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Playing Craps in Las Vegas

Craps is a beautiful, all-encompassing game. It has elements that turn your head and make your heart pound. It’s the bomb, really. So why haven’t you tried it? Because it looks confusing? Don’t be a wimp. Just give us a minute to explain how easy it is to get in on the fun!

Maybe you think the game is hard to learn because it has a language all its own. Hardways, Come Out Roll, Pass Line, Field, Corner Red. Hey, what’s up with that, right? It’s a vernacular that only works at the dice table. But that’s alright.

Real gamblers love craps because you can make a couple bets and get paid for ten or fifteen minutes without ever losing once! Honest.

If you don’t believe that, believe this: the Mob took over a Las Vegas casino on its first night because of a hot craps game. As recounted in Vegas and the Mob, the Thunderbird Hotel, the fourth property to open on the famed Las Vegas Strip, was lost on its opening night.

The Thunderbird opened September 2, 1948, and owners Guy McAfee, Tutor Scherer, Marion Hicks, and Clifford “Big Juice” Jones watched happily as a crowd gathered. They laughed, they gambled. They lost money.

Then, about 8 pm, the dice started leaning towards the players. By 9:30, Jake Katleman and Farmer Paige were stacking their winning chips like bricks around the table. Two hours later, their combined win of $160,000 was too much for the owners to pay off.

The club owners put their heads together and made a call to their friend, Meyer Lansky, who they reached at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba.

“Sure, I’ll be your partner,” Lansky said,
“and make sure you get my brother Jake a good job.”

Jake Lansky took over as the Thunderbird casino manager shortly thereafter.

That single phone call was one of the most expensive ever in Las Vegas. The Mob exerted its control over the Thunderbird for decades, skimming millions of dollars over the years. What a craps game.

How to Play Craps

Craps has been around for a long time – more than a hundred years. In the early days of Las Vegas, it was played on a small one-dealer table called a tub game, not a big deal. But today, tables run anywhere from 12 to 16 feet in length.

It takes three dealers to handle the game, along with a Boxman who sits in the inside middle of the table to oversee the action.

Don’t worry; it’s easy to get in the game. Just push your way in!
Don’t be rude, but there’s probably plenty of room.
Then drop your cash on the layout close to you (not on the printed playing area), and an inside dealer will get your chips.

Although there are dozens of bets you can make on the table, let’s start with the Pass Line, which has just a 1.41% house edge when you take odds on the point. What’s that mean? It’s easy.

Each hand of craps starts with a new shooter choosing a pair of dice from the selection offered by an inside dealer. That happens after the dealer on the outside, the Stickman, tells them to get the hand going. If you’re next in a clockwise fashion, take two dice and get ready to have fun.

You have to bet on the Pass or the Don’t Pass Line to shoot, so get your bet down between the lines. Most players shoot from the Pass Line. The first throw of the dice is called the Come Out roll. Just lob the dice down the layout back-handed.

The dice must tumble and hit the opposing wall of the table. Not too hard, or the Stickman will say something like,

“Dude, I said to the wall, not through the wall.”

Your bet on the Pass Line wins if you roll a natural 7 or 11. It loses if you roll craps, which is 2, 3, or 12. Any other number becomes the Point. That means if you roll 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10, you have established a point and must now roll it again to win.

And, you must roll it before you roll a 7. Roll a 7 before the point, and your Pass Line bet loses. And, they take the dice away from you and let someone else shoot!

The Pass Line always pays even money, but you can take odds on your bet after you establish a point. It’s the only wager in the casino where the house has no edge. None. So, take it! The dealer will help you with odds, just ask.

In a nutshell, you’ll bet double your Pass Line bet, or if you are lucky, the casino will allow 3, 4, 5 odds.

With those odds, you’ll bet 3x on the 4 or 10, 4x on the 5 or 9, and 5x on the 6 or 8. This wagering makes all payoffs easy for the dealer. You’ll always get even money on your Pass Line wager and 6x on your odds bet. Cool, huh?

So, what happens while the shooter tries to make their point?

You can bet on every roll with a Come Bet, and you’ll establish your own personal points and take odds. Or, you can make Place Bets on 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10. The inside dealer can help you with these, but the 6 and 8 must be wagered in $6 increments, the other numbers in $5 units.

During the Come Out roll, your Place Bets will be turned off, so they won’t win or lose. That way you can root for a 7! During a long hand where the shooter keeps making points and starting over, you’ll get repeatedly paid on Place Bets and the Pass Line and never lose a wager. Craps makes for a lot of fun when the table gets hot!

There are plenty of other wagers on the table like Hardways, the Horn, the Field and so forth. And, they are fun, but they don’t have the great odds the Pass Line offers.

