by Spencer Musick
Spencer Musick is an advantage video poker player and sports journalist. He is based in Beijing, China, and one of his favorite pastimes is traveling to different casinos around the world. He enjoys the opulent casinos of Macau every bit as much as the grind joints of downtown Las Vegas, where he began playing craps to break up those long video poker sessions. Spencer has compiled these observations about the unwritten “rules of the road” he encountered at the craps table.
If you are new to the game of craps, you may have found yourself intimidated at the idea of walking up to the table and putting down your money. As is the case with many casino table games, there is an unspoken etiquette that governs the craps table, and this can be a source of anxiety for new players.
Most of these rules are not set in stone, and some craps tables are likely to be more friendly than others in terms of how nicely the new player is clued into these “rules of the road.” Taking the time in advance to scope out a craps table that fits your bankroll and level of experience with the game is an important first step to getting the most bang for your casino buck out of craps.
Selecting a casino to play craps: one fundamental rule for new players
A casino that caters to locals or those on day trips from nearby areas will have more experienced players that may be less used to encountering newbies. Examples of these include the off-strip casinos in Las Vegas, such as Palace Station, or the Gold Coast Hotel & Casino.
A few of the downtown Las Vegas casinos also cater to these types of loyal local players. These locals “grind joints” may not be the friendliest place to start to learn craps, but as a corollary, they often have lower limits and better odds than casinos that cater mainly to tourists.
Large casinos that focus on tourists often have entire tables set aside for new players, with free craps lessons offered at specific hours. It is up to each individual player to find the right balance between factors like atmosphere, the other players, table limits, and odds, all of which can affect one’s experience at the tables.
Sevens and other superstitions
Craps players are a superstitious bunch. Many of these superstitions center, not surprisingly, around the number seven. Just avoiding saying the number seven at any time is a good rule of thumb. Importantly, if a point number has been established (so the “on” button is face up) then avoid saying the number “seven” at all costs. If you slip up, and then the shooter sevens out, you are opening yourself to being blamed by other players.
Astute and educated gamblers, of course, know that craps is a game of luck and there is no feasible way to influence the outcome of a roll. But you cannot count on other players at the table being educated gamblers; in fact, you should expect the opposite. In order to avoid potentially uncomfortable situations, just keep your conversation with the other players superficial.
You will see many shooters “setting the dice” before rolling. Although it can’t be ruled out completely, it is highly unlikely that this affects the outcomes of the rolls. Casinos tolerate it to a certain extent, as they are more than happy to indulge a player’s superstitions so long as it keeps them playing on the table.
Dice setting is, for the author, fun to do at the table as a gimmick. But pit bosses also don’t appreciate anything that slows down the action at a table, so unless you are able to set dice quickly, avoid even trying it. In general, it is easier to rebuked by one of the casino suits in craps than perhaps any other casino game.
One of the main reasons that new players often find themselves at the receiving end of a rebuke from the staff on the casino floor is by touching the dice with more than one hand. For reasons of game security, players are expected to toss the dice using only one hand. This is so both dice always stay within view of the surveillance cameras.
There are similar rules in place in casino games where players touch the cards (like pitch blackjack and three card poker). Using two hands to touch the dice gives both the floor staff and surveillance a reason to be suspicious of you. Since the goal with craps is to have fun and hopefully play long enough to hit a hot streak, this is the last thing a smart player needs.
To “don’t” or not to “don’t,” that is the question!
Whether or not to bet the “don’t pass line” is another potentially contentious point. Although the don’t pass line has slightly better odds for the player than the pass line, whether or not it is worth potentially drawing the ire of the other players in order to take advantage of slightly better odds is a decision that each individual player has to make based on their own considerations.
If you are playing alone or at an electronic craps terminal, then my advice would be to knock yourself out! But at a full table in a crowded casino where everyone is betting the “right side,” I would think twice before betting the don’t. The superstitions of craps players are likely to come into play. If a player begins betting the don’t just before a “hot” table turns “cold” the player who bet the “dark side” will almost certainly draw snide comments from other players, or at the very least, some less than kind looks.
If you have a strong enough constitution to be able to withstand this, then the risk of upsetting other superstitious people at the table may not matter. If your desire is to get the house edge as far down as possible, social niceties notwithstanding, then the “don’t pass” is not just a good option, it is your only real option.
A final note on tipping in casinos:
Tipping is perhaps more important at the craps table than at any other table casino game. Why is this? Put simply, craps dealers and pit bosses have some of the most mentally demanding jobs on the casino floor.
The dealers are doing complicated odds calculations in their heads to pay off players, and often keeping track of dozens of bets at once. Craps dealers have the most complex training program of any other dealers on the floor. That is why you will often see shift changes at the craps table happen more frequently than at other games.
So be sure to take good care of the crew on your table, especially if they have gone above and beyond to make your time on the table exciting. Placing bets for the dealers is always appreciated, as is just tossing down the chips and letting a dealer know it’s for the crew.
Importantly: avoid making the hard way and one-roll prop bets for the dealers. All of the casino staff know that these are sucker bets! Make the good bets for the table staff, and often you will find that kindness reciprocated by a peppier, more lively crew.
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