May 8, 2020
May 8, 2020

The history of Craps

Hazard and the Canterbury Tales

Growing North American popularity

The Father of modern Craps

Craps today

The history of Craps

Craps is a game with a fascinating history that spans numerous centuries and countries. Here is a quick look at where and when Craps originates from, how it evolved into the game we know today and why it become popular at casinos around the world.

Hazard and The Canterbury Tales

According to some historians, the roots of Craps can be traced back to the Roman era, during which soldiers are believed to have shaved down pig knuckles into cube shapes to resemble dice and played games that involved throwing them into their inverted shields.

Craps is believed to have originated from an earlier form of the game known as Hazard.

While the extent to which this had a formative influence on the rules of Craps is unclear, it is believed this is where the phrase “rolling the bones” used to describe the process of throwing dice in Craps originates from.

The more commonly accepted version of events suggests that Craps evolved from a comparable dice game that emerged in England named Hazard. Hazard was created by Sir William of Tyre and his knights during the Crusades in circa 1125 as a game to play and pass the time while waiting to lay siege on a castle named Hazarth.

Similarly to Craps, Hazard involved players taking turns to serve as the caster, who was responsible for throwing two dice and placing bets on whether they thought they would win the round. Much like its modern equivalent, in Hazard rounds were determined according to whether the caster rolled a specified number and successfully avoided rolling others.

Hazard gradually grew in popularity throughout the English Middle Ages and was notably repeatedly referenced in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, considered one of the most iconic literary works of all time. It was regularly played in the first English gambling houses that emerged in the late 17th and early 18th century, and was particularly enjoyed by royalty and noblemen.

Around this time, Hazard reached France, where it became known as Crabs due to the fact that was the nickname given to the worst possible roll of two. A couple of decades later, it crossed the Atlantic to the French colony of Acadia, which comprised parts of Canada and Maine.

Growing North American popularity

The French lost control of Acadia in 1755 to the English, who renamed it Nova Scotia. The French nationals who inhabited the area (who became known as Cajuns) were dispersed and trekked southwards to Louisiana, sharing their knowledge of the game on the journey. At this point, the game was referred to as Crebs or Creps.

Crebs or Creps was made popular in the United States by labourers on the Mississippi River.

Crebs’ popularity was assisted when the nobleman and gambler Bernard de Marigny arrived in New Orleans from London in 1805. Marigny developed a simplified version that required players to roll a seven, which he realised was the most likely dice roll to occur. However, the game struggled to court approval amongst the American social and wealthy elite, so he turned to the poorer working classes.

As a result, knowledge of the game was predominantly broadened into the 19th century by labourers who would play it on boats travelling the Mississippi River. Due to its status as a working class game, in the US it could be witnessed being played in streets and back alleys as regularly as in casinos.

Indeed, it was around this time that Craps was finally settled upon as the primary name of the game. Debates continue to this day as to whether this was simply a corruption of Crebs or Crabs, or instead a play on the French world crapaud meaning toad, referencing the wide-legged crouching position people would often adopt when playing it in the street.

The Father of modern Craps

While Craps was available to play in an increasing proportion of American casinos by this point, it often proved controversial, as there were differing versions of rules being used which prompted some casinos to deploy rigged dice in a bid to secure a house edge.

Craps was often enjoyed by soldiers to pass the time during World War II.

To overcome this problem, in 1907 a dicemaker named John H. Winn, often referred to as the ‘Father of modern Craps’, devised a set of rules which are largely used to this day. Amongst his innovations were a refined layout for the Craps table and the introduction of the Don’t pass bet, which enabled players to bet against the shooter for the first time.

These expanded and consistent rules were quickly adopted by casinos, as they ensured they could guarantee a house edge simply by the payouts they set. This removed the need for rigged dice and helped to erode the negative, sketchy image attached to the game.

Craps slowly became more prevalent during the 20th century and was regularly played by American soldiers during World War II, firmly extending both its worldwide appeal and popularity in the US beyond the working class. Casinos in Las Vegas and the Caribbean capitalised on this in the 1960s by increasing their quantity of Craps tables, and those in central Europe, Australia and Asia followed suit shortly after.

Craps today

Craps has continued to grow in popularity into the 21st century and remains widely played at casinos across the globe. It regularly proves popular due to the energetic and camaraderie-based atmosphere it generates, whereby groups of players enjoy “teaming up” against the house and encouraging the shooter to throw rolls that will enable them to win.

Many Craps players today attempt to join the Golden Arm club.

It has also proved its ability to proliferate popular culture. A game of craps serves as a major plot point in the long-running musical Guys and Dolls, and in the 1993 film A Bronx Tale, it is featured in a widely referenced scene when character Eddie Mush declares “Baby needs new shoes” before rolling a 12 in the game. As a result, the phrase “Baby needs a new pair of shoes!” is associated with Craps to this day.

Similarly to many other casino games, Craps has sourced much of its recent boosts in popularity from the rise of online casinos such as Pinnacle Casino, which have enabled people to play Craps any time, any place alongside anyone on multiple different games.

Craps has also benefited from the formation of numerous high-profile and big prize tournaments that attract players from around the world. These include the World Craps Championship (WCC), which rewards various six-figure prizes, and the Las Vegas Hilton Craps tournaments.

Finally, Craps is enjoyed at casinos by gamblers seeking to enjoy the famed Golden Arm club, the title given to a player whose stint as shooter successfully lasts for an over an hour without losing. Its inaugural member was Stanley Fujitake, who rolled 118 times across three hours and six minutes without sevening out at the California Hotel and Casino in 1989, costing them a reported $1 million.

This record was not broken until May 24, 2009, when Patricia DeMauro rolled 154 times during a period of four hours and 18 minutes at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City.

Learn more about Craps

If you’re looking for general advice on how to play Craps, then read our ultimate guide to Craps. To develop your knowledge about the probabilities and strategy involved, you can read about Craps odds and strategy.

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