Every blog post and page about craps I’ve ever read talks about how exciting the game is. The word “adrenaline” is often used. The reason that this is so is because of the ability to stay in action constantly. After all, you can place a bet on every roll of the dice.
Also, when you play other casino games—like blackjack or casino war—you must bet big to win big. But at craps, you can easily sit down with just $50 and win $5000 in an hour. Try doing that at the blackjack table. Heck, you’re lucky to double your money at the blackjack table.
But craps isn’t as popular as it used to be, and that’s a shame. I know plenty of potential craps players who get intimidated by the dizzying array of bets at the table. The number of people—dealers and others—working the craps table is also scary to new players.
The game is so much easier than you probably think, though. Smart craps players skip most of the bets on the table anyway. And when you stick with the right bets, the house edge on the money you’ve got on the table is low—often under 1%.
This is the 1st in a series of posts about how to play craps. This series goes into more detail than most blog posts about the game.
Part 1 of 6
And I think the best place to start when explaining craps to new players is with the casino staff at the table—the dealers and other people.
At most table games, you only have a single staff member to deal with—the dealer. You might call that person a “croupier” at the roulette table, but it’s still a single employee running the game. This is true of blackjack, roulette, and almost all other table games.
But at the craps table, you have multiple casino employees running the game.
One of the interesting things about the staff at the craps table is that some of the employees are rooting for you. That’s because they work for salary PLUS tips. If you’re winning, you’ll tip generously.
Other employees at the table are NOT rooting for you. In fact, they’re rooting against you. These employees aren’t allowed to accept “tokes” (another word for “tips”). Their purpose is to protect the casino’s money.
And you’ll find multiple people at the craps table working. This post explains who they are and what they do.
It’s customary for a craps table to have 4 dealers, but you’ll only see 3 of these dealers at a time. 3 dealers work the table at any given time, while the other dealer is on break. These dealers move around the table and stand in different spots as time passes.
One of the dealers is always “on the stick.” The other 2 dealers stand on the opposite end of the craps table. Those dealers are “on base.”
The dealer on the stick is “the stickman.” He holds a flexible wooden stick that he uses to collect the dice used in the game. He’s also responsible for the proposition bets that are made.
What does that mean?
It means that when a player wins a proposition bet, the stickman instructs one of the “standing dealers” to pay the winnings on that bet. (The standing dealers are the ones who are on base.)
It also means that when a player loses a proposition bet, the stickman removes the losing bet from the table. He throws it to the “boxman,” usually the only seated employee at the craps table.
Here’s a quick word of advice, by the way:
Just skip the proposition bets altogether. The house edge on all these bets is ridiculously high. (I’ll explain more about the house edge later in this series of posts.)
That’s not the stickman’s only job, though. He’s also in charge of the dice. The casino keeps 6 or 8 dice in a tray in front of the stickman. Every time someone new becomes the “shooter”—the player rolling the dice—the stickman pushes the dice to that person. The shooter chooses 2 dice, and then the stickman pulls the dice back from the table and returns them to the tray.
The stickman also calls out the results of the dice rolls. In other words, he announces the total showing on the 2 dice. A good stickman usually does this in a colorful way to stimulate action at the table. If it’s the 1st roll from a new shooter, the total is often designated verbally as “the point.” (I’ll have more to say about that later, too.)
After the dice are rolled, bets are paid off and new bets are made. Once all the action is resolved, the stickman returns the dice to the shooter.
If a shooter “sevens out” or loses on her initial role, the stickman puts the dice back in the tray so that the next shooter can again choose 2 dice to roll.
The stickman is the one who gets to say all the cool stuff you associate with craps:
Before the 1st roll, he encourages the players to bet. He calls out the rolls. A lot of times, he has specific patter he uses based on what number comes up.
His goal is to get you to bet on the proposition bets in the center of the table. Those are the bets with the highest house edge.
The other 2 dealers who are standing at the opposite end of the table are the standing dealers. Their purpose is to take care of the players at the craps table. When you want to exchange cash for chips, one of the standing dealers will give the case to the boxman. He counts the money and converts the cash into chips. That standing dealer then gives the chips to the player.
Be prepared if the staff asks you, “How do you want your chips?”
They want to know what denomination you’re looking for.
At most casinos, the chips come in the following denominations:
If you win a payoff of less than a dollar, the casino just uses regular coins to pay that off. The chips usually follow a standard color scheme by denomination. Dollar chips are white, $5 chips are red, $25 chips are green, $100 chips are black, and $500 chips are usually brown or gray and are sometimes oversized. These colors can vary by casino. Also, these are just the most common denominations. Chips are available at many casinos in other denominations, too.
Not only can you buy chips with cash when you get to the table, you can change denominations while you’re at the table, too. This is called “changing color.” (Chips have varying colors based on their denomination.)
Here’s something important to remember, too:
You’ll never hand cash or chips to the dealer. The dealer will never hand cash or chips to you. Money and chips are exchanged on the table in front of you to prevent collusion and cheating between dealers and players. The eye in the sky can record on video your transactions this way, but if you did an exchange from one hand to another person’s hand, all kinds of shenanigans could take place.
One of the most important responsibilities of the dealer is placing bets for you in certain situations. When you place one of the bets that a dealer must make for you (which I’ll cover in a future blog post), you just place the chips on the green and instruct the dealer what you want to do with it. The dealer picks up the chip and places the appropriate wager for you.
