are magical, because they can only be made after a series of pass/don't pass and/or come/don't come bets which have already paid the house its due advantage. That's why the odds bets themselves don't actually give the casino an edge - they're made after wagers which have already paid the piper.p

Odds bets pay a reward equal to their risk. That means when the odds against an outcome (like rolling a 4 before rolling a 7) are 2-to-1 against, the house will pay 2-to-1 on that particular winning odds wager. What does that mean? You'll lose two times more than you win, but you'll win two times as much money as you risk. Given a limitless amount of money and time to place odds bets against the house, you'd break even over and over and over again. If that doesn't sound sexy to you, you're not the kind of gambler we're talking to.

There's a catch, though. You can only place an odds bet if you've already placed a pass/don't pass or come/don't come bet. Those bets give the casino just enough edge to warrant the 0% edge on odds bets. Because you have to sacrifice a little bit of advantage to the casino, odds bets are perfect tools for minimizing losses. Just don't expect them to increase your winnings.

Here's how it works:

MoMost venues will let you place 2X odds bets after the appropriate triggering wager. So let's say you place a $5 bet on the pass line - you'll have the option of betting up to $10 once a point is established. Remember that every buck you place in the odds bet space shaves a tiny bit off the casino's edge - so bet the most you're allowed. The larger your odds bet, the more the casino's edge on your triggering bet approaches 0. Over time, those tiny shavings off the house edge add up.

Practice Craps for Free

Practice is everything when it comes to learning a new game. Craps has a complicated betting layout, one you'll get better at with practice. Since craps is an expensive game to play frivolously, we suggest that you find a free game online and play it as often as you can.

The Internet is a magical place. Thanks to the Internet, we can pay our bills in the middle of the woods, order a pizza delivered by drone, and find dates while we play Angry Birds and listen to David Bowie at full-blast. If you're trying to learn how to play craps, we highly recommend that you find an online casino you enjoy and practice the game in their free-play version. Most online casinos will give you $1,000 in pretend money and let you play any game in their library. These games are close enough to the real thing to act as trainers, and you can test out theories or obscure bets to your heart's content, safe in the knowledge that your mortgage will still get paid, even if you lose every hand.

Know When to Quit

If anything, craps is a game of streaks. Ups and downs are pretty much built into craps culture. Those streaks can break your heart or your bankroll. They can also force you to behave in some pretty bizarre ways. One tip we find ourselves telling everyone we talk to about craps is to know when to quit.

What this tip comes down to is basic bankroll management. Before you step up to a craps game, set a win and loss limit. You might say: "I'll quit when I lose or win $1,000." Whatever your personal limit is, the point is to establish it and stick to it. That's one easy way to make sure you know when to quit. You could also have a partner to help you stay accountable for your time at the craps table. Remember, craps is supposed to be fun. Losing all your money because you didn't know when to quit isn't my idea of a good time.

A Crash Course in Craps Etiquette

Now that you know how the game of craps runs, what sorts of bets you can make, plus a little bit about the game's history and ideal strategy, it's time to learn the basics of how to ACTUALLY go up to a table and play the game. Don't be intimidated by the cheering crowd or the bright lights. Remember, you know how to play this game, you know how to bet. Also remember that everyone at the craps table, including all five dealers, wants you to win and wants you to have a good time.

One of the sticky things about casino craps is that it comes with a long list of etiquette rules to follow. These etiquette rules are a combination of basic good gambling manners as well as established and traditional casino rules. We're not trying to scare you or make you think you'll have to study an etiquette book for hours. Basically, you can apply the three tips we share below, and stay on the right side of the dealer, the other players, and casino management.

1. Learn What to Do With Your Hands

Most of the casino etiquette rules you should know have to do with what you can and can't do with your hands and fingers. You can't touch game chips, props, and other things at certain times. Casino security will get on your case for this, if the dealer doesn't jump down your throat, and if a chorus of your fellow bettors doesn't set you straight first.

You can't place money on the layout while the player is either holding or about to shoot the dice. It's considered a disruption to the flow of play, and it can confuse the dealers, who are already struggling to work together to run a rowdy table game. Besides, do you want to be the one blamed for a shooter sevening out, because you touched the table at the wrong time? No, you don't.

You shouldn't place your hands on the craps table in general. This is a security issue yes, but it's also just good etiquette thing. Think of the craps table as the dealer's tool. Every part of every table game is a sort of sacred thing. You don't go into the kitchen and put your hands all over the chef's knives - so don't touch or molest the craps table or other props.

Be Be careful of your behavior around the stickman. No stickman wants some drunk idiot flapping their arms in front of them - but the stickman's job depends on not having that happen. He's not going to be distracted by your ridiculous behavior - that's not the point. It's just rude, and it slows the game down, and it can be considered a very serious breach of game etiquette.

2. Read Body Language and Facial Expressions

This lesson will apply to every part of your life, not just the craps table. The easiest way to make friends in any aspect of your life is to learn how to observe human beings. Remember that craps is a social game - most people who play are ready to be friendly and bet with you, cheer for your wins and cry over your losses. But there will always be some people who don't want to be part of the crowd. The trick to getting along with craps players is to learn the difference between the two, and react to them differently. You could say the same about pretty much every interaction with people, right?

Talking to the bettors at the table with you isn't just acceptable, it's expected. The ability to look for signs that a person either does or doesn't want to be friendly is half the battle with craps etiquette. Obviously, if you see someone who's betting against the shooter or keeping to themselves, you should probably leave them alone.

WhaWhat do people who don't want to be social look like? You'll see things like closed lips, lowered eyes, an ugly expression on their face, a closed posture with crossed arms, or a decidedly low voice. Signs that a person might be looking for conversation include eye contact, a happy expression, a more open posture, or a loud and very noticeable voice.

3. Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Craps players are social people, which means they're happy to help new craps players who have a question. The biggest mistake you can make, etiquette-wise, is not asking a question because you're shy or embarrassed.

Not only will the other players help you, but one of the five dealers working your table will be happy to help, too. They do this to make sure that their game runs smooth, that their tips go up, and that they get in as many rounds per hour as possible. The best way to ask a question is to talk to a dealer or a player before you start playing. You do this by making eye contact, speaking clearly, and being respectful. Dealers are encouraged to help people with craps and other game rules to encourage play and encourage more betting.

Be Be confident in your new knowledge of the game. Remember, you're ready to take on any craps table you find. Step up to a table with confidence, smile and make eye contact with everyone, and start to ask your questions. We've never known of anyone to walk away from a craps session with a bad feeling about craps players and dealers.


Live craps is something special. If you've never been a part of an emotional table on a winning streak, you can't understand the game's magnetic appeal. It is the most social game on the casino floor, since most players are winning and losing together. It's definitely the loudest game on the floor, and the one with the most dealers. At any given time, you'll see five people working a busy craps table.

We've seen the game translated for mobile devices of all types. Now that you can play craps through an online casino on your iPhone or Android gadget, it's clear that craps has a special hold on the American gambling industry. Though craps isn't as popular these days as during the heyday of American gambling in Vegas in the 20th century, it continues to entertain us and fascinate us.