WHY PLAY CRAPS ?

All casino games are arranged so that the house has an advantage over the player. So if you play long enough you can expect to eventually lose all of the money you bet. For some people, casino gambling offers enough excitement to overcome this cost. After all, when you go to a movie or sporting event, you pay your money without expecting to win any of it back. If you can treat gambling this way then it might not hurt you.

One goal of this tutorial is simply to satisfy the curiosity of people who want to know how craps is played and how odds are calculated. Among the more popular casino games, craps has a relatively low house edge; and, except for roulette, it is probably the easiest game to analyze.

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THE CRAPS CREW

Craps is usually a fast action game, and managing all the table activity requires four casino workers: a Stickman, two Dealers, and a Boxman. The Stickman calls out the results of each roll of the dice and retrieves the dice for the shooter ( dice thrower ) after each roll. The stickman also talks up the game and encourages players to make proposition bets [ which are not good bets ]. Dealers handle most of the bet requests and monetary transactions at the table. There is one Dealer for each half of the table. Dealers pay off the winning bets and take down loosing bets. ( Proposition bets, however, are often made through the Stickman instead of a Dealer. ) The Boxman is the “boss” of the table. She ( or he ) sits in a chair between the two dealers and handles most of the “banking” transactions. When you arrive at the table you give money to a Dealer, who buys chips for you from the Boxman, who pushes your paper money through a slot into a box beneath the table. The Boxman is also responsible for watching the game and ensuring that dealers make the correct payoffs to winners. Read more about the craps table crew here

GETTING STARTED

The person rolling the dice is called the shooter, and the very first roll that begins a game is called the come out roll. Before the come out roll, the shooter is required to place a line bet ( explained below ). Among all the players at the craps table, the shooter is the only one who is required to make a line bet. The shooter is allowed to make other types of bets in addition to his line bet. Other players can make line bets and/or other types of bets. Craps is not a team sport; each player competes for himself against the house.

There are two ways to make a line bet — you can either bet the PASS line or the DON’T PASS line. Most craps players bet the pass line more often than the don’t pass line. So if craps is totally new to you then you might want to ignore the don’t pass betting until after you understand pass line betting.

It would be legal for any player to place one bet on the pass line and another bet on the don’t pass line at the same time; however, this would not be a wise thing to do. If you’re going to place a line bet ( which is a good bet ) then choose either pass or don’t pass, but not both at once.

For either type of line bet, the payoff odds are one to one. That is, winners receive one dollar for each dollar they bet.

BETTING THE PASS LINE

Here is how pass line betting works. Suppose that a player named Alice decides to bet the pass line. She places her bet anywhere inside the area on the table marked PASS and waits for the shooter to roll the dice. If the come out roll shows a 7 or an 11, that’s called a natural; and, Alice, along with the other pass line bettors, immediately win their bets. If the come out is a is a 2, 3, or 12, that’s called craps; and, all pass line bettors immediately lose. If the come out is any other number ( 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10 ), then that number becomes the shooter’s point; and, the shooter rolls the dice repeatedly until he rolls either a 7 or his point. If the 7 appears, then the pass line bettors lose; if the point appears, they win. Numbers rolled other than 7 and the point can affect various other bets that people have made but have no effect on the pass line bet.

On each side of the craps table layout there are six point boxes that are labeled 4 5 6 8 9 and 10. Whenever the shooter establishes a point each dealer places a marker puck ( a disk that resembles a hockey puck ) into the appropriate point box at his end of the table. One side of the puck is white and the other side is black. Anyone just joining the game can immediately see what the shooter’s point is by observing either of the two marker pucks. If the shooter has not yet established a point then the pucks will have their black sides showing and will not be inside any point box. As soon as a point is established, each puck is turned over ( so that the white side is up ) and placed into the appropriate point box.

