I’ve never read a blog post or an article about the game of craps or craps strategy that didn’t mention how exciting the game is.
Okay. Now that we have that out of the way.
The purpose of this post is to introduce you to the 10 most fundamental concepts in craps strategy. This is not a get rich quick scheme. I don’t have any systems to sell you.
My only interest is in helping you save money at the gambling tables and have fun while you’re doing it.
The truth is that craps is a negative expectation game. If you play long enough, you’ll eventually go broke.
But you can get more entertainment for your money if you understand some of the basics of craps strategy.
1- Start Your Craps Career by Sticking with the Most Easily Understood Bets on the Table
The basic bets in craps are the pass and don’t pass bets. These are bets on whether the shooter “succeeds” or not. These are also the best bets on the table. The house edge for each of those bets is, respectively, 1.41% and 1.36%.
Both those bets pay even money, which make them marginally less exciting than some of the other bets. But the payout isn’t what’s important for each bet. It’s the house edge.
That’s a mathematical estimate of how much of each bet you expect to lose on average over the long run. It’s always expressed as a percentage.
If you bet $100 on every roll of the dice and place the pass bet every time, the casino expects your losses to average $1.41 for every bet you place.
This is exceptionally low compared to most bets at most other casino games. In fact, it’s significantly better than most of the other bets at the craps table.
At an average craps table, you’ll see about 100 rolls of the dice per hour. If you lose $1.41 on average for each of them, you’ll see an hourly loss average out to $141.
That sounds awful until you compare it to other games like slot machines, which usually have a house edge of 7% or more, or roulette, which has a house edge of 5.26%.
Most of the time I recommend taking the bet with the lowest house edge, but in craps, I think it’s so much more fun to root for the shooter that it’s worth the 0.05% difference in house edge.
2- Continue Your Craps Career by Placing One of Only 2 Bets in the Casino with a House Edge of 0%
A bet with a house edge of 0% is a bet that will break even in the long run. I only know of 2 bets in the casino with a house edge of 0%:
- 1. The double up bet in video poker
- 2. The odds bet in craps
When you’ve made a pass or don’t pass bet in craps, you can place a 2nd bet if and when the shooter sets a point. You win this 2nd bet if the shooter succeeds if you placed a pass bet, and you win it if the shooter fails if you placed a don’t pass bet.
The tricky thing about the odds bet is that it isn’t labeled on the craps table. You place the bet by putting the additional chips behind your initial pass or don’t pass bet.
Since this bet has no house edge, it’s an opportunity to get more money into action without any real long-term risk.
Some writers combine the 2 bets together for purposes of illustrating the total house edge on the 2 bets combined. I don’t see much point in doing that.
I can tell you, though, that the best strategy decision you can make in craps is to take the biggest odds bet that you can, every time it’s available.
The odds bet is part of what causes the crazy streaks of luck in the game, but that’s also part of the charm of craps.
3- Stay Far Away from the Bets in the Center of the Table
Not every bet at the craps table offers good odds. In fact, most of the bets offer lousy odds. I mentioned earlier that you can measure how good a bet on a casino game is by how low the house edge is.
Let’s take a look at the house edge for some of the bets in the middle of the craps table:
The “any 7” bet pays off 4 to 1 if the shooter rolls any total of 7 on the next roll. The odds of winning that bet, though, are 5 to 1. The difference is the house edge.
- Assume you bet $100 on any 7 for 36 rolls. And also assume that you have a perfect distribution for those rolls.
- You’ll win that bet 6 times, but you’ll lose 30 times.
- With a 4 to 1 payout, you’ll win $400 X 6, or $2400.
- But you’ll have lost $100 X $30, or $3000.
- Your net loss is $600.
- Since you placed 36 bets, you can average the amount lost into the number of bets to get your average loss per bet. In this case, it’s $16.67, which is 16.67% of $100.
And that’s just one example.
The house edge on the various bets in the center of the craps table range from 2.78% to 16.67%. None of them are good bets.
Just stick with the pass and don’t pass bets. Skip all the sucker bets in the middle of the table.
4- Steer Clear of Betting Systems Where You Increase and Decrease the Size of Your Bet Based on Previous Outcomes
You’ll sometimes see craps “experts” suggesting that you use some variation of the Martingale System for craps. The Martingale is a betting system used with even money bets at table games. You double the size of your bet after each loss until you win.
SEEMS fool-proof. But it’s not.
