This is the 3rd post in my “how casino games really work” series. (The first 2 posts were about slot machines and blackjack.)

Craps has fewer misconceptions and myths surrounding it than slots or blackjack, but that might be because the audience for the game is a little smaller than for the other 2 games. After all, blackjack is the most popular table game in the casino, while slots are the most popular game in the casino altogether.

Craps, though, is more fun than either—at least in my opinion. It has its advantages and disadvantages, though. For one thing, the house edge on most of the craps bets is really low compared to other games.

But that’s only if you stick with the easiest bets at the table. The house edge on the more complicated bets at the craps table is much higher.

For another thing, craps isn’t a game of skill. You place your bets and hope for the best. Some people promote dice control as a possible means of getting an edge, but I’m skeptical about how effective that might even be.

I think a lot of people avoid craps because they’re intimidated by the game. With slots, you just put your money in and spin the reels. Everyone learns to play blackjack as a child.

Most people don’t know how to play craps, though, and it’s such a high-energy game that many people are afraid of what the other players at the table will think of them if they make a mistake or don’t know how to play correctly.

If you read this post thoroughly, play a couple of practice games at an online casino, and take advantage of one of the free casino classes, you’ll be fine.

Here’s how craps really works:

The Rules for How Craps Is Played Are Easier than You Probably Think

If you haven’t been living under a rock all your life, you probably already know that craps is the game where you throw 2 dice. You probably also know that the totals of 7 and/or 11 are important.

Those were the only facts I knew about the game before I learned how to play.

It’s probably easiest to think of craps as a game of rounds. You have a different shooter each round. The first roll in each round is called the “come-out roll.” The most basic bets in craps are bets on whether the shooter wins or loses.

The easiest way for the shooter to win is to get 7 or 11 on the come-out roll. (Each of the dice are numbered 1 through 6, and you total their results to get the outcome). The easiest way for the shooter to lose is to get 2, 3, or 12 on the come-out roll.

If the shooter rolls any other number, he’s established “a point.” He gets to keep rolling the dice.

At this point in the round, the shooter rolls until he rolls the point again or until he gets a total of 7. At this point in the game, a roll of 7 makes the shooter lose. A roll that matches the point wins for the shooter.

The bettors at the table can place even money bets on the shooter to win or lose. (The shooter has this option, too.) The basic bet on the shooter to win is called a “pass line bet.” If you want to bet on the shooter to lose, you’re placing what’s called a “don’t pass bet.”

When a point is established, you can increase the size of your bet by placing an “odds bet.” This bet pays off at the true odds for winning, which makes the odds bet the only bet in the casino which has no edge for the house edge.

All the other bets at the craps table pay off at odds below the actual odds of winning. That’s how the house gets its edge, and this is how the casino makes its profit.

I’ll explain the odds in more detail in this next section:

Craps Odds, Probability, and Where the House Gets Its Edge

One thing you’ll learn about casino games if you study them for a while is that the house almost always has an edge. (There are rare exceptions, like when the casino is facing a card counter.) That edge is expressed mathematically as a percentage of each bet that the casino expects you to lose on average in the long run—over thousands of repetitions.

Most of the time, the house gets this edge by paying off bets at lower odds than the actual odds of winning the bet. (In blackjack, most of the edge comes from letting the blackjack dealer act last.)

Odds is a way of expressing probability by comparing the number of ways something can’t happen with the number of ways that something can happen. If you say something has odds of 2 to 1, that means that out of 3 occurrences, you’re expected win once out of 3 times, but lose twice out of 3 times.

Probability with dice is pretty easy to calculate, but some people have trouble with it. I don’t want to get into too much detail about how to do the calculations here, because it’s not necessary. Smarter men than I have catalogued the odds of winning all the possible bets in craps and comparing them with the payout odds to determine the house edge on each of them.

But let’s look at one of the sucker bets on the table to illustrate how this works.

We already talked about the pass and don’t pass bets and what happens when a point is set. Another possibility facing a player is an additional bet. Some of these are called “proposition bets,” and they can be found in the middle of the table.

You can bet that the next roll be a 2 or a 12, for example.

What are the odds that you’ll get a total of 2? (It’s the same as the odds of getting a total of 12, by the way.)

You have 36 possible outcomes when you roll a pair of 2 dice. Only one of those possible outcomes results in a total of 2—you have to roll a 1 on each of the 2 dice. Therefore, the odds of winning that bet are 35 to 1. You have 35 ways to lose, and 1 way to win.

  • If that bet paid off at 35 to 1, you’d break even in the long run. It would be considered a “fair bet” or a bet with no house edge, like the odds bet. But this bet actually pays off at 30 to 1.
  • If you took 36 rolls of the dice, and each of them came out the way you expected, you’d win once and lose 35 times. If you’re betting $100 per roll, you’d lose a total of $3500, and you’d win a total of $3000. That’s a net loss of $500.

Average that into 36 rolls, and you get the house edge for that bet. (That’s why I chose $100 as the bet size.) That’s an average loss of $13.89 per bet, or 13.89%.

By comparison, the house edge on roulette is 5.26%, and that’s considered relatively high. The house edge on blackjack is around 1% if you’re using perfect basic strategy. The house edge on the basic pass line bet in craps is 1.41%. (The odds are 251 to 244, but the bet pays off at even money.)