Example 1

Suppose that Alice puts $2 ( in chips ) on the pass line, and the shooter comes out on a ten. Since the come out roll is a ten, ten is the shooter’s point . Each dealer puts his marker puck ( white side up ) into the ten point box on the table. The shooter rolls again, and suppose that this time it’s a twelve. Since this is neither seven nor the point, Alice’s bet remains undecided. Suppose that the third roll is the point number ten. This makes Alice a winner because she bet the pass line, and the shooter rolled his point before rolling a seven. Alice picks up $4 in chips from the table. Since $2 of this was hers to start with, her actual winnings amount to just $2.

SMALL HOUSE EDGE

The probability of winning a pass line bet is exactly 244 / 495, which is about 0.49293. Thus your chances of winning a pass line bet are slightly less than one-half. As in nearly all casino games, the house has an advantage over the player. However, in part 2 we’ll also see how to compute the house edge ( also known as House Advantage) for various bets; and, we’ll see that the house edge for pass line bets is only about 1.41%, which is low compared to the house edge in most other casino games.

BETTING THE DON’T PASS LINE

The rules for don’t pass betting are almost ( but not exactly ) a reversal of the rules for pass line betting. Suppose that a player named Alice makes a bet on the don’t pass line. If the reversal were exact, here is how Alice’s don’t pass bet would be decided:

If the shooter rolls a 7 or 11 on the come out, then Alice would immediately lose. If the come out is a 2, 3, or 12 then Alice would immediately win. If a point were established then the shooter would roll the dice repeatedly until getting a 7 or his point. If the 7 appeared Alice would win, and if the point appeared she would lose.

If the above rules were actually used then players betting the don’t pass line would have a slight advantage over the house, and everybody would always bet the don’t pass line
. To maintain their house advantage,   the casinos make this slight change to the above rules:

A 12 on the come out roll is not a win for the don’t pass bettor.

For don’t pass bettors, the roll of a 12 on the come out roll is a push. It is neither a win nor a loss. For the don’t pass bettor, the push means that this roll is ignored, and the next roll is a new come out roll. Of course, the next roll is also a come out roll for the pass line bettors because they immediately lose when the come out is 12.

Note: In some casinos, the push number is 2 instead of 12. You can easily determine which number is a push by looking at the don’t pass line on the craps table. It will either say “Don’t pass bar 12” ( meaning 12 is the push number ) or “Don’t pass bar 2” ( meaning 2 is the push number ).

NEW SHOOTER

The players at the craps table take turns being the shooter; however, once a person becomes the shooter, he must continue to be the shooter until the outcome of his line bet is decided. At that point a new game will begin, possibly with a new shooter. At the end of any game, the shooter can voluntarily relinquish the dice to a new shooter. When a new shooter has to be chosen, the dice pass clockwise to the next player. This person can either accept or refuse the shooter role. Nobody is required to be the shooter, but most people seem to enjoy this job.

In some casinos, the only way you lose your right to continue being the shooter is to “seven out”, that is, to establish a point and then roll a 7 before repeating that point.

If that rule applies, then here would be some of its consequences :

  1. Whenever the game ends on a come out roll the shooter retains the right to continue being the shooter
  2. Whenever the shooter bets the pass line and wins he retains the right to continue being the shooter
  3. Suppose the shooter bets the don’t pass line and establishes a point.
    If the shooter wins his don’t pass bet, he loses the right to remain the shooter

THE FREE ODDS BET

If the shooter establishes a point on the come out roll then all players who made line bets are permitted to make a 2nd bet called a free odds bet. No one is required to make this bet, but it is a good bet to make because it pays off at fair odds — the casino has no house edge for the free odds bets.

When making a free odds bet, you do not simply add more chips to those for your line bet. The free odds chips are kept separate from line bet chips because these bets pay off at different rates. Line bets pay off at a one to one rate, but the payoff odds for free odds bets exactly match the mathematical odds against winning the bet.

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CASE 1      FREE ODDS BETS FOR PASS LINE BETTORS

If the shooter’s point is either 4 or 10 then the odds against making the point are 2 to 1 ( shown in part 2 ) . So winning free odds bets pay off at 2 to 1. For example, if your free odds bet was for $10, you would win $20.

If the shooter’s point is either 5 or 9 then the odds against making the point are 3 to 2. So winning free odds bets pay off at 3 to 2. For example, if your free odds bet was for $10, you would win ( 3 / 2 ) * $10 = $15.