Here’s an example of how it might work at the craps table:
You bet $5 (the minimum in this casino) on the pass line bet, and you lose. On your next bet, you bet $10. If you win this time, you’ll recoup your $5 loss on the previous bet and have a $5 profit to show for it.
But if you lose again, you double the size of your last bet again, this time, from $10 to $20. This recoups the $5 you lost and the $10 you lost, and you have a $5 profit.
You can continue this progression as long as your money holds out and as long as your bet stays beneath the table max.
The problem with the Martingale System is that doubling the size of your bets increases your bet size far faster than you’d expect. You might think it’s hard to lose the same bet 8 or 9 times in a row, but it happens more often than you think.
When it does, you see a devastating loss. In fact, that loss will be so devastating that you’ll lose all those tiny profits you made previously.
Here’s what 8 bets in a row look like if you start with $5:
- 1. $5
- 2. $10
- 3. $20
- 4. $40
- 5. $80
- 6. $160
- 7. $320
- 8. $640
A lot of craps tables with a $5 minimum have a $500 maximum bet. If you lose 7 times in a row, you break the system and can’t continue.
Also, if you lose 7 times in a row, you’ll have lost $635 already. To place a $640 bet at this point means you’ll have put $1275 in action over the course of 8 bets.
And if you win that final bet?
You’re only up $5 for the entire session.
Betting systems like the Martingale have no way of overcoming the house edge. They seem like a good idea in the short run, but in the long run, you’ll lose just as much money (or more) using this kind of betting system as you would if you just randomly varied the size of your bets.
5- Don’t Try to Hedge Your Bets Either
You’re hedging your bets when you place a bet intended to offset the losses from another bet.
An example might make it easier to understand:
You place a $10 bet on the pass line. You simultaneously bet $2 on the “any craps” bet. (The any craps bet wins if the shooter rolls a 2, 3, or 12.)
It’s impossible to lose with this bet. If the shooter rolls a 7 or an 11 on the come out roll, you win $10. Sure, you’ll lose the $2 any craps bet, but you’ll have a net win of $8.
If the shooter rolls a 2, 3 or 12 on the come out roll, you win $14 (7 to 1). Sure, you’ll have lost the $10 pass line bet, but you’ll have a net win of $4.
This seems like a no-brainer strategy. The problem is that it doesn’t account for when the shooter rolls a point.
How often does this happen?
- You have 36 possible outcomes in a come out roll.
- 4 of those possible outcomes are any craps. (1,1; 1,2; 2,1; 6,6).
- 8 of those possible outcomes win the pass line bet (1,6; 2,5; 3,4; 4,3; 5,2; 6,1; 5,6; 6,5).
- That’s 12 possible outcomes where you’re guaranteed a profit.
- But on the other 24 outcomes (2 out of 3 times), the shooter will set a point. In each of those cases, the “any craps” bet loses right out of the gate. You still face the house edge when the shooter tries to roll the point.
The hedge bet doesn’t change your odds of winning. It only looks that way.
Almost all craps betting systems involve raising and lowering your bets based on when you’re winning or losing. But they also often involve systems for hedging your bets.
Don’t bother unless you think it sounds like a fun way to place bets. Even then, the house edge on the any craps bet is higher than you should be willing to pay.
6- Play Craps for the Lowest Stakes that Remain Interesting for You
You can calculate how much an hour of gambling at a given game will cost (on average) by multiplying the house edge by the number of bets per hour. You multiply that by the average size of your bet to get your expected hourly loss.
In the short run, this number is meaningless. It’s just a long-term expectation, and your results will vary from that mathematical expectation. But the longer you play, the closer you’ll eventually come to seeing the mathematical expectation become a reality.
This means that in the long run, you’ll lose twice as much money betting $10 per roll as you would if you were betting $5 per roll. The bigger your bet size, the more expected loss is.
I have just as much fun at the craps table betting $5 as I do betting $10 or $20, but you might have more money than I do. (I am, after all, only a poor gambling blogger.)
Years ago, I read a great book called Poker Night by John Vorhaus. He wrote about how to choose the stakes for your poker game. If you’re playing for such low stakes that winning or losing doesn’t matter to you at all, poker is an exercise in boredom.
He suggest playing in a game based on your “gulp limit.” That’s the amount of money that would make you swallow really hard if you lost your wallet with that amount in it.
That’s the size of your starting bankroll—your gulp limit. You can back-calculate the stakes you want to play for by dividing that bankroll by 10 or 20.
If your gulp limit is $200, you should be playing for $10 or $20 per roll.
