Learning Craps: The 5-Step Tutorial You Didn't Know You Needed

A Guide for Learning Craps Image

Craps is the most exciting game in the casino. I just wrote a tutorial about learning roulette, and one of the things I pointed out in that post is that roulette is laid-back. Learning craps is just the opposite.

If you walk into a casino and see a bunch of gamblers standing around a table cheering and giving each other high fives, then you're looking at the craps table. You don't see this kind of camaraderie or excitement at any of the card games-not even blackjack.

In another contrast with roulette, craps is not something most people can just walk up to the table and learn. When I attended the casino classes for various casino games, the craps class was the one with the most attendees. Most people can figure out or already know how to play roulette or blackjack.

But craps can be intimidating.

With this tutorial, though, it doesn't have to be.

How Craps Works

Craps is a dice game. It uses two six-sided dice. Unlike roulette and blackjack, where the dealer uses the machinery of the game to generate results, the players get to use the machinery of the game to generate results.

Players at the craps table get to take turns being the "shooter". That's the person who rolls the dice each round. If you're a craps shooter, you get to roll the dice until you "lose".

All the players at the table, including the shooter, are betting on the outcome of the shooter's rolls. A craps table resembles a roulette table in the respect that it has lots of bets on it where you can place your chips.

But unlike roulette bets, where the house edge remains the same regardless of which bet you place, craps bets vary. I'll cover the various bets available, and the house edge, in the next two sections of the tutorial.

In this section, I want to explain how the game works.

The shooter rolls the dice across the table. She must hit the back wall with the dice; if the dice don't get all the way across the table, there's no action.

These dice are provided by the casino. They're red and translucent. There's a reason for their translucency, too.

Have you ever heard the expression "loaded dice"? These are dice that have weights in them which affect the likelihood of certain results. These weights would be visible in a translucent set of dice. Their translucency is a safeguard against cheating.

A round of craps begins when the shooter makes her first throw. She's going to see one of three possible results on this first throw (which is called the "come out roll"):

  1. 2, 3, or 12 - If the shooter gets one of these totals, she has "crapped out". This is considered "losing", although the shooter-and the other players-have the option to bet on this outcome. This ends her turn to shoot, too.
  2. 7 or 11 - If the shooter gets one of these totals, she wins and gets to keep shooting.
  3. Any other number sets a point. Once the point is set, the shooter continues to shoot until she either rolls the same total as the point or a total of 7. If she rolls the point, that's considered a win. If she rolls a 7 before rolling a point, she loses.

The concept of winning and losing is based on the most basic of craps bets-the pass bet. This is also sometimes called a win bet or a right bet. If you place this bet and the shooter wins, you get even money as winnings.

You and the other players also have the option of betting don't pass. This is a bet that the shooter will lose. It's also called a lose bet or a wrong bet.

In a streets craps game, these are the only bets available for the most part-although players can negotiate all kinds of proposition bets.

But in the casino, you have LOTS of other options to bet on at the table.

Craps Bets Are Good, Bad, and Ugly

I covered the two most basic bets in the last section:

  1. Pass
  2. Don't Pass

Both these bets are great bets for the player. The house edge is low.

But you can make the house edge even lower with a third bet that's called "taking odds". This is my favorite bet at the craps table.

If the shooter rolls a point, you have the option of placing an additional bet behind your pass or don't pass bet. That additional bet is a multiple of your original bet, and the casino usually has a limit on how much you're able to bet. The more you can bet on odds, the better.

Here's an example:

You're playing craps at a casino which allows 3X odds bets. You bet $100 on pass, and the shooter rolls an 8 on the come-out roll. You can now place an additional bet of $300.

The $100 pass bet still pays off at even money, but the odds bet pays off based on which total you get if the shooter makes a point:

The brilliant thing about this bet is that it has no house edge at all. It's the only bet in the casino that pays off at the same odds of winning.

By putting more money into play with no house edge, the cumulative effect on the house edge of the pass (or don't pass) bet is to reduce it dramatically.

The core of any respectable strategy in any casino game is to get the house edge as low as possible. In craps, this is done by making the bets with the lowest house edge, then taking as much odds as you possibly can.

But those bets only scratch the surface of what's available. Here are the other bets available on the craps table:

Come Bet - This is the same as the pass bet, but it's placed on the shooter's latest roll. It treats that roll as if it were a new come out roll.

Don't Come Bet - This is the same as the don't pass bet, but with the same changes as the come bet.

You can take odds on the come and don't come bets, too.

Place Bets - This is a bet you can only make after the point has been set. It's a bet that a specific total will come up before the shooter rolls a 7. For example, no matter what the point is, you could make a place bet on a total of 4. If the shooter rolls a 4 before rolling a 7, this bet pays off.

Field Bets - A place bet stays on the table until the number you bet on is rolled or a 7 is rolled, whichever comes first. A field bet is only in play on a single roll. You win if the total on this roll is 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 12. You lose if the total on this roll is 5, 6, 7, or 8.

Big Six and/or Big Eight - These are two separate bets on getting a 6 or an 8 before a 7 gets rolled.

You also have proposition bets available in craps:

Ace Deuce pays off if a total of 3 is rolled. (The only way to get a total of 3 is if you get a 1+2 or a 2+1. That's the ace and the deuce. Get it?)

Aces - This is also sometimes called "boxcars". It pays off if a total of 2 or 12 shows up. Any craps pays off if a 2, 3, or 12 shows up.

Any 7 pays off if a 7 is rolled.

Eleven pays off if an 11 is rolled.

