In the first 2 posts of this series, I explained in some detail how the house gets its edge in craps. I also explained which bets offer the lowest house edge so that you can maximize your chances of winning.
In this post, I examine advantage play techniques as they pertain to craps. The common wisdom is that craps is a negative expectation game where a player cannot possibly overcome the house edge in the long run. But is that really true?
I’ve seen legitimate gambling authors, like Stanford Wong and Michael Shackleford, suggest that some players might get a statistical advantage by influencing how the dice fall. Frank Scoblete has even written an entire book, Forever Craps, devoted to the idea of winning at craps. Many of the ideas expressed in this post come from that volume.
What Is an Advantage Player in Gambling?
An advantage player is a gambler who specializes in placing bets where he has a mathematical edge over his opponents. Usually his opponent is the casino, but in poker, it can be the other players. In sports betting, it’s the book.
The most common image of an advantage gambler is the card counter in blackjack. He takes one of the features of the game—the fact that the composition of the deck changes as the game is played—and uses it to get an edge over a game where the house usually has an edge over the player.
Craps is a game that you can’t beat in the long run. That’s what most gambling writers tell us. But in practical terms, you can get the house edge so small in craps as to be almost nonexistent. This enables gamblers to have huge winning streaks that wouldn’t be nearly as likely in another game. Your best scenario in craps is to bet the pass line for $1 and then take $100 in odds every chance you get. The house edge is so small in that situation that over the long run, you’re only expected to lose an average of 2 pennies every time you place that bet.
How Long Is the Long Run in Craps?
Any time you’re talking about odds and house edge figures in gambling games, you’re talking about a long-term expectation. In the short run, anything can happen. You’re usually more likely to lose, but it’s impossible in the short run to see the long term expected results.
But when you’re playing craps, you get to decide when to bet and when to stand by and watch. You don’t have to bet on every roll of the dice. The only time your money is actually at risk is when it’s bet on something at the craps table. The rest of the time, your money isn’t in action. The reason your money isn’t always at risk at the craps table is that on many rolls, there’s no win or loss. Your bet doesn’t win or lose for several rolls in a row much of the time.
You bet the 6. On the next roll of the dice, there are 36 possible totals. Only 11 of those totals result in a win or a loss. (You have 5 totals that will win, and 6 totals that will lose.) The rest of those—the other 25—result in no action. When gambling writers and experts talk about the long run, they’re not talking about dozens of rolls of the dice, either. They’re not even talking about hundreds of rolls.
They’re talking about 10s of thousands of rolls or more. At a reasonably busy craps table, you’ll see a shooter roll the dice 70 times in an hour—just over once a minute. (It’s a fast-paced game.) But on many of those rolls, there’s no win or loss. Those rolls don’t count toward the long run.
Most players bet more than one number at a time, though, increasing the amount of actual time your money is at risk. Scoblete suggests having 3 numbers in action at a time—the most commonly hit numbers—6, 8, or 9. Since not every roll is going to result in a win or loss, your predicted hourly loss drops dramatically from what you thought it might have been. Why does this matter? One word: Comps.
How Comps Work at a Casino in General and at the Craps Table Specifically
All modern casinos offer free stuff to people who gamble. They don’t just give this free stuff out willy-nilly, though. They base it on how much action you bring to the casino. The 1st thing you do to get comps (free stuff) from a casino is sign up for the players club. You get a plastic card that you can insert into the slot machines to track your action. You also present this card to the dealer at the table games when you play.
When you’re playing gambling machines like slots or video poker, the card tracks your play and awards you comps based on your action. This is the number of bets you make multiplied by the amount you wagered. With machines, this is tracked accurately and exactly.
Also, in blackjack, the casino bases the comps on the average “hold” for the game. Most blackjack players DON’T use basic strategy. The hold is the amount they lose on average per hand, and sadly, that’s closer to 5% than it is to 1%. A basic strategy blackjack player can almost get an edge over the casino just by taking advantage of the way the comps are awarded. If you’re paying attention, you might see where I’m going with this.
In craps, the dealers and pit bosses are basing your comps on how much time you’re spending at the table and the average hold for a craps player. Since the average craps player sometimes makes sucker bets—which you’ll never do—and often doesn’t even know about the odds bet, the casino assumes an average win rate for you that’s higher than their actual win rate with you will be.
Some advantage craps players don’t worry about comps at all. They don’t need to because they’re focused on other advantage techniques that I’ll discuss later in this post. But some craps players focus hard on comps. Like the blackjack players I talked about, you could consider these players “comp wizards.”
This doesn’t in cash most of the time, though. Most comps are things like food at restaurants, complimentary stays in the hotel, and maybe even travel tickets. Since these things cost money, though, you can assign a monetary value to them. You’ll still be a long-term loser, cash-wise, but you’ll get a lot of “stuff” that has value in return for your action.
The Rest of the Equation for Advantage Craps Play
I’m not convinced that most players can realistically get an edge at craps. It’s not like blackjack, where you can get a clear and convincing advantage by just keeping up with the ratio of high cards to low cards. A real advantage craps strategy requires you to be able to adjust the odds of the game.
The only way to do that is through some type of controlled shooting. You’ll see this called “rhythmic rolling,” “dice control,” or “dice setting,” depending on who’s writing about it. I’ve seen some gambling writers I respect who are convinced that it’s possible.
How hard is it to pull that off? I’m not sure. I haven’t tried. Scoblete, in Forever Craps, lists 5 steps to advantage play craps. Here’s how they work:
- Use the 5-count and only bet on some of the shooters. I’ll explain the 5-count in a future post, but the basic premise is that you should be able to identify shooters who are better at rolling the dice than others with this technique. By only betting on the good shooters, you’ll put the odds in your favor. I’m skeptical, but I’m willing to entertain the notion.
- Learn dice control for yourself. I’m skeptical of this, too, but I’m less skeptical of this than of trying to find shooters who seem to be able to control the dice. In any short term situation, you’ll see streaks from other shooters that might seem to be the result of control, even though they’re just the beneficiaries of variance. You’re more likely to be able to learn to control the dice for yourself.
- Bet using the “Golden Ruler.” I’ll write more about this in a subsequent post, too.
- Use the best betting strategies for your goals. You might be playing for comps. If so, you should be willing to give the house a higher edge. If you want to make the most money from a shooter that’s “controlling them bones,” you might bet differently. I’ll cover this in detail soon, too.
- Bet less to get more free stuff. The goal is always to get more for free than you’re going to lose in the long run.
That’s a quick outline of the advantage play method outlined in Forever Craps. In my next posts, I’ll go into more detail about how to put those steps into practice.
I’ve seen no evidence of similar countermeasures at the craps tables. This leads me to be skeptical of the claims about dice control. But theoretically, you could get an edge at the game—if the claims of authors like Scoblete are true. In the interest of giving you something to work toward, I’m going to cover some more of those claims and how-to’s in subsequent posts in this series.