THE HISTORY OF CRAPS

It’s not only interesting for players to know the history of the various casino games it can be profitable. In some cases, studying the past can help players formulate new strategies and tactics that might have been overlooked throughout time. At any rate, it’s good to be able to understand where the games came from and how they developed. It helps understand the context of how casino gambling began and how it got to where it is today.

The history of craps is one of the most lengthy and yet most difficult to discern of any casino game. The use of dice as a gambling tool or for randomization has been prevalent throughout history. There is evidence of dice being used as far back as 24th century BC–British archaeologist Leonard Woolley discovered the dice in the excavation of a Mesopotamian tomb. Dice were also found used in a similar manner in ancient Egypt. Gambling was technically illegal in the Roman Empire but that didn’t stop the citizens from playing games of chance, including those with dice. Dice are mentioned often in the writings of Roman nobility and there was even a phrase meaning ‘to play dice’ (aleam ludere).

THE GAME SPREADS WORLDWIDE

Dice were also popular with Roman soldiers and this may have helped spread their use. Dice were used in China and Japan though it is theorized that they ‘evolved’ into games like dominoes and playing cards. There are several competing theories for where and how dice began to be used in games that resemble modern craps. One is that craps evolved from an Arabic dice game called Al Zar (‘dice’ in Arabic). The game was thought to have been introduced to Europe by merchants in the 12th Century.

An alternate explanation gives credit for the game’s origin to Sir William of Tyre during the Crusades. Sir William and his troops laid siege to a castle named “Hazarth”, and during the long siege dice were a popular diversion. A game called ‘Hazard’ emerged from this battle and became very popular throughout England. Strangely, it didn’t reach peak popularity until the 17th century when it became ubiquitous at taverns all over Great Britain. The French soon got in on the action, changing the name of the game to ‘Crabbes’. The word ‘craps’ is likely a permutation of ‘crabbes’ or ‘crabs’.

CRAPS IN NORTH AMERICA

Craps soon spread from Europe to North America. The most likely scenario was that game was brought to New Orleans by Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville, a descendant of wealthy and powerful Louisiana nobility. He fancied himself a gambler and a social mover and brought the game to the ‘Crescent City’ from France, by some accounts tweaking the rules to his advantage. Bernard’s rules were apparently able to be exploited by fixed dice. The modern version of craps including the betting format with wagers like the ‘don’t pass’ line is the brainchild of a US dicemaker named John H. Winn. The game exists in the same basic form today.

Also coming out of New Orleans via France was ‘street craps’, the informal version of casino craps played by street hustlers, convicts, soldiers and just about everyone else worldwide. The game was originally known as ‘crapaud’. It’s not clear whether the game was a predecessor to casino craps, was inspired by the more formal version or developed simultaneously.