This is why the proposition bets on the craps table are considered “sucker bets.” The payouts aren’t even close to commensurate with the odds of winning. Since there are bets at the table where the odds are 10 times better for the player, placing such a bet is pure folly.

Some players think they have some kind of psychic powers and their hunches actually have some relevance to what’s a good bet and what isn’t. That’s folly, too. Craps is random, and you can’t get an edge by using your ability to predict the future.

If you want to maximize the amount of fun you have at the craps table and the probability that you’ll win, you’ll stick with either the pass line bet or the don’t pass bet. You’ll also take the odds bet anytime it’s offered, and you’ll bet as much as you can on it. (The casino limits the amount of money you can place on this bet.)

The Truth about the Odds Bet

The odds bet only comes into play when a point has been set. It isn’t even listed on the table; to place an odds bet, you put your chips for that bet behind the chips of your original bet.

The odds bet pays off at its true odds. The odds of winning the point are based on the odds of rolling that total, as follows:

  • If the point is 4 or 10, the odds of winning are 2 to 1. The payoff for the odds bet is also 2 to 1.
  • If the point is 5 or 9, the odds of winning are 3 to 2. The payoff for the odds bet is also 3 to 2.
  • If the point is 6 or 8, the odds of winning are 6 to 5. The payoff for the odds bet is 6 to 5.

Of course, if you bet on don’t pass, the odds bet pays off if the shooter loses. In that event, those numbers above are reversed.

Casinos limit the amount you can bet on the odds bet based on how much your original pass line or don’t pass bet was. 3X4X5X is the most common set of limits, because it makes calculating the payouts easier, because they’re always the same.

You can bet 3X on a 4 or 10, 4X on a 5 or 9, or 5X on a 6 or 8. Other casinos allow you to bet 5X, 10X, 15X, or even 100X your original bet on the odds bet.

The cumulative effect of placing the odds bet is to lower your overall edge for the money you have in action. If you can find a casino that allows you to bet 100X odds, the house edge is so low that it’s hardly noticeable.

The Truth about Craps Betting Systems

Craps is one of those games that’s popular with system bettors. These are bettors who raise or lower the size of their bets based on what happened on previous rolls.

Craps betting systems don’t work. (Betting systems in general don’t work, because casino games are almost always using independent trials. Previous results don’t affect subsequent results.)

Here’s the idea behind most betting systems:

  • If someone is on a winning streak, his luck is about to change, so you should lower the size of your bets.
  • If someone is on a losing streak, you should raise the size of your bets, because the table is “due” a winner.

The reverse of that thinking is common, too. The idea then becomes to raise the size of your bets when someone is on a winning streak, and lower the size of your bets when someone starts to lose. Theoretically, this enables you to make money off the streak before it ends.

The problem with these betting systems is The Gambler’s Fallacy. This is the term for the belief that previous results are going to “even out” because of what’s happened before, to bring the numbers back into line with what they ought to be.

This is a misunderstanding of how probability and the long run works. Sure, over thousands and tens of thousands of spins, the numbers will even out to what they expect.

But that doesn’t change the probability on the next roll of the dice.

The probability formula for each throw of the dice is the same. The dice still have 6 sides each, regardless of what happened on the previous spin.

You can have fun using some kind of betting system, but it won’t overcome the house edge in the long run. If you play craps long enough, you’ll eventually lose all your money.

Luckily, most of us play in the short term. We don’t have to worry so much about the long run. And since that’s the case, we can often go home with some money in our pocket when we get lucky.

Finally, the Truth about Dice Control and/or Dice Setting

The truth is that the jury is still out about whether a skilled craps player can influence how the dice land. As far as I know, there have been no scientific studies demonstrating that someone can influence how the dice land well enough to change the odds to where they have an edge.

I’m skeptical, but I have read from online gambling authors I trust that there’s some credence to it. The problem I see is that dice setting techniques are impractical as all get out to learn. You need to practice for hours and simulate actual casino conditions.

That’s a lot of effort to pour into an advantage technique that might not even work. Even if it’s something some people can pull off, you might find that you’ve practiced for hundreds of hours and just don’t have the knack for it.

I’m also skeptical because I know about the lengths that casinos take to prevent card counting. If the casinos felt threatened by dice control experts in craps, I suspect they’d put countermeasures in place. As far as I know, they have the same countermeasures in place that they’ve always had.

It’s a lot easier to just learn how to count cards in blackjack—which is both easier and harder than it sounds.

If anyone has evidence, first-hand anecdotal or not, that someone has gotten an edge over the casino using dice setting techniques, I’d love it if you contacted me using the contact information for this site or via the comments section below.

A final warning:

Try not to spend a lot of money learning how to do this. Advantage play techniques can be valuable, sure, but the jury’s still so far out about the efficacy of this one I fear you’d be wasting your money. You can buy good books on counting cards in blackjack for less than $20 a copy.


Now you know how craps really works. It’s a far simpler game than most people imagine, with a great house edge.

As long as you stick with the basic bets—pass/don’t pass and the odds bet, you can have a tremendous amount of fun at the casino for very little money.

Just be careful about believing in betting systems or dice control techniques. I’d hate for you to lose money pursuing an unlikely dream of riches.

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