7- Find the Casinos Who Offer You the Biggest Odds Bet Multiples
Since the odds bet offsets the house edge on the pass line and don’t pass line bet in proportion to how much you wager on it, the more you bet on it, the better off you are. But casinos have a maximum bet size for the odds bet based on a multiple of your original pass or don’t pass bet.
If you’re betting $5 per roll, the most you can bet on the odds bet is $10. If you’re betting $1000 per roll (you high roller, you), you can bet $2000 on the odds bet.
You can find casinos in Las Vegas which allow you to take 10X or even 15X odds, but 2X is more common. You should look for casinos which offer bigger limits on the odds bet.
Some casinos have 3x 4X 5X odds bet maximums. In these casinos, you can bet 3X your original bet if the point is 4 or 10, 4X your original bet if the point is 5 or 9, and 5X your original bet if the point is 6 or 8.
This is meant to simplify payouts for the craps dealers. Those bets pay off at 2 to 1, 3 to 2, and 6 to 5, respectively.
If you make the pass line bet with the maximum odds bet at a 3X 4X 5X table, the payout is always 7 to 1 on your total action. This makes it easier for the dealer.
Still, you’re better off finding a casino that allows you to bet more than that on the odds bet.
My suggestion for the best place to play craps in Las Vegas is the Casino Royale. It’s on the Strip, and it features some of the lowest betting minimums and highest possible odds bets in Las Vegas. You can bet $2 per roll of the dice in craps, and you can place an odds bet of up to 100X, or $200.
The cumulative house edge on a pass line bet taking maximum odds drops to just 0.02%. You won’t find a bet (or combination of bets) anywhere in any casino in the world with such a low house edge—unless you’re a card counter or an expert video poker player. (Those professions are outside the scope of this post, though—sorry.)
8- Consider Learning How to Set and Control the Dice
The idea behind dice setting and dice control is that a skilled shooter can affect the probability of getting a certain total on the dice. If skill comes into play when you’re rolling the dice, craps becomes a game more like darts than roulette.
I’m skeptical of this possibility, but I’ve seen gambling writers and experts I respect who lend the idea some credence. Even if it’s possible, I don’t think it’s practical for most gamblers to try this. Here’s why:
To be able to control the dice, you’d need to practice. You can’t practice for free in a casino, so you’d need to build or buy a casino-equivalent craps table to put in your garage or basement.
Then you’d need to practice for an insane number of repetitions to have any degree of statistical certainty that your skill is in fact affecting your outcomes. Anyone can look like they have skill by getting lucky on a dozen throws of the dice in a row. You’ll need to record your results until you have confidence in your statistical results.
That’s a lot of work for something you might turn out not to be good at. It’s also a lot of work on something that might not even be possible.
I don’t know of any casinos changing their rules or game conditions to combat dice setters. So I’m skeptical of how big a problem it is.
9- Try Playing Free Craps Games Online
I shouldn’t have to go into a lot of detail about this tip for it to make sense. If you’re playing craps without risking any money, you can’t lose any money. Online casinos offer play money games where you don’t risk a thing. At a lot of these casinos, you don’t even have to register an account.
10- See if You Can Find Some Buddies to Play “Street Craps” With
Street craps is the game played in an alleyway or someone’s house. You’ll see people playing street craps in a lot of old movies.
The most important difference between street craps and casino craps is the lack of betting options. In street craps, you only have the 2 betting options—pass and don’t pass. The rules for these bets work the same as they would if you were playing in a casino.
You’re just betting against the other players.
I can’t imagine a game in the casino more fun than craps. Luckily, it also offers some of the best odds in the casino—IF you place the right bets. Once you learn the basics of the game, it’s easy to do well at craps at least part of the time. Just stick with the bets which have a low house edge.
The rest of what you need to know about craps strategy can be boiled down to avoiding bad strategies. The bad bets at the craps table are awful. There’s never a reason to place a bet on something as silly as “hard eight,” even though PT Anderson made a great movie with that title.
Other trap to avoid is thinking that hedging your bets or raising and lowering your bets based on previous results will do anything to help you win. Those tactics don’t work and never have.
Craps is a notoriously streaky game. This is good news and bad news. It means you can have big winning streaks. Sadly, it also means you can have fast losing streaks, too.
And the losing streaks are marginally more common than the winning streaks. That’s how a game with a negative expectation for the player works. Play long enough, and you’ll lose all your money.
But you can sure have some fun and walk away a winner from the craps table once in a while.