Rolling dice and betting on the outcome is one of the oldest forms of gambling. Though countless different dice games have existed over the past few hundred years, craps is the most popular dice game played today in casinos and private games across the United States. Craps is thought to have originated from the Old English game of “hazard” and a variation of the French "crabes." The basic premise of the game is that players bet money against the casino on the roll of two dice.
There are three places you’ll find craps played today and they are in the “streets”, in casinos, and online. Street craps is the name for an informal game played in private rooms or in alleyways. This version is also very popular with soldiers and anyone else with dice and some time to kill. The rules of street craps often differ from what you’ll find in a casino. The newest version of the game is found on the internet and combines the rules of both street craps and casino craps. The online game is usually a simpler brand of the game as well.
Early Origins of Craps
Most believe the modern game of craps descended from another dice game called hazard. Hazard was created by an English nobleman named Sir Williams of Tyre. He and his knights entertained themselves with the game during the Crusades. The name comes from a battle over a castle in 1125 A.D. The soldiers had to wait to attack the Hazarth castle and played the game to pass the time. At some point the name of the castle “Hazarth” morphed into the name of the card game “hazard.”
An earlier more rudimentary form of craps can also be found in the history of the Roman Empire. Roman soldiers would take pigs knuckles and shave them into the shape of dice and toss them into a shield lying upside down on the ground. This is also where the saying “roll the bones” came from when referring to the rolling of dice.
Spread of Craps in Medieval Europe
Hazard became one of the most popular games among the English throughout the Middle Ages. It’s even referenced by Geoffrey Chaucer in his most famous work “The Canterbury Tales.” Chaucer is often seen as an author with his finger on the pulse of popular leisure and social activities in the Middle Ages so this is further evidence of the game’s popularity in this period.
Hazard became a staple in top gambling houses throughout England in the latter part of the 17th century and the early 18th century. The English nobles and royals were among its most passionate players and hosting a dice game became a major social event. High stakes gambling among noblemen was common and because they were all so wealthy there was little concern for big losses, so huge amounts of money could change hands at these games.
In this period hazard spread to France as well. Over the next few decades the French would change the name from hazard to crabs. Crabs was the name of the lowest total possible in a roll of dice in a game of hazard. The game then moved from France across the Atlantic to the colony of Acadia in the 1700s.
Coming to America
The English took control of Acadia from the French in 1755. This resulted in a name change from Acadia to Nova Scotia. Many of the French who had called this area home had to leave and many wound up in Louisiana. They were known as the Cajuns and brought a number of parts of their culture with them to their new home including the game of crabs, which they called creps or crebs.
There is another theory that early English settlers brought craps to America when they arrived aboard the Mayflower. It’s very possible that both are accurate and that early English and French settlers both played a role in bringing the game across the Atlantic as the basic principles of both games were the same.
African-Americans in the South during the 19th century also played a role in the modern version of craps. Their version of the game became popular on Mississippi riverboats and was a faster paced version of hazard with simpler rules. One version called Table Off was found to be among the most popular games of its era.
The Father of Modern Craps
The man known as the “Father of Modern-Day Craps” is John H. Winn. He made revolutionary rule changes in 1907 allowing gamblers to bet right or wrong. The layout was also changed and improved and he created the Don’t Pass betting spot on the board. Winn was also known for making dice and his rule change to bet for or against the dice thrower, or “shooter”, took out a major form of cheating because crooked dice were now irrelevant.
Winn’s changes are still used today. His version of the game became what is known as casino craps and remains one of the most popular games in most casinos.
Craps in the 20th Century
When Nevada legalized gambling in the 1930s people flocked to the casinos looking to win money. Casino craps, which was also known as Las Vegas Craps, became a big hit because the dice throwing was a greater crowd pleaser than the other games which mainly revolved around playing cards.
In World War II soldiers on both sides used dice games to pass the time at the front just like the English and Roman soldiers had done hundreds of years before them. With craps being the most popular game these soldiers helped it spread to new countries, planting the seeds for it to grow into the globally recognized game it is today.
The art of crapshooting has also become a science of its own with hundreds of systems being created to give the gambler the best odds of beating the casino. Various versions of crooked dice have been reinvented as well and the dream of controlling the roll of the dice lives on in many crapshooters.
The excitement of craps has also captured the attention of Hollywood studios with the game appearing in many more films than other games. Scenes around the craps table usually feature an excited crowd cheering on the shooter from around the table.
Many of the most popular casino games now have a presence online and craps is no exception. The game’s rich history moved to online casinos when the industry exploded and it provides a nice alternative form of betting from the many card-based games also found online. One issue that had to be figured out was how to replicate the rolling of dice on the internet but that problem was eventually solved. However, one thing that can’t be replicated is the excited hub that gathers around a hot shooter in a casino.
Craps does feature a fairly complex array of bets that can be made so the internet also can serve as a valuable resource for the new player to learn the rules and understand the odds. A beginner can learn the various strategies and theories behind them quite easily online.
Because of the automated roll of the dice in online games, the best way to succeed at the online game is to use a proper betting method that often comes from trial and error. Many online casinos have large amounts of reading material available as well to assist gamblers with perfecting their strategy.
In some parts of the world online gambling isn’t legal. For gamblers who aren’t permitted to bet online most casinos offer free games with play money. This is a great way to learn the game and to get some practice in before your next trip to the casino.