If the shooter’s point is either 6 or 8 then the odds against making the point are 6 to 5. So winning free odds bets pay off at 6 to 5. For example, if your free odds bet was for $10, you would win ( 6 / 5 ) * $10 = $12.

The following table summarizes the probability to win and the payoff rate for each free odds pass line bet.

Table 1.     Free Odds Payoffs For Pass Line Bettors

PointProb to WinPayoff Odds
4 or 101 / 32 to 1
5 or 92 / 53 to 2
6 or 85 / 116 to 5

In part 2 we will see how the above table is derived.

Suppose you make a line bet, and the shooter establishes a point. It would then be a good idea to make a free odds bet. If you do so, then either both of your bets will win or both will lose. You can’t win one and lose the other.

There is an upper limit on how much your free odds bet can be. Some casinos allow the free odds bet to be any amount up to twice the line bet. In such cases, we say the casino offers double odds or 2X odds. If the casino allows you to bet five times the line bet then we’d say the casino offers 5X odds. Some casino’s offer 100X odds.

Note: The odds offered might differ from one table to another within the same casino.

When discussing the amount of casino odds offered ( 2X, 3X, etc. ), we sometimes refer to the number in front of the X as the “odds factor”. For example, if the odds offered are 5X, then the odds factor is 5.

For pass line bettors, the maximum free odds bet you are allowed to make is simply the product of the odds factor and the line bet.

Example 2

Consider a table where the casino offers 10X odds. Suppose the shooter puts $5 on the pass line, and the come out roll is a 9. Here the odds factor is 10 and the line bet is $5, so the shooter could bet up to $50 for his free odds bet. But he decides to bet only $10. He rolls the dice again, and his 2nd roll is a 5. Since this is neither 7 nor the point, he ignores it and rolls again. If this roll is a 7 then both the pass line and the free odds bets lose. But if this roll is a 9 then both bets win. The pass line bet would pay $5, and the free odds bet would pay $15 ( refer to table 1 and compute three-halves times the free odds bet = ( 3 / 2 ) * $10 = $15 )

CASE 2      FREE ODDS BETS FOR DON’T PASS BETTORS

A person who bets the don’t pass line is sometimes referred to as a “wrong way” bettor. One reason that most people bet the pass line is that when they make a free odds bet that wins they will be paid more money than they bet. However, the don’t pass bettor has to lay down more money than he stands to win because his probability of winning is greater than one-half ( see Table 2 ).

For DON’T PASS free odds bets, the payoff odds are exactly reversed from the PASS payoff odds.

Table 2.     Free Odds Payoffs For Don’t Pass Bettors

PointProb to WinPayoff Odds
4 or 102 / 31 to 2
5 or 93 / 52 to 3
6 or 86 / 115 to 6

COMPUTING THE MAXIMUM FREE ODDS BET

Note:   In addition to the following text, also see the section futher below called Full Double Odds.

For don’t pass bettors, the maximum size of a free odds bet is not found by multiplying the line bet by the odds factor. Instead, that product equals the maximum amount you are allowed to win on a free odds bet. In some cases, the don’t pass bettor must divide this product by the payoff odds to find the maximum free odds bet, and in other cases, he simply multiplies the line bet by 3. What is required depends on whether or not “Full Double Odds” are in effect.

 Full double odds can only be in effect when all 3 of these requirements are met:

  • The casino’s odds offered are 2X with Full Double Odds
  • the shooter’s point is either 6 or 8
  • the line bet is an even amount of money.

When full double odds apply,   the maximum free odds bet is simply 3 time the line bet; otherwise, use the following formula to see how big your don’t pass free odds bet can be.

