Welcome to the first of a series of articles explaining craps, my favorite game to play at the casino! I will explain pass line bets exactly how I teach it to my friends when I bring them along with me for the first time.
What does that mean?
Well, craps has its own language and can be really confusing. In these first few articles, I’m going to tell you the bare minimum and we can circle back to those extra layers of information in future articles.
For example: Is it really necessary to know why the words “ON” and “OFF” are written on the dealer’s black and white colored puck that gets flipped over and slid around the table? Not when you’re first trying to learn! I’ll tell you the same thing I tell my friends: I can explain that stuff after you’re comfortable with the basics.
Let’s get started!
First, let me explain why I play craps at all. When I turned 21 and went to Vegas during Spring Break, I did some research and learned that there are two casino games that have a much lower house edge than the other games: blackjack and craps.
Since blackjack strategy involves memorizing what action you need to take for every scenario AND I have a hard time quickly adding up totals on the fly when aces are involved, I decided I would spend my first trip trying out craps. I spent the plane ride reading a couple articles I printed off the internet and learned why the Pass Line with Odds has one of the lowest house edges available in the casino.
Once you get the hang of it, you can almost go into a relaxed zen mode and not even have to think about your actions while you play… like how you suddenly end up in your driveway when driving your car.
Speaking of driving, let’s get this car back on the road.
What is the pass line?
The pass line is a multi-part bet that is available to all the players when a shooter is starting a new round of rolling the dice. The easiest way to know if a new round of rolling is about to begin is to look for the black and white puck.
If the dealer has it set to the side with the black side facing up, you know that a new round of rolling is going to begin and you are eligible to put down a pass line bet. If it is flipped to white and placed on one of the numbers, etiquette says to wait to join because a round is in progress.
Part 1 of the pass line bet happens on the very first roll by the shooter. Players put their bet in the area marked PASS LINE directly in front of them. Hint: Always bet the minimum bet amount – I’ll explain why later.
The bet wins even money if a 7 or an 11 is rolled. There are eight combinations that add up to either 7 or 11. The bet loses if the first roll is a 2, 3, or 12. There are four combinations that add up to those numbers. You actually have an advantage over the house for this part of the bet! If the first roll results in a win or a loss, there is no Part 2 and a new round begins again.
Part 2 of the pass line bet happens if one of the other numbers is rolled. If a 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10 is rolled, the dealer will flip the black puck to its white side and slide it over to that area on the table. Now that a number has been established, the shooter will roll as many times as it takes until the number repeats or a 7 is rolled.
The bet wins even money if the repeat number comes before a 7. The bet loses if the 7 comes first. Once either of those happen, the dealer will flip the puck back to black and slide it over to the side. A new round is ready to begin.
Here’s an example of how a pass line bet might go…
You walk up to the table and see the puck is black side up. You drop your money down and the dealer slides you some chips. Because the minimum bet is $5, you put a $5 chip in the PASS LINE area directly in front of you.
A 3 is rolled and you lose the bet. The dealer gives you a sympathetic look and sweeps away your chip. You put another $5 chip in the PASS LINE box directly in front of you. A 12 is rolled. Your chip is removed. What is going on here??
You drop another $5 chip in place and an 11 is rolled. The dealer says something about how he was starting to feel sorry for you and maybe things are starting to turn your way as he puts a $5 chip right in front of your bet. You pick the winnings up but leave the $5 chip in place because yet another round is starting.
This time a 5 is rolled. The dealer flips the puck to white and slides it over to the box with a 5. Now you are rooting for a 5 to come again before a 7. The shooter rolls several times and eventually a 7 appears first. Everyone groans as the dealer sweeps away the bets, the dice are moved to the next shooter, and a new round begins.
Wait a second! A light bulb appears above your head!
I think you’re pretty smart, so you might be thinking through the scenario I just laid out and came up with a great hack – if you don’t like the number that was rolled, how about just picking up your pass line bet and waiting for the next round? There’s only four combinations that add up to 5 and there’s six combinations that add up to 7. For Part 2, the house now has the advantage over the pass line!
Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to do that. The pass line bet is called a contract bet. When you put the chip in the PASS LINE section of the table, you are entering into a contract with the casino that if the bet advances to Part 2 the bet will remain active until it is resolved. You have to either stand there until the bet is resolved or abandon the bet and walk away without picking it up.
The reason why the pass line is a contract bet is because the house agrees to let you have the advantage for Part 1. They won’t let you take your ball and go home if you don’t like how Part 2 is going.
Ok, this is not as intimidating as it first appeared. But why did you tell me to only bet the minimum on the pass line?
The house edge on the pass line bet is 1.41%. What this means is that over a long time (picture playing at the table for a million rolls) you are expected to lost $1.41 for every $100 you wager. This is actually not bad as far as casino games go – you could sit there and put the minimum down on the pass line for several hours with free drinks and have a pretty nice Tuesday morning.
The reason why you want to only bet the minimum on the pass line is because you want to save your bankroll for what is called the odds bet. When you reach Part 2 of the pass line bet, you unlock an additional side bet between you and the casino. At this point, you can place an additional bet that wins if the established number comes again before a 7.
The pass line bet is always an even money bet, but the odds bet is paid out at the true probability of the number repeating before a 7. What does this mean? If the established number is the 4 or 10, there are three combinations that win and six combinations that lose. Because the odds of a 7 coming before the 4 or 10 is 2 to 1, the casino will pay you 2 to 1 if you place an odds bet!
The same applies to the other numbers. The odds of a 7 coming before the 5 or 9 is 3 to 2, so you get paid $3 for every $2 wagered. The odds of a 7 coming before the 6 or 8 is 6 to 5, so you get paid $6 for every $5 wagered as an odds bet.
This bet is sometimes called “free odds” because the casino has no house edge on this bet. They are paying out the true probability without taking any cut like with other common craps bets I’ll discuss in future articles. Because there’s no house edge, you will receive larger payouts if you place $5 on the pass line and add a $10 odds bet versus putting $15 on the pass line.
To keep things easy for their dealers, most casinos allow what is called 3x-4x-5x Odds. You are allowed to place 3 times your pass line bet if the number is 4 or 10, 4 times if the number is 5 or 9, and 5 times if the number is 6 or 8.
It makes payouts easier for the dealers because the payout is always the same if you are maxing your odds bet. Some casinos have different rules (even as much as 100x odds!), so make sure to look before you start playing.
Please note: you can choose to remove your odds bet at any time. If you develop superstitions such as thinking a 7 is more likely on the first throw after a dice is rolled off the table, you can pick up your odds and then put them back down afterwards.
Example time again, this time with an odds bet…
Let’s rewind the example above and you are back to when a 5 was rolled during Part 1 of the pass line bet. The dealer flips the puck to white and slides it over to the area of felt labeled with a 5. You place a $20 odds bet directly behind your chip in the PASS LINE area. The shooter rolls a 5 before a 7 and all the pass line bettors cheer. The dealer pays you $5 for your $5 pass line bet and $30 for your $20 odds bet. You pick up everything except for the original $5 chip in the PASS LINE area as the dealer flips the puck to black and a new round begins.
So, um, why does the casino do this and what’s the catch?
Don’t confuse the odds bet with some sort of free lunch. Casinos are ok with you adding the odds bet for a couple reasons.
First, you can only add the odds when the bet enters Part 2 of the pass line contract bet. At this point, a 7 is more likely than the established number and that 1.41% house edge is unaffected by if you choose to add or not add the odds bet.
Second, betting the odds bet increases volatility for the player’s bankroll. While neither side has an edge on the odds bet payout, you ARE increasing your average amount of money at risk for every roll. $100 doesn