Hardways - These are bets on even totals that they'll come up with doubles. For example, a bet on hard 8 only pays off if the two dice both come up with a 4. A 5+3 wouldn't pay off.

Horn bet - This is a bet that pays off if the total is 2, 3, 11, or 12.

In roulette, all the bets on the table have the same house edge (5.26% or 2.70%, depending on whether you're playing American style roulette or European style roulette.)

But in craps, the house edge varies widely from one bet to another. The best bets on the table have a house edge around 1%, while the worst bets have a house edge that soars as high as 17%.

The House Edge in Craps

In this section, I'll explain how high (or low) the house edge is for each bet. I also give some examples of how the house edge is determined.

You'll find a detailed explanation of what the house edge is in one of my previous posts, but here's an explanation of the concept in a nut shell:

The house edge is a statistical average that represents how much of each bet you can expect to lose.

If we say that the house edge for a game is 5%, this means that over time you'll average $5 lost on every $100 bet you make.

This happens over the long run, of course. Sometimes you'll win $100. Sometimes you'll win more. And many times, you'll lose $100.

The best bet on the craps table is the odds bet. The house edge for this bet is 0. But you can only place this bet if you've already placed a pass or don't pass bet. (Or a come or don't come bet.)

The odds of winning this bet, and the odds you'll get paid if you do win, are the same. The house edge on all casino bets stems from the difference between the odds of winning and the odds you get paid. In the case of the odds bet, there is no difference.

The next best bets at the craps table are the most basic bets-the pass and don't pass bets. The house edge on the pass bet is 1.41%, and the house edge on the don't pass bet is 1.36%.

Most players stick with the pass bet, because it's just more fun to root for the shooter. And since most of the other players are making this bet, you're all rooting for the shooter together.

Some players do like the don't pass bet, though. These players are called "wrong bettors". Jimmy the Greek was famous for always being a wrong bettor.

I'm of the opinion that either is fine. Any time you play a game where the house has an edge, you'll lose all your money if you play long enough. The difference in house edge only affects how quickly you can expect to lose it. With a difference of just 0.05%, you won't last much longer being a wrong bettor. And you'll miss out on some of the fun, which is the point anyway.

The come and don't come bets have the same house edge as the pass and don't pass bets, because the odds of winning and the payoffs are the same.

The house edge on place bets vary based on the total. The best place bets are on 6 and 8. They pay off at 7 to 6, and the house edge is 1.5%. A place bet on 5 or 9 pays off at 7 to 5 and has a house edge of 4%. The worst place bets are on totals of 4 and 10, and the house edge on those is 6.7%.

You'd think that big six or big eight would offer a low house edge, but you'd be wrong. The house edge on these bets is 9.09%. Either of these bets pays off at even odds.

Hardway bets are lousy, too. A bet on hard 4 or hard 10 pays off at 7 to 1, and the house edge is 11.1%. A bet on hard 6 or hard 8 pays off at 6 to 1, and the house edge is 9.09%.

Any 7 is one of the worst bets at the table. Its house edge of 16.9% makes it almost as bad as a bet on keno. It pays off at 4 to 1.

Any Craps has a house edge of 11.1%. It pays off at 7 to 1.

A couple of the proposition bets have huge payouts. Proposition 2 or 12 pays off at 30 to 1, which sounds great-until you look at the house edge of 13.9%.

Proposition 3 or 11 only pays off at 15 to 1, but the house edge is marginally better at 11.1%.

As you've probably noticed by now, the best bets are the simplest bets. If you never did anything at the craps table besides bet on pass or don't pass and took maximum odds, you'd have a lot of fun at a low price.

The combined house edge on 3X odds is only 0.47%. On don't pass, it's 0.34%. The more odds you can take, the lower that combined house edge gets.

But it never hits 0, because you always place that original bet with a house edge to make the odds bet.

You can use this information to calculate an expected hourly loss, too. All you need to know is the average number of bets per hour, the size of the average wager, and the house edge.

Let's assume you're playing at a crowded table and only seeing 100 rolls of the dice per hour. You're betting an average of $100 per roll, and you're taking 3X odds. The house edge is 0.47%.

You're putting $10,000 per hour into action, and you can expect to lose 47 cents per hour. That's some of the cheapest action in the house.

Craps Strategy Advice

Craps strategy is surprisingly easy. Stick with the bets with the low house edge. Take as much on the odds bet as you can to keep the combined house edge low.

That's it.

You don't need to worry about what happened on the previous rolls of the dice. You don't have to switch bets based on previous results. You don't need to hedge your bets or change the size of your bets.

Just have fun with it.

And ignore the silliness about dice control. I'm skeptical that it's even possible.

But if it is possible, most people-you and me included-aren't going to spend the time and effort required to learn it.

Playing Craps on the Internet

You can find online craps games for real money on the Internet in two different varieties. The first is the most common. It's an animated video game version of craps that's powered by a random number generator.

This kind of game is good for practice. And the random number generator does a good job of duplicating the odds of a pair of dice.

The other kind of game is played on a Webcam with a live dealer. I think this is the more exciting version to play. It's not as exciting as playing in a live casino, but it's still a lot of fun.

Keep in mind that when claiming signup bonuses, you probably can't use wagers at the craps table to fulfill your wagering requirements. The house edge is so low that the casino is worried you might be able to almost guarantee a profit.


Craps is a great game. Next to blackjack and video poker, it's my favorite casino game. Its biggest disadvantage is that it's hard to learn and intimidating.

I hope you found the information in this post detailed enough to make the game less intimidating and easier to learn. I enjoyed writing this learning craps tutorial, and maybe someday I'll see you at the tables in Vegas.