  • Let   m = maximum size of a free odds don’t pass bet
  • f = the odds factor     ( e.g.   5X odds   →    f = 5 )
  • B = Line bet   =   amount you have already put on the don’t pass line
  • y = payoff odds for your line bet   ( given in Table 2 above )

Then   full double odds not offered   →  m =(f * B)/y

Note: The formula   m = ( f * B ) / y   can even be used when full double odds are offered,provided that you replace   f = 2   by   f = 2.5

In that case we have:    m = ( f * B ) / y    = ( 2.5 * B ) / ( 5 / 6 )    = ( 6 / 5 ) * ( 2.5 * B )    = ( 6 / 5 ) * ( 5 / 2 ) * B    = 3 * B

Here is a summary of how to compute   m     the maximum allowed free odds bet

Betting the PASS Line

if full double odds then m = 2.5 * B   else  m = f * B

Betting the DON’T PASS Line

if full double odds then m = 3 * B  else m = ( f * B ) /y

EXAMPLE 3

Suppose that Alice bets $5 on the don’t pass line at a table that offers 2X odds. The come out is a 9 and she wants to make a free odds bet. What is the maximum amount she can bet in free odds ?

Since Alice bet the don’t pass line, the 2X refers to how much she can win in free odds rather than how much she can bet in free odds. Her potential free odds winnings are limited to twice the line bet ( i.e. limited to $10 ).

Since Alice’s point is not 6 or 8,   full double odds cannot apply.
We can use the last formula given above to compute her maximum possible free odds bet.

  • We have
  • f = odds factor = 2
  • B = line bet = $5
  • y = payoff odds = 2 / 3   ( from last column of Table 2 )

m = maximum free odds bet allowed  = ( f * B ) / y  = (2 * $5) / ( 2 / 3 )  = $15

Here is another way Alice could determine her maximum allowed free odds bet:

She computes the amount that a PASS line bettor would be paid if he won a comparable bet. This would then equal the maximum DON’T pass free odds bet she could wager.

Alice says to herself, “Suppose I had made a pass line bet instead of a don’t pass bet. Then since we are at a 2X table, the maximum free odds pass line bet would obviously be twice my line bet, which would be $10. Now a winning $10 pass line bet would pay ( 3 / 2 ) * $10, which is $15. Therefore, $15 is the maximum don’t pass free odds bet I can make.”

Here is another summary for don’t pass free odds bets. It shows, for each possible point, the maximum free odds don’t pass bet and the potential winnings for that bet.

Don’t Pass Free Odds Bets

Pointmaximum free odds betwinnings for that bet
4 or 102 * f * Bf * B
5 or 9( 3 * f * B ) / 2f * B
6 or 8††

If full double odds are offered then:

  • † = 3 * B
  • †† = 5 * ( B / 2 )

else

  • † = [   ( 6 * f * B ) / 5 ]
  • †† = ( 5 / 6 ) * [   ( 6 * f * B ) / 5 ]

The value of   [   ( 6 * f * B ) / 5 ]   might be rounded down to the nearest dollar.

KNOW THE PAYOFFS BEFORE YOU BET

At the craps table, all payoffs are in dollars only. The dealers do not make change. Therefore you should make sure that you know what the payoff odds are for any craps bet you make so that any money you win is a whole number of dollars. In craps there are dozens of different kinds of bets you could make. Suppose, for example, that you win a $4 bet where the payoff odds are 7 to 5. Your winnings should be   ( 7 / 5 ) * $4   =   $5.60;   however, the casino might round this down to $5, and you would lose 60 cents simply because you weren’t careful enough to bet an amount of money that is evenly divisible by 5.

FULL DOUBLE ODDS

At a 2X table, when you bet the pass line and then make a free odds bet, the size of your odds bet cannot exceed twice the line bet. Consider this scenario:

You make a $4 pass line bet, and the shooter comes out on a point of 6. If the casino offers 2X odds then your free odds bet cannot exceed $8. But you don’t want to bet $8 because the 6 to 5 payoff odds mean that you would win ( 6 / 5 ) * $8   =   $9.60, which would probably be rounded down to just $9. You want your odds bet to be a multiple of 5, yet it cannot exceed $8. Therefore, you would have to settle for betting only $5 in free odds.