The dealers also make all the payouts after the shooter rolls the dice. He puts those chips near you so that you can pick them up. But those payouts will be on the table—remember, the dealer will never hand you chips. Pay attention, too.
The dealers do this in a specific order, too. The dealers collect the money for all the losing bet first. Then the dealer pays off anyone who won because of the roll of the dice. Finally, if you won a proposition bet, the stickman instructs one of the dealers to pay you off.
You’ll see between 12 and 20 craps players at a full table. Since the standing dealers are at either end of the table, each handles half those players, or 6 to 10 players at a time. This might sound overwhelming to someone like you or me, but for a trained craps dealer, it’s a piece of cake.
If a table is really busy or the dealer is less experienced, the action might slow down. This is intentional. The staff want to work efficiently and expertly to make sure there are no mistakes or payouts to the wrong players.
But casinos are staffed by humans, and human error creeps in. For this reason, it’s up to you to keep up with the action, your bets, and what you should be paid out. Keep an eye on dealer placed bets to make sure they’re placing the right bets. Keep an eye on the dealer and make sure you get paid off if you’ve won. And don’t forget to make sure that your payouts are for the right amounts.
The dealer is also charged with managing the “buck.” This is a 2-sided disk used to track where the game is at this point.
I’ll get into the specific gameplay details for craps in a later post, but for now, know that the game starts when the shooter makes his 1st roll of the dice. If he doesn’t win or lose immediately on that spin, a “point” is set.
The dealer puts the buck in a box next to the place numbers on the craps table. This box is labeled “Don’t Come.” The black side of the buck shows face up, indicating that the point hasn’t been set. This way, when someone new walks up to the table, she can see that the point hasn’t yet been set.
Once the point has been set (4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10), the buck is turned over to its white side and placed in the numbered box corresponding to the point. This way everyone at the table knows what the point is, as do any new players who want to join the table.
The buck gets moved after a shooter makes the point or rolls a 7 (“sevens out”). It goes back to the black side and gets placed in the Don’t Come box again until a shooter establishes a new point.
The dealers are all wearing a casino uniform, but you can usually tell the boxman because he’s dressed in a shirt and tie. Sometimes he’s wearing a suit, but sometimes it’s just slacks and a sports coat—it depends on the casino.
You can also tell who the boxman is from where he’s standing. He’s located directly opposite the stickman and midway between the 2 standing dealers.
His job is to look out for the casino’s money. He’s there to prevent cheating from the players. When the action is happening at the craps table, he’s sitting down, although he might be standing up when nothing’s happening. He looks at one end of the table while the stickman looks at the other end of the table.
His main job is to make sure that payouts are handled correctly and without mistakes. He also makes sure that losing bets are collected appropriately.
The dealers are friendly with the players. Part of their role is to stimulate action by chatting them up. The boxman, on the other hand, generally stays aloof from the players. Some are friendlier than others, but their job is to run the game.
When you buy in, he counts the money and makes sure it isn’t counterfeit. He tells the dealers how many chips to give you. He puts the money into a slot in the table. That slots leads to the “drop box.” (Putting the money in the slot is called “dropping” it.)
In fact, you can bet cash at most craps tables, but your winnings will always be paid out in chips.
Also, if the players are getting too lucky, the boxman double-checks the dice to make sure they’re legit. Craps dice in a casino are specially marked. Once he’s inspected them, they go back into play.
The area behind the craps tables is called “the pit.” Casinos with multiple craps tables usually place those tables around the pit. A supervisor stands in the pit and watches the action—he’s the floorman.
Depending on how busy the casino is, there might be multiple floormen working in the craps pit. Like the boxman, his job is to oversee the game to make sure there’s no cheating. He also watches to make sure that none of the players are stealing chips from the rails.
The floorman dresses like the boxman—in a suit and tie or in slacks and a blazer. He’s not as aloof as the boxman. If you’re applying for credit, he’s the guy who makes the decisions about extending you credit at the craps table. If you’re approved for credit, the floorman is the person who gives you the “marker” to sign. (Think of a marker as a promissory note—it’s a document where you’re promising to pay off the casino if you lose.)
The floorman is also in charge of awarding “comps” to the craps players. These are free rewards to encourage you to play more. (The more you play, the more money the casino makes in the long run.) These can include free food, lodging, and event tickets.
The more money you’re betting, the bigger the comps are. The floorman is an expert at awarding appropriate levels of comps based on the amount of “action” you’re bringing to the table. (“Action” means the amount of money you’re wagering over time.)
You might think that comps are only given to players who lose.
But casinos love to give free rooms to big winners. After all, if they’re staying at the casino’s hotel, they’re more likely to gamble more and lose that money.
The “pitboss” is the top dog in the pit. He has the final judgment call on any disputes about what’s going on. (The boxman usually makes decisions, but he can be overruled by the floorman, who can, in turn, be overruled by the pitboss.)
And that’s the cast of characters working for the casino at the craps table:
Some of them are on your side because they get paid via your tips. The others—the ones higher up in the chain of command—don’t get tips and aren’t on your side.
This is the 1st in my latest series of detailed posts about how to play (and win) the game of craps. If you’ve never played before, understanding who the important people are running the game is a good way to start.
Their roles will make even more sense when you read my next post about how the craps table is laid out.
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