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The story of the development of the modern game of craps is one of the most interesting amongst all the modern day casino games. Its journey takes it from its beginnings in Ancient Rome to medieval England, France on to the USA and finally, as with all casino games, into cyberspace.

Roll the Bones

During one of their more inventive moments, the soldiers of Ancient Rome developed the forefather for today’s game of craps. If you have ever heard the throwing of dice referred to as rolling the bones, it is the Romans you have to thank. One of the many ways the Romans found to entertain themselves was by taking a pig’s knucklebone and fashioning it into the shape of a cube. It is rumoured bones were used as a crude form of dice even earlier than this. They would roll these dice on the insides of their shields which effectively acted as the first craps table. The exact rules of this game have been lost in the annals of time but it is here where our story began.

Crusading Craps: Hazard

As with many Roman inventions, this dice game spread in one form or another. The next adjustment to bring us closer to the modern game also came from soldiers with too much time on their hands. Bored with waiting to lay siege to a castle named Hazarth, a group of knights of the crusades led by Sir William of Tyre, created their own version of the game. The rules were fairly complicated but many similarities to today’s game did exist, including the rolling of a two or a three being deemed a loser. The game also featured a chance number which seems to be where the modern “point” feature originated. This game quickly became popular throughout the taverns of England. It didn’t take long for the gaming establishments to take note and begin offering the game.

There is an alternative argument that the name Hazard, the name of the game from which craps evolved, was coined not from a distortion of the name of the Castle Hazarth but is in fact Arabian in origin. There is documentation of the Arabs playing a dice game called Azzahr during the Middle Ages and it is hard to judge which came first. In either case the seed of the modern game was planted a very long time ago indeed.

Crabs and Toads

Having rapidly gained popularity in England it wasn’t long before the game made the short trip across the North Sea to France. It is here where the game developed its rather peculiar moniker. In the early versions play was often conducted not at a table but often on the streets against a wall or a kerb. This required players to squat as they rolled the dice. Many judged these squatting dice men to somewhat resemble a toad in their posture. The French word for toad is crapaud.

Again there is an alternative story as to how the name changed from Hazard to craps. Over time the lowest throw in the game of Hazard had come to be known as crabs. Some believe the French simply took to referring to the whole game as crabs which with the passage of time morphed into craps.

Into America

The increasingly popular dice game finally reached American shores via the French Colony of Acadia in Canada. The Acadians were forced to relocate to Louisiana when the colony was lost to the English in the mid-1700s and they took their dicing game with them. Louisiana was a hotbed for the spread of games due to its gambling riverboats and soon the game took hold and spread throughout the U.S.A. Its popularity was further aided in the early to middle 1800s by a gentleman by the name of Bernard de Mandeville who simplified the rules somewhat bringing the game more in line with that played today.

One of the problems craps still had was its openness to corruption due to the fact that players could only back the player i.e. the modern pass bet. The game encountered many problems with those using loaded dice. This came both in the form of players smuggling fixed dice into games and also through unscrupulous casinos using weighted dice.

This fault was rectified by John H Winn in 1907. He improved the table layout of the game and introduced the “don’t pass” betting option. There was no longer as much incentive to use fixed dice as gamblers could now bet both for and against the shooter. The game immediately became far more trustworthy from the point of view of the player. This combined with legalisation of gambling in Nevada led to the game of craps growing in popularity. John H Winn’s version of the game endures to this day in casinos around the world and online. As such he is often credited with being the father of the modern game of craps.

The Present and the Future

History of Craps

With the development of the internet in the latter part of the 20th century and the subsequent proliferation of online casinos, craps has become more easily available to a large number of players. As a result the game continues to grow in terms of player numbers.

Another result of its adaptation to an online setting is that players can participate in a number of variants that were previously only available regionally. Some examples are:

  • Crapless Craps: The player no longer loses on a come out of two, three or twelve
  • Die Rich Craps: Uses only one die
  • High Point Craps: Places increased value on a roll of 11 or 12
  • Simplified Craps: Craps without the point system

It is likely in the future that even more variations will emerge. Possibilities include the use of more than two dice and the introduction of a jackpot feature. With craps though, it appears to some extent that the old adage, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” applies. Winn’s version is still the most widely played version of the game, both around the world and online, and that’s how we expect it to stay, regardless of any future variants.