What do I mean when I say that craps has a split personality? I’m referring to two different things, actually.
The first is the playing environment. Most of the time, craps is exciting and streaky. It’s one of the more volatile games in the casino. You can have multiple craps bets “working” at the same time, all of which can lose with a single roll of the dice.
The second is the nature of the bets. Craps features some of the best bets in the casino, and the simplest craps bets are the ones offering the best odds.
But craps also offers some of the worst bets in the casino. It’s your job to distinguish between the two and stick with the bets that have the lower house edge.
Be Wary of the Craps Table
Even though craps is my favorite game in the casino, and even though it offers some of the best odds in the casino, it’s still a good idea to approach the game with caution.
The game is fast, but more importantly, it’s volatile. What does that mean?
Think about the even-money bets in roulette. Those are some of the least volatile roulette bets in the casino. You’ll win those bets almost half the time, and when you do win, you win even money. If you drew a curve of your results at the roulette table playing strictly the even money bets (like red/black), you’d see a gradual downward trend.
On the other hand, if you place single number bets on the roulette table, you’d see more volatile results. Your losses would go almost straight down, but there’d also be the occasional spike where you’d win 35 to 1 on your money.
Roulette is a slow game, though, and you can choose how volatile you want the game to be.
Craps, on the other hand, is a fast game, and you can place new bets on every roll of the dice. Many players like to keep three bets “working” at the same time the whole time they’re in action. I’ve seen other players put even more money into action.
Sometimes, those bets will win one right after another when the shooter gets on a hot streak. Other times, they’ll all lose at one time when the shooter craps out. So, be careful that you don’t lose more money than you expect to at the craps table.
How Craps Is Played
The craps table is at least three times as big as the blackjack table, and it has a unique sunken layout. The craps table is almost like one of those giant ashtrays you used to see in the 1970s.
The right and left sides of the craps table are identical, so you can consider them “one side” of the “two-faced” game. The other side is the middle of the table, which is where the prop bets are.
The bets on the right and left side are generally good bets, although some of them are better than others. The bets in the middle are lousy, but that doesn’t stop the stickman from promoting them.
Between 10 and 12 players can stay in action at the craps table, and they’re all betting on the same thing—the outcome of the dice that the shooter throws.
The Dice and the Action
Craps is played with a couple of six-sided dice, and the total of the pips on the two dice is what determines the outcome of each roll. This is crucial to understand the odds and probability in the game, too.
You have 36 possible outcomes of the dice, that’s six possibilities on the first die multiplied by six possibilities on the second die. Here’s an example of how the odds work.
The probability of getting a total of 12 is 1/36. You only have a single combination, a six and another six, which will give you a total of 12.
Since you have 36 possible combinations, the probability is 1/36. That can be expressed in multiple ways. One popular way to express that is in odds format, which is 35 to 1. (You have 35 possibilities that aren’t 12 contrasted with one possibility that is 12.)
Thinking About Craps in Terms of Rounds
The best way to think about the game of craps is that it’s a game played in rounds. Each round starts with a come-out roll. A round begins when the stickman offers one of the players several sets of dice to choose from. Those are the dice he’ll roll.
To be the shooter, you must make a bet on either pass or don’t pass. The other players at the table also have the option of betting the pass line or the don’t pass line.
Most craps players bet on the pass line. This means you’re betting with the shooter and hoping he’ll “succeed.” The payoff for pass or don’t pass is the same, even money.
If the shooter gets a seven or an 11 on the come-out roll, the pass line wins immediately, and a new round starts. The don’t pass loses instantly. If the shooter rolls a two, three, or 12 on the come-out roll, the pass line loses immediately and a new round starts. The don’t pass bet wins instantly unless it’s a 12, in which case, it’s considered a push.
Any other number “sets a point.” Possible point numbers are four, five, six, eight, nine, or 10.
When a point is set, the round continues, and the shooter keeps rolling until he either rolls a seven or he rolls the point number again.