In the above scenario the ratio of the odds bet to the line bet is   $5 / $4   =   1.25   <   2;   and so, it seems incorrect to refer to the odds as 2X. Therefore, some casinos offer odds of   “2X   with Full Double Odds”,   which means that if the shooter’s point is 6 or 8 and the pass line bet is an even number of dollars then the 2X limit is raised to 2.5X.   So if your pass line bet is an even amount B,   then your odds bet can be   2.5 * B   =   5B / 2;   and, if it wins, it will pay   ( 6 / 5 ) * ( 5B / 2 )   =   3B, which is an even number of dollars.

For don’t pass bettors, “Full Double Odds” means that if the shooter’s point is 6 or 8 and your line bet is an even number of dollars then your maximum free odds bet should be three times your don’t pass line bet because:

  • line bet = 2 * k   [ where k is 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 or …. ]
  • odds bet = 3 * line bet   =   3 * ( 2k )   =   6k

Since the payoff odds are 5 to 6,   odds bet payoff   =   ( 5 / 6 ) * 6k   =   5k

Thus the odds bet payoff is 2.5 times the line bet.

Here are some DON’T PASS full double odds bet examples:

Line BetMax Odds BetPotential Odds Bet Winnings
$ 2$ 6$ 5
$ 4$ 12$ 10
$ 6$ 18$ 15
$ 8$ 24$ 20
$ 10$ 30$ 25
$12$36$30

“Full Double Odds” cannot be offered to you unless :

  • The normal limit is 2X odds   and
  • The line bet is an even number of dollars   and
  • The shooter’s point is either 6 or 8

WHY FEWER PEOPLE CHOOSE THE BACK LINE

If you bet the don’t pass line and establish a point, then your probability of winning is greater than one-half. So, to be fair, any free odds bet will have to be larger than the amount you stand to win ( as we saw in example 3, where the lady bet $15 to win $10 ). We say that you have to “lay odds” rather than “take odds”. For many people this is psychologically less satisfying and is probably one reason that more people bet the pass line rather than the don’t pass line, even though the odds are very slightly better for the back line ( i.e. don’t pass ) bettor.

Another reason for choosing the pass line bet is the myth that people who bet the don’t pass line are betting against the shooter. The correct view is that bets are made either for or against the dice — you bet that the dice will pass or you bet that the dice will not pass. The shooter has the same choice.

Perhaps another reason people tend to avoid betting the back line might be that finding the maximum amount you can bet in free odds is trivial for the pass line bettor and a little tougher for the wrong way bettor.

Since most people bet the pass line, a don’t pass bettor tends to be winning when others are loosing and vice-versa. So, if you want to be “with the crowd” you will tend to bet the pass line.

COME BETS

If the shooter has already established a point then another player who just arrived at the table would probably not want to make a pass line bet because doing so would forfeit the possibility of winning on the come out roll, which is where many pass line bets are won. In fact, of all the winning pass line bets, about 45% are won on the come out roll.

What the player should do instead is place a come bet. When a player puts his bet on the table in the area marked “come”, the very next roll of the dice will act as a come out roll for the come bet. That is, if the roll is a 7 or an 11 then it wins immediately; if it is a 2, 3, or 12, it loses immediately; and, if it is a point number ( 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10 ) then the player’s come bet is moved to a box on the table corresponding to that number. The come bet will win if, in future rolls of the dice, the “come point” number appears before a 7, and will lose otherwise.

Example 4

Suppose the shooter has established a point of 6, and you place a come bet. Suppose that the next roll is a 10. Then your come bet is moved to the 10 box on the table, and 10 is the point for your come bet. Your situation for this bet is the same as if you had bet the pass line and the shooter established a point of 10 on the come out roll. The shooter’s point is still 6 of course. Suppose the shooter now rolls a 6. Then he wins or loses depending on what type of line bet he made, but your come bet is still undecided and could remain undecided for several games. It is only resolved when a shooter ( whoever that might be ) rolls a 7 or a 10. ( On 7 your come bet loses, and on 10 it wins. )

DON’T COME BETS

If you’d like to place a bet on the don’t pass line but the game is already in progress ( i.e. the shooter has a point ), then you should make a don’t come bet instead.

