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History of Craps

History of Craps - From Origins to Modern Online Versions

When you think of a land-based casino, what’s the first image that pops into your mind? A roulette wheel perhaps, maybe a blackjack table, rows of slot machines, and - what’s that? - dice. Of course it’s dice. Not only is the game of craps one of the most famous casino games in the world but its history is long, colourful, and not without a mystery or two.

Therefore, we’ve decided to dive into the history of craps today, go back to where it all began, visit its early days and journey all the way to modern craps and playing craps online. 

Where Did Craps Originate? 

Let’s start from the very beginning: where did craps originate? A fairly simple question but the answer is not as straightforward as you’d think. 

Some historians posit that craps originated in Ancient Rome. Back in the Roman times, soldiers used to carve pig knuckles into cubes that resembled dice and throw them onto shields. While the direct connection between this game and modern craps remains dubious, it is believed that the craps expression “rolling the bones” stems from Rome.

However, most historians believe that craps evolved from a game called “Hazard”, created by Sir William of Tyre and his knights in circa 1125 AD, during the crusades. According to this account, the dice game got its name “Hazard” from “Hazarth”, the castle that Sir William and his knights were laying siege on. 

The rules of Hazard are said to be more complicated than modern craps, but the basics include the following:

  • The game is played with two dice with any number of people
  • The person who is playing (throwing the dice) is called “shooter” or “caster”
  • If two or more people wish to start the game, they roll the dice and the highest outcome decides who is first
  • The player throws the dice and thus establishes the main point (main); any number between 5 and 9
  • After the main is established, other players may wager whether the caster will win or lose
  • If the caster throws in or nicks, they win (5 is nicked by 5, 6 by 6 or 12, 7 by 7 or 11, 8 by 8 or 12, and 9 by 9)
  • If the caster throws out or outs, they lose (throwing aces or deuce-ace, also knowns as crabs or craps, or by rolling 11 or 12 to a main of 5 or 9, 11 to 6 or 8, and 12 to 7)

From Hazard to “Crabs”

As Hazard spread out during the Middle Ages and grew in popularity with royalty during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, it is when it finally reached France that it became increasingly popular in taverns. It was there that the game of Hazard became known as “Crabs” after the worst possible outcome of rolling a two, or “crabs”.

At least, that is one reading of the name's origin.

Origin of Craps Name

So, how did the game of “crabs” become a game of “craps”?

One theory says the name “craps” was a warped version of “crabs”, “crebs”, and even “creps”, as it was later called across the pond in Louisiana, after having initially travelled to Nova Scotia, formerly Acadia. The French nationals, known as Cajuns, had been dispersed from the French province and the game of “crebs” or “creps” travelled with them to New Orleans. 

Another theory, however, states that the name of craps was associated with the posture people held while playing dice in the street; namely, they would be crouching like “toads” - “crapaud” in French.

The debate regarding the origin of craps’ name continues to this day.

Changes in Craps Rules Throughout History

Once the game arrived in the United States, its rules became simplified for the general public.  However, some rules never changed. Craps was still played with two dice. Likewise, it was still common to lose if you roll 2, 3 or 12 and automatically win if you roll 7 or 11.

The biggest and most influential change, however, was the invention of the “don’t pass” bet. This betting option allowed players to wager against the shooter.

History and Origins of Craps

Another major change was the introduction of a simplified craps table layout.

Who Invented Modern Craps?

So, who invented craps as we know it? The very same man responsible for the introduction of the “don’t pass” bet, John H. Winn, dubbed the “Father of Modern Craps”. 

Namely, in 1907 this dice maker laid out a new set of rules which are observed and adhered to to this day. His modernised version of craps, along with more consistent and standardised rules, contributed to the boost in game’s popularity in the 20th century and made sure it was not only played in US casinos, but also globally. 

Growing Popularity of Craps

Craps saw a surge in popularity during World War II. As American soldiers played craps overseas, so did the interest in the game spread across Europe.

Statistics show that craps is the third most popular game of chance, just behind slots and blackjack. While it is played from Monaco to Las Vegas, in land-based and online casinos (where you can also play a game called “crapless craps” without dice), it remains the most popular in North America, which is curious given the rich craps history in European countries.

Craps in Fiction and Popular Culture 

The most well-known reference to craps in literature to this day is its notable appearance in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. In his seminal work, Chaucer documented the popularity of Hazard and forever immortalised the game of dice.

More recently, craps has made several unforgettable appearances in films and musicals, including:

  • Diamonds Are Forever
  • Guys and Dolls
  • A Bronx Tale
  • Hard Eight
  • Casino
  • The Godfather
  • Ocean’s 13

Playing Craps Online and Its Future

Looking back on its elaborate history with plenty of transformation and surges in popularity, craps doesn’t seem to be in danger of becoming less beloved anytime soon. No matter if you are just learning how to play craps or you are an expert eager to master the best craps strategy, you don’t have to worry about running out of time. From our point of view, the future of craps looks bright; especially given how immensely sought-after online craps and all its live dealer versions are.