Craps is a table game that revolves around players making a correct prediction as to the outcome of the toss of a pair of dice. It easily ranks as one of the most popular games of chance, alongside roulette, played by thousands upon thousands of people in both online and offline casinos.
This immense popularity can be easily explained with the great number of betting options available in the game and its unprecedented dynamics. Craps is played at a rapid pace and as money tends to change hands quickly, the tables typically attract huge crowds of excited players and bystanders. But where did craps start and how it came to be one of the most played casino games of all times? Read on to find out.
“Rolling the Bones” in Ancient Rome
Tracing back the origins of craps is surely a mean feat but there is evidence to suggest a similar game was played as early as the Ancient Roman Empire. Of course, dice, as we have come to know them today, did not exist at the time. Soldiers from the Roman Legions reportedly collected pig knuckles, which they would carve into small cubes to toss on their upturned shields. Hence, the term “rolling the bones” that is still in use at contemporary craps tables.
Historical accounts also suggest that slaves in the Roman Empire engaged in games, similar to craps, using nutshells, clay or animal teeth to craft their “dice” from. More privileged citizens used expensive materials such as gold, ivory, silver, and porcelain for their dice, instead.
The Evolution of Craps in the Middle Ages
Many believe craps as we know it today originated from an old Arabic game called “azzahr”, which roughly translates as “the die”. Then again, there are some theories to suggest craps resulted from the simplification of the game of “hazard” that was played in England during the time of the Middle East Crusades.
Hazard is reportedly an invention of an English nobleman by the name of Sir William of Tyre, who played it as a means to pass the time with his fellow knights, while they were waiting for an opportunity to besiege the castle of Hazarth. The enticing dice game of hazard began to spread throughout Europe and its popularity increased dramatically, especially in France and England, where it was played by members of the aristocracy.
However, it was not until the very beginning of the 18th century that the formal rules of playing hazard were outlined by French mathematician Pierre Remond de Montmort in his book on mathematical probabilities Essay d’analyse sur les jeux de hazard or Analysis of Games of Chance.
Craps Travels to the New World
At the turn of the 18th century, the dice game crossed the ocean, along with the French, who established the colony of Acadia in present-day Nova Scotia, Canada. Half a century later, in 1755, France lost its control over Acadia and the descendants of the French settlers, known as Cajuns or Acadians, were forced to relocate to the state of Louisiana. These Cajun people boasted a bespoke French dialect of their own and playing dice games like “crebs”, as they called it, constituted a significant part of their culture. As the Cajuns had already adopted this dice game from their French forefathers, they spread it throughout Louisiana and “crebs” quickly reached the port city of New Orleans.
Then again, other theories suggest it was French nobleman Bernard de Marigny, who brought the modern version of the game to New Orleans after his return from England. Craps traveled up the Mississippi river on the steamboats and quickly spread through the States.
Some argue craps was brought to America by the first English settlers, who crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower. Possibly, it was both the French and the English, who took their own variations of the dice game across the ocean to the New World, each party introducing its own terms and rules of play.
By the mid 19th century the name “craps” became prevalent. Craps was played on the streets and players were using the stairs stoops and curbs as backstops for the dice. The game continued to evolve as more and more terms and rules were outlined. For instance, whenever players tossed a losing roll of the dice (with numbers 2, 3 or 12), they referred to it as “rolling craps” or “crapping out”. The two terms are used to this day. Towards the very end of the 19th century, the “table off” rule was introduced and was quickly adopted by many gambling establishments in the States. What started out as “hazard”, was gradually transforming into the much more simplified and dynamic dice game we play today.
The House Gains the Upper Hand
As was mentioned earlier, many theories suggest it was French nobleman Bernard de Marigny, who supposedly introduced the modern version of craps to 19th-century New Orleans. Whether or not this was so is practically irrelevant. What’s more important is that this earlier version turned out to be “flawed” because the rules outlined by de Marigny gave craps players a significant edge over the house. It also caused them to resort to cheating.
De Marigny’s version was flawed because it enabled players to exploit the house by taking advantage of the ways bets were placed with or against the shooter. The de Marigny version allowed participants in the game to try and cheat their way out of losing tosses by “loading” the dice so that specific numbers were rolled repeatedly. Needless to say, this was not to be tolerated by gambling establishments in the States (or elsewhere, for that matter).
It was American dice maker John H. Winn, who took to fixing de Marigny’s “mistakes”. In 1907, Winn developed the rules of craps further, allowing players at the table to bet either for, or against the dice shooter. In other words, Winn introduced the “Don’t Pass” bet, which earned him the title of “Father of Modern Craps”. Winn’s ideas also contributed to the improvement of the table’s layout as the “Don’t Pass” grid was added. Players were now able to bet with or against the shooter, which practically rendered the use of loaded dice unnecessary.
Craps Takes Over Las Vegas
The popularity of craps skyrocketed in the 1930s when gambling was officially pronounced legal on the territory of Nevada. As a matter of fact, the legalization of gambling in Nevada contributed hugely to the popularity of casino games in general. Enthusiastic players flooded the tables in Vegas gambling venues, causing craps to become one of the most popular casino games of all times.
Another factor that contributed to the game spreading throughout the world, was World War II. Many soldiers mastered the dice game and played recreationally as a means of passing the time on the surface of their Army blankets. Sounds familiar, does it not? As it was no longer possible to use street curbs as a backstop, other methods of controlling the dice were invented, such as the so-called “Army-blanket roll”. As WW II ended, the soldiers spread it to the four corners of the world.
Today, the game of craps is played in casinos around the globe and is hugely popular in gambling capitals like Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Contemporary craps tables are typically designed to accommodate up to sixteen players and two dice are tossed. The “Pass Line” bets are the most popular type of wager in the game as they come with the lowest house advantage, which stands at 1.4%. Hundreds of strategies and betting systems have been developed by players in an attempt to beat the house. What started as a game of “hazard” evolved to become one of the most social and iconic table games in the world.
Craps Goes Online
The advent of technologies in the last two decades brought about the launch of online casinos, allowing craps enthusiasts the world over to indulge in their favorite dice game from the comfort of their surroundings. Players are now able to make a pick from a wide range of online craps variations, developed by the leading software suppliers in the industry.
The online craps games are exceptionally authentic thanks to their high-quality graphics and ambient sound effects. What is more important, the online variants allow craps novices to fully master the game by testing various strategies, learning the available betting options, and playing at their own pace. A new generation of online craps players emerged, boosting the popularity of this ancient, yet modern dice game even further.