After you make a don’t come bet, the next roll of the dice acts like a come out roll for your bet:

  • If the roll is 2 or 3, then you immediately win.
  • If it’s 7 or 11, you immediately lose.
  • If it’s a 12, the bet is a push ( and is yet to be resolved ).
  • If it’s a point number, then your don’t come bet is moved to the box on the table corresponding to that point number; and, in subsequent rolls, you win if 7 appears and lose if your don’t come number appears.

Free odds bets can be made, not only on line bets, but also on come and don’t come bets.

TURNING BETS OFF AND ON

When you make a free odds bet on a come bet, most casinos will consider your odds bet to be “off” ( i.e. “not working” ) during any come out roll. This is the default action, but you can tell the dealer that you want the odds to be ON instead.

For example, suppose the shooter’s point is 4 when you make a come bet. Next, the shooter rolls a 5, and your come bet is moved to the 5 box on the table. Now you make a free odds bet on your come bet. The next roll is a 4, and the game ends with your two bets still undecided. The next roll is a come out roll. Suppose it is a 7. Then your come bet loses, but your odds bet would be returned to you because the odds are automatically off during a come out roll. If you had told the dealer that you wanted the odds to be ON then you would have lost both bets unless the shooter had rolled a five, in which case you would have won both bets.

For a don’t come bet, free odds bets are usually working at all times, unless you call them off. The BUY and PLACE bets ( explained in Part 2 ) are usually off on come out rolls. Be sure to check the house rules where you play so that your odds bets will be in the desired OFF or ON mode.

Here are the usual defaults during come out rolls:

BetMode
Come BetON
Odds on come betOFF
Don’t Come betON
Odds on Don’t Come betON
Place bet ( to win )OFF
Place-to-Lose betOFF ( right ?? )
Buy betOFF

SUMMARY OF BEST BETS

If you are going to play craps,   the most reasonable bets to make are:

    • Line bets
    • Come bets
    • Don’t Come bets
    • Place bets on the 6 or 8
    • Buy bets provided that the vig is charged only when you win.

Of course you should make free odds bets whenever possible.   There are many other types of bets you could make,   but most of them have a house edge that is too large.

PROPOSITION BETS

The proposition bets are the “sucker bets” advertised in the center area of the craps table. You should avoid these bets unless you are feeling really lucky. To make one of these bets you would give your money to the stickman, rather than to a dealer. See Part 2 for proposition bet descriptions and odds.

Most casinos express the payoffs for proposition bets in misleading terms. For example, one of the worst possible bets you can make is the one known as Any 7 or Big Red. This is a one roll bet that the shooters next roll will be a 7. The payoff odds are actually 4 to 1, but casinos advertise the bet as paying “5 for 1”. Note the fine distinction: 5 for 1 Vs 4 to 1. Both statements are correct since five dollars are returned to those winners who bet one dollar, but the payoff odds should not include the original bet in the quoted ratio.

The proposition bets are not the only foolish bets you can make. Here, for example, are three implementations of the same bet:

BetPayoff OddsHouse Edge ( approx )
Big 61 to 19.09 %
Buy the 66 to 54.76 %
Place the 67 to 61.52 %

All three of these bets have the same objective — you win if the shooter rolls a 6 before a 7. Therefore, why would anyone buy the 6 or bet on the Big 6 ? Comparing the house edges, we see that you should place the 6 instead. ( Of course the same advice applies to Big 8 Vs buying the 8 Vs placing the 8. )

A FINAL CAUTION

You should take advantage of free odds bets whenever possible; however, free odds bets do not increase ( or decrease ) your expected winnings. They simply reduce the house edge by enabling you to bet larger amounts of money without increasing the expected loss per dollar bet.

By making free odds bets you are, of course, putting more money at risk; and, just because a bet is fair, that is no guarantee that you will win it.

Free odds bets can encourage you to bet larger sums of money than you are used to betting, and they do not change the fact that if you play often enough you will still lose more than you will win.

In craps, or in any other betting game, a key rule is:  Never bet any money that you can’t afford to lose

If interested, also check out: Calculating Odds for Various Craps Bets