Craps is easily one of the most-popular games in American casinos. It’s also widely available throughout many other parts of the globe.
This game appeals to gamblers due to its exciting atmosphere and team-like feeling. Many players like betting on the shooter winning (i.e. pass line or don’t pass line bets) and feel like they’re on the same team as a result.
Of course, craps has been around much longer than even casinos. Historians suggest that people have been playing craps since the Crusades and Ancient Roman times.
But which civilization deserves credit for the game’s modern version? Did the English invent craps during the Crusades? Or, did the Romans invent the modernized version hundreds of years earlier?
I’m going to discuss both sides of the matter. I’ll conclude by ultimately deciding whether it was the English or Romans who developed this fun casino game.
The Case for Romans Inventing Craps
Many elements of modern-day society come from the Roman empire, including different types of gambling. For example, the Romans developed a crude system of sports betting that involved chariot races and brutal gladiator battles.
This civilization is also credited with producing the earliest version of roulette. Roman soldiers would bet on sections of a spinning wagon wheel.
Therefore, the Romans were no strangers to developing new forms of gambling. It’s no stretch to think that they could’ve also created craps as well.
As the legend goes, Roman soldiers would shave down the knuckle-bones of pigs and use them as dice. They made markings, or numerals, on the dice to indicate the different sides.
These soldiers used their shields to serve as the table. They treated the different shield sections as the areas that gamblers could bet upon.
If you’ve played craps before, you know that tables feature various sections and boxes. The Romans appeared well ahead of their time by emulating this aspect.
The Case for the English Inventing Craps
Some historians suggest that the basis for craps came from an Arabic game called Al Dar (i.e. dice). Arabic merchants then introduced Al Dar to English soldiers in the twelfth century.
However, Al Dar is merely considered a rough precursor to craps. Sir William of Tyre, who served in the Crusades in the twelfth century, credited he and his knights with developing a finer version.
William of Tyre was stationed at a castle named Hazarth. Loosely named after the castle, “Hazard” would become a big hit among the soldiers.
They brought the game back to England, where its popularity further spread. Hazard would soon reached other countries too, such as nearby France.
The French are actually the ones who came up with the term craps. They frequently played this game in taverns and eventually used craps to describe it.
The name is based on the French word crapaud, which means “toad.” The toad part refers to how players crouched down like a toad over the floor when rolling the dice.
Who Ultimately Gets the Credit?
Neither the Romans nor English invented the concept of producing dice with markings. The ancient Etruscans, who lasted as a civilization from 800 BC to 80 BC, rolled sheep-knuckles in religious ceremonies.
However, the English and Romans did both develop a unique form of gambling that involves betting on dice results.
The question is, though, who laid the foundation for what has become casino craps? I strongly believe that the Ancient Romans deserve this credit.
Sir William of Tyre did invent an interesting version of real money craps that can be played anywhere. In fact, people were enjoying this game in England and France five decades later before it officially earned the name craps.
The Romans may not even have invented a fancy term for their version. However, their use of dice and a shield more closely resembles casino craps.
Roman soldiers had long shields that essentially served as tables. They also used the different sections of shields as areas where wagers could be placed.
Both the English/Tyre and Romans produced their own versions of the game. But the Romans played on something that is more closely associated with an official table, rather than just the floor like in street craps.
Who Brought Craps to America?
As explained above, the French furthered this game’s popularity and coined the name craps. They also brought it to America, where it’s most popular today.
Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville, a wealthy French gambler and politician, introduced craps to New Orleans in the nineteenth century.
It quickly became popular in unregulated gambling houses throughout the city. However, underground casino got hit hard when gamblers took advantage of a betting flaw in the rules.
John H. Winn, who manufactured dice, fixed this problem by introducing the don’t pass line bet. Winn also came up with other rules that earned him the title of “The Father of Modern Craps.”
Soon, Winn’s version of the game spread throughout Louisiana and up the Mississippi River (via riverboats). It only gained more prominence after entering Las Vegas casinos in the 1930s.
What Is Craps Like Today?
Today, craps is a refined game that’s available in many casinos throughout the world. It features clear rules and is played in regulated settings.
Casino craps offers dozens of bets – each of which are indicated by different boxes and sections on the table. Pass line, don’t pass line, come, and don’t come are the most-popular wagers.
As mentioned before, most gamblers like to wager on pass line and come. They want to bet on the shooter winning and the house losing.
With the majority of the table placing the same wagers, they often cheer wins together. This creates a spectacle that draws other gamblers.
Aside from the excitement, craps gains additional popularity through its low house edge. Pass line and come feature a 1.41% house edge, while don’t pass line and don’t come both offer a 1.36% house advantage.
You can further reduce the house edge by backing any of these bets with odds, which don’t carry a house advantage.
A pass line bet with 2x odds only holds a 0.848% house edge.
Simply put, craps features an attractive combination of excitement and a great chance of winning. Its popularity has only increased over the past several years.
How Much Better Is the Modern Version?
The current version of craps is obviously more polished than anything the Romans or previous English civilizations played. But is it truly much better than past versions?
Casino craps is superior in many ways to what William of Tyre invented. Hazard is merely street craps, which can be played anywhere on any street or sidewalk.
The only thing required to enjoy this type of craps is a pair of dice. One can mark or draw “table” sections for this game on any surface.
Surprisingly, casino craps isn’t that much greater than what the Romans played nearly two millenniums ago. Roman soldiers had all the makings of a legitimate craps game, including the dice and a shield-table.
Sure, they lacked an elaborate casino setting and a felted table. But they were well ahead of their time by considering the table aspect.
Of course, I imagine that the dice probably bounced off the metal shield and onto the floor quite a bit. Nevertheless, Ancient Romans created a solid version of craps for their time.
Again, I feel that the Romans deserve recognition for inventing the precursor to modern-day craps. The Romans featured a quite advanced setup by using shields as a craps table.
Of course, the matter is still up for debate. Sir William and his knights developed the popular version that would later take English and French taverns by storm.
A Frenchman, Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny, spread craps to America, where the game is most popular today.
History often lends itself to interpretation. Such is the case with craps. But whatever the case may be, the Romans, English, and, later, French all contributed to what’s a fine casino game today.
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. …