Las Vegas Craps Games

There are hundreds of craps games in Las Vegas. You can choose the velvety-smooth surfaces found inside the roped-off, high-limit area at top casinos like the Bellagio, or the $2 games at Main Street Station where a dozen drinks got spilled on the nappy layout in the last month. Your choice. And, there are other differences.

The classier the casino (Caesars Palace, Mirage, Venetian), the higher the minimum table limit. Games on The Strip are likely to have $10 minimum Pass Line bets. At night, many of the games will have $15 or $25 limits on the Pass Line.

Those games are also going to have stronger dealers that can handle faster action. There will be less bantering and more bets.

The players themselves will still be having a great time, shouting when the dice fly and hit their numbers. They may be drinking Crown instead of Bud, but they still want action. That’s the great thing about craps. It’s a groupthink game. Nearly every player on the game will be on the Pass Line and root for 7 and 11 on the Come Out roll.

Just make sure you give the other players room to make their bets and roll the dice.

Believe us when we tell you nothing pisses off a player more than having their arms hit while they shoot the dice.

You don’t want a whole table of players yelling at you, do you? Yes, you can squeeze into a hot game, but give the shooter space!

You’ll also want to get your bets in early. Don’t make the Stickman or the shooter wait while you figure out where you want to bet. Get your money down fast; players don’t want the dice to get cold. And, after you make a bet, get your hands out of the way. If the dice bounce and hit you, the players will blame you if they lose, guaranteed.

The lower limit games are at places like Flamingo, Bally’s, Luxor, and New York – New York will have rabid players too. That’s just the way craps players are. They may be on shorter bankrolls, but that’s cool. What they lack in cash they make up for in fervor. Craps rocks.

Games in Downtown Vegas and along the periphery of The Strip are likely to have lower-limits. You might even find $3 minimum games. That means you can bet the Pass Line for $3 and take $6 odds.

You can place the numbers for $3, or $15 across when you cover them all. Dealers hate $3 place bets. Press them to $5 and $6 minimums as they hit, and everything will work out fine!

Craps odds are the same Downtown. The games get noisy, and no matter how often the cocktail ladies hit the games, the players will still complain about the service. Vegas, Baby!

The dealers may be a little burned out and snide, or they may be break-ins, new to dealing and just learning the game. Don’t be a slob or a snob; it’s all good. The rooms and meals will be cheaper off The Strip, and the parking is easy.

The House Advantage

Sure, the house has the advantage at the craps table, but you’ll be happy to know that the odds on the Pass and Don’t Pass lines are very small, just about 1.41%. A line bet can stay in action for a whole bunch of rolls.

While the shooter keeps rolling them bones, you’ll want to make a few other bets, just choose wisely.

Knowing the house advantage on different bets can be enlightening.

While the Pass Line has a small house edge, especially if you take odds, one-roll proposition bets suck. Honest. A bet on 11 has a house edge of 16.67%. Yikes. That’s the same odds as a single-roll wager on 2, 3, 12, and 7. Stay away!

Hardway bets are house-heavy too, running about 10%. Still, they can last longer than one roll. A Hardway wager wins if the number (4, 6, 8, 10) rolls as a pair, such as 2-2, which is hard 4. The wager loses if it rolls the easy way (3-1 is easy 4) or if the dice seven-out.

A more popular single-roll wager is the Field. That’s a bet placed in the big box with the numbers 2-3-4-9-10-11-12 showing. You win if any of those numbers roll. And, you get paid double on 2 and triple on 12! That’s cool.

Unfortunately, you lose if 5, 6, 7, or 8 rolls. That means the house has an edge of 2.78%. That’s not so bad. The bet next to the Field, stuck in the corner, is worse. That bet covers either 6 or 8 and pays even-money, and the house takes a cool 9.09%. Better steer clear of that one!

Place bets on 6 and 8 are very reasonable with a house edge of just 1.52%. The odds on Place 5 and 9 are 4%. Odds on Place 4 and 10 are tougher at 6.67%.

If you want more action waiting for the point to get rolled, bet the Come Line. Remember? Your own personal Pass Line wager. The first roll pays even money on 7 and 11, but loses on 2, 3, and 12.

Any other number and the dealer moves the wager into one of those rectangular boxes running across the layout. Then you can take odds, just like on the Pass Line. The flat bet pays even money. The odds bets pay just like odds on the Pass Line.

One of the most popular systems at craps is to bet the Pass Line, take full odds, and then establish two Come Line bets with odds. When one of the Come bets pays off, you bet the Come Line again. The system gives a lot of action with very favorable house odds. Does it win?

Well, as a friendly woman in Vegas once said,

“Honey, everything works when the dice roll your way.”

Her husband put it another way, saying,

“The next best thing to winning at craps, is losing.”

Give the game a try when you get a chance, you’ll probably have a great time!

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