If he rolls a seven, the pass line loses, and the don’t pass bet wins. If he rolls the point again, the pass line wins, and the don’t pass bet loses. The shooter gets to keep shooting, even at the beginning of each new round, until he sevens out.
The Good Bets vs. the Bad Bets
The pass line bet has a house edge of 1.41%, making it one of the best bets in the casino. The don’t pass bet is even better, with a house edge of only 1.36%. These aren’t your only options, though.
You can also place a come bet. This is simply the pass line bet, but it’s placed after a shooter sets a point. It treats the next roll of the dice as a new come-out roll. If you place pass line bets and follow up with come bets, you can have multiple number working at the same time.
The don’t come bet is the same as the don’t pass bet, but again, it’s placed after a shooter sets a point.
You can also take or lay odds with either of these bets. I go into more detail about the odds bet in some of my other craps posts, but here’s the main thing you need to understand…
The odds bet is the only bet in the casino where the house has NO edge at all. It pays off at the same odds you have of winning. As such, the payout is determined by what the point is.
If the point is four or 10, the payout for the odds bet is 2 to 1. If the point is five or nine, the payout is 3 to 2. If the point is six or eight, the payout is 6 to 5.
These are the good bets at the craps table. They’re the good part of the game’s split personality.
The Bad Side of the Game’s Split Personality
All the other bets at the craps table offer worse odds, and, in many cases, they’re significantly worse. The least awful of these additional bets are the place bets.
You can make a place bet on any of the point numbers, four, five, six, eight, nine or 10, at any point. The payouts vary according to the total you’re betting on, but the house edge varies.
If you bet on place six or place eight, the payout is 7 to 6, which means the bet has a house edge of 1.52%. That’s not awful, and if you want to get more numbers working, betting place six or place eight isn’t a terrible idea.
But the payout for place five or place nine is 7 to 5. The house edge on this bet is 4%. That’s terrible. We don’t recommend that you make that bet. And the payout for place four or place 10 is 9 to 5, and the house edge is 6.67%, which is even more terrible.
When you consider that the odds bet is the same thing with a house edge of 0%, the place bets start looking even less attractive.
The Truly Awful Bets at the Craps Table
I guess real money craps has something worse than just a split personality. The game truly has a third personality, which is comprised of all the awful bets. All those bets that the stickman is shilling so hard have terrible odds.
The field bet, for example, is a bet that the next roll will be two, three, four, nine, 10, 11, or 12. It pays off even money if the roll is a three, four, nine, 10, or 11, and it pays off at 2 to 1 for a two or 12.
The house edge on this bet, though, is a whopping 5.56%. And it gets even worse. Big 6 and Big 8 are a couple of interesting-looking bets that are basically exactly the same as the place six or place eight bet but with one major difference. They pay off at even money.
Now, this changes the house edge to 9.09%. Only a fool or complete newbie would ever place this bet. And you also have all kinds of bets in the center of the table with huge house number figures.
Hardways are one example. These are bets based on exact combinations:
- Hard 4
- Hard 6
- Hard 8
- Hard 10
To qualify as the hardway, they have to be rolled with doubles. A hard 4 is a roll where both dice land on two. If you have a one and a three, which also totals four, you’ve rolled four “the easy way.”
The payoffs for these seem great. For hard 4 or hard 10, the payout is 7 to 1. But the odds of winning are 8 to 1, which means the house edge is 11.11%. That’s crazy.
The payout for hard 6 and hard 8 are 9 to 1, but the odds of winning are 10 to 1. This makes the house edge on these bets 9.09%.
You can find any number of lousy bets in the center of the table, too. But the house edge for all these bets is so much higher than 1.41% that it’s staggering. No way should you put your money into action on any of these bets. Stick with the basic bets, please!
Craps has a split personality because it offers both the best bets in the casino (the odds bet) and the worst bets (any of the prop bets in the middle of the table).
If you want to be a smart craps player, that’s easy to do. Just always bet on pass or don’t pass, and always take or lay the most money on odds that you can afford.
That way, you’re always dealing with the game’s more pleasant personality.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. …