History of Craps: Roll the Dice

Dealer rolls crap dice on the gaming table.

To the uninitiated, Craps can be a little bewildering. At its heart, it’s simply a game of dice. Hit the right numbers and you stack up the chips. Roll ‘em wrong and you crap out. Craps is also one of the very few casino games where the player gets physically hands on with the game. Everyone gets a chance to be a shooter, but before we check out how to play craps let’s take a look back at its origins.

Where did it all begin? People have been playing dice for centuries in all manner of games and techniques and over the years, the game of craps gradually evolved. Particularly huge in the US, we’re rolling the dice to discover the origins of this casino classic.

The Early Days of Dice

Dice are the oldest gaming devices known to man. According to the ancient Greek writer Sophocles, the game of dice was invented during the siege of Troy in around 1250 BC. In fact, we now know that they are even older than that. The oldest known dice were found at an archaeological site in Iran dating from almost 3000 BC. Versions of dice have been discovered dating back thousands of years in regions as diverse as India and Ancient Rome, often made from animal bones with markings scored into them.

Go to Wikipedia and you will see nearly 40 different dice games listed. From board games to betting games, dice are the old-fashioned random number generator that determines winners and losers. The roots of the game we now know as Craps probably lie in an English dice game called Hazard. This ancient game is mentioned in the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, dating it – at least – as far back as the 14th century.

Dice made from animal bones next to a modern dice.

Hazard Alert

Hazard was a very popular medieval game and may even have Arabic origins, although this is difficult to confirm with any certainty. The rules are very similar to craps: there is a caster (shooter) who rolls continuously until he or she loses three times in succession. There are different payouts for different dice totals and you can bet either against or with the caster.

The origin of the name craps is said to derive from Hazard where a 1-1 and 1-2 combination was known as ‘crabs’ or ‘krabbs’. However: this is just one theory. Another is that craps is taken from the French word “crapaud” which means “toad” and refers to the stance taken by players as they crouched on the floor or pavement to play.

Like Craps, Hazard has a fairly complicated set of rules. Similarities between Hazard and Craps include having one shooter at a time, the idea of betting against the house, certain dice rolls open and close betting, and the shooter plays until he or she loses. If anything, Hazard is even more complicated than Craps, but if you are interested in trying it out for yourself then you can check out the rules here:

Craps Rolls Into America

Whatever the precise origin of the name, the game’s journey into the United States is well documented. French-Creole playboy and gambler Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville introduced the game of Hazard to New Orleans in around 1805.

The rules were simplified. The main number was now only a seven, whereas when playing Hazard, you could choose from five to nine. To combat accusations of loaded dice, you could bet either Pass or Don’t Pass (for or against the shooter), removing any incentive for a casino to cheat.

This was an innovation from dice maker John H Winn, who also manufactured both the craps tables and the transparent dice – another anti-cheating innovation. The Philadelphia-based pioneer is considered to be the father of modern-day craps. His version of the game is what you will play in a contemporary casino.

It was during the second world that craps really made its mark on the gambling world. Soldiers loved the game and often played it using a blanket as the shooting surface. Nostalgia for the war years and military memories resulted in Craps becoming one of the most popular games in post-war Las Vegas.

Today, Craps is still a favourite both in Las Vegas and online, even if the game is not as popular as Roulette due to the fact that its complicated rules deter a lot of people from playing. The game also needs a handful of croupiers to operate, meaning that in a short-staffed casino, you might need to persuade the pit boss to open the table.

However, our guide to Craps will help you to understand how the game works, and our odds and payouts article will explain why craps is one of the best-value casino games for players. Plus, when you play online the tables are always open!

Bond may prefer Baccarat, Poker is more popular, Blackjack easier to understand, and Roulette has come to define casino gaming glamour. Despite this, Craps is where the party starts. As Shia Labeouf says: “You can prepare all you want but if you never roll the dice, you’ll never be successful.

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