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Best of The Midnight Skulker

Gaming Guru

 

Have You Made a Friend at the Craps Table Today?

14 April 2003

Craps, with its multitude of different bets that resolve at different times, is the most complicated game in the casino to learn, both to play and to deal. To my knowledge, craps is also the only game in the casino where the players cannot set up every bet available to them (i.e., they must give some wagers to a dealer to set up for them). Remembering the difficulty they had learning the game, craps dealers tend to be quite forgiving when players fail to follow the protocol for placing bets. Nevertheless, players who make it easy for a dealer to book his or her action will make a friend for the session, which in turn will make for a more enjoyable session for the player. Here, then, are some easy friend-making rules to follow.

Rule 1: Never reach into any portion of the layout except those areas labeled Pass Line, Don't Pass, Field, Come, or Don't Come.

One of the things that sets craps apart from all of the other casino games, and in my opinion the thing that makes craps so difficult for many players to learn, is that most bets are made on the outcome of a series of rolls. Because some bets may remain in action (i.e., remain unresolved) from one roll to the next the dealer must keep track of what those bets are and to whom they belong. He does this by arranging the bets in a particular way within his work area, which for the stickman consists of the proposition bets, and for the other dealers (known as the base dealers) consists of the big boxes in front of them that have the point numbers (4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10) printed in them. Any disturbance of this arrangement could lead to confusion as to who owns a bet and, in the case of the base dealer's area, could also lead to confusion as to what the bet is. (Was that Come bet $10 flat with $20 odds or $15 flat with $15 odds?) Consequently, dealers are very protective of their work areas, and "The Forbidden Zone" is strictly enforced.

Rule 2: Do not intentionally touch a dealer.

Incidental contact can be unavoidable at a crowded table, but dealers are people too and deserve to have their personal space respected.

Rule 3: For bets the dealer must place for you, give explicit instructions as to how much you are betting and the bet(s) you wish to make.

Throwing $6 to the stickman and yelling, "Two paths through the forest," may make you sound like an expert, but even if the stickman knows that you want a two-way hard six (and few will) he still must ask you how you want the bet divided. ($5 for you, $1 for the crew? $3 each?) Better to make your intentions clear up front and save the obscure lingo for an "also known as" epilogue. (By the way, forests have trees, and "trees" sounds like "threes"; hence the hard-six box is sometimes called The Forest.)

Rule 4: When you win a bet do not touch any of your chips until after the dealer has paid you and you are satisfied that the payoff is correct.

Casinos are ever vigilant for past-posters, players who try to cheat them by making or adding to bets that have already won. Even if your chips have been scattered by the dice, let the dealer restack them to avoid being suspected of this illegal practice. The same caveat applies to questioning a payoff: if you must touch the chips before accepting it put your hands over the table, clap them softly together, and display your palms to the crew and to the camera just like dealers do before removing their hands from view -- a ritual known as clearing your hands -- to show that you are not adding to your wager after the fact.

Rule 5: Wait until the stickman is about to send the dice to the shooter before complaining that you have not been paid for a winning wager.

Multiple players can win multiple bets on a single roll of the dice. To ensure that all winning bets are paid, and paid only once, the dealer follows an established procedure after every roll. He takes the losers first, then pays the winners in order by type of bet, with the proposition bets being paid last. If 10 rolls hard, for example, you and all other players with a place bet on 10 will be paid before you and they are paid the hardway bonus, so be patient with regard to that bonus. However, when the stickman sends the dice to the shooter for the next roll he is in effect stating that all transactions from the previous roll have been concluded. If you feel you have not been paid for a winning wager, you need to make it known before the next call; after that it may be too late.

An exception to this rule of patience is the Pass Line, though only once have I seen a dealer skip payment of a Line bet while paying the other Line winners. In this case the player should call the dealer's attention to the oversight immediately since waiting could raise the question of past-posting.

Rule 6: Make all of your bets while the dice are in the middle (between the stickman and the boxman).

Technically, once the shooter has the dice the dealers can book no more bets. Reason: the stickman has to keep his attention on the dice to ensure the shooter does not do something to them to introduce bias, and the base dealers have to concentrate on their work area so they can reconstruct bets should the dice scatter the chips. These requirements make it difficult, if not impossible, for a dealer to verify who is calling out a late bet. To follow the house rules, then, the stickman must bring the dice back into the middle before booking such a bet, a move that slows down the game and disrupts its flow for both dealers and players. Nevertheless, a casino doesn't stay in business by rejecting action, so most dealers will accept late bets -- up to a point -- but the dealers I interviewed all put habitual late bettors at the bottom of their popularity poll, along with the drunks and the intentionally obnoxious.

Rule 7: Whether placing a bet yourself or giving chips to the dealer to place on your behalf, place your chips directly in front of you.

Dealers have only two eyes. If they do not see who places a Come bet, for example, they assume the bet belongs to the player closest to it, resolving ambiguous positions by asking the players whose bet it is. This can lead to disputes when two players claim the same bet. Disputes not only slow down the game but also create tension. Tension makes the game less enjoyable for everyone.

Dealers cannot take money or chips out of your hand. Therefore, when giving a dealer chips for a bet he must place (e.g., odds on a Come bet) put those chips not only in front of you but also on a line separating two areas of the layout (e.g., between Come and Field, but definitely not between Come and the point number boxes -- see Rule 1) while stating what bet you wish to make. Should the dealer forget to reposition your chips their ambiguous placement will certainly be questioned by at least one crew member, at which time you can restate your wishes.

An obvious exception to this rule are prop bets, those booked by the stickman. For these bets get the stickman's attention, then call out how much and where while tossing him your chips. The image of a stickman disappearing in a hail of chips to a cacophony of bet calls may bring a chuckle to players; it is far less humorous on the receiving end.

Rule 8: Listen to what a dealer tells you, especially if you have asked him a question.

"Are we there yet? How much longer?" Anyone who has taken a trip of any consequence with a child has had to cope with these questions, asked incessantly and beginning, it seems, a few seconds after departure. Dealers become equally annoyed with players who ask the same question (e.g., "What are the correct odds?") over and over and over and ..., and with players whose bets are constantly for the wrong amount (e.g., $5 odds on a point of 9) or put in the wrong place. Do not be afraid to ask a dealer a question, but at least make an attempt to remember the answer.

This rule can also be a corollary to Rule 7 for players at the end of the table. With so little room at the end of the Come and Field areas, it can become impossible for players there to place their bets "directly in front of them". In such instances the base dealer will usually instruct the players where he would like them to place their chips. Following those instructions not only shows the dealer you are willing to co-operate with him to produce a mutually enjoyable experience, but can also gain you a supporter should a dispute arise over bet ownership.

Rule 9: Do not color up (exchange lower denomination chips for higher denomination chips) unless you are sure you will not need the lower denomination chips, or you are leaving the table.

Coloring up and making change are unproductive activities from the dealers' viewpoint. Dealers realize that players stash profits in their pockets and purses as a money management aid, but the player who changes from red to green, then back to red, then to singles, then back to green is not practicing money management; he is just wasting time. On the other hand casinos prefer that you color up when you leave the table so they will not have to replenish the lower denomination chips as often.

Rule 10: When pressing or parlaying a winning place, buy, or prop bet, announce your intentions as the dealer is about to pay you.

Even though this rule, which is closely related to Rule 5, rates high with dealers, I put it last because it requires a player to know the order in which bets are paid and his spot in that sequence in addition to planning ahead, things that come with playing experience. They are not rocket science, however. With a little observation a player can figure out when he is due to be paid, so I encourage you to pay attention to who gets paid just before you do, if anybody. Of course, there is another way to determine your payoff order: ask the dealer during a break in the action.

What difference does it make to the dealer? Consider the case of a $24 place bet on 8 that wins, paying $28. Depending on the player's chip supply, the dealer may well pay this as 5 red and 3 singles. If the player now wants to press his bet to $30 and leaves $6 on the table, the dealer must take those chips and all but one red chip from the original bet, exchange them for a green, and put that green chip under the red chip left from the original bet.

Compare this activity to what an experienced dealer will do if the player says, "Take me to thiry," when it is his turn to be paid, thereby permitting the dealer to "take the shortcut." The dealer will prepare the payoff with a green and a red, taking two singles off the top of the original wager as change. He will then give what remains of that original wager to the player, and set up the pressed wager with the green and the red. This latter procedure is much smoother, and requires the dealer to make fewer motions and handle fewer chips, which makes it go faster.

Even veteran players occasionally forget to make a bet or that they made a bet. In such situations a friendly reminder from the dealer (e.g., to take odds or pick up a Field bet payoff) is appreciated, and such a reminder is more likely to be forthcoming if you are demonstrating an attitude of co-operation by following these simple rules.

  1. Stay out of The Forbidden Zone.
  2. Avoid physical contact.
  3. Cleary state how much and where you want to bet.
  4. Take no action that could be construed as pastposting.
  5. Wait for your turn to be paid.
  6. Get those late bets in early.
  7. Make your bets as close to you as possible.
  8. Follow any instructions the dealer gives you.
  9. Color up only when necessary or at the end of a session.
  10. If you know your payoff order declare your press up intentions as the dealer is about to pay you.

Some parting thoughts. You can get a lot of friend-making mileage out of common courtesy. An occasional bet for the crew won't hurt either, and I have found that a sincere verbal expression of appreciation for a job well done brightens everyone's day.

The Midnight Skulker
The Midnight Skulker has been playing craps for over three decades and has played almost everywhere in the country. He is a computer expert and a frequent contributor to Internet newgroups, where his opinions and observations have earned him much respect.
The Midnight Skulker
The Midnight Skulker has been playing craps for over three decades and has played almost everywhere in the country. He is a computer expert and a frequent contributor to Internet newgroups, where his opinions and observations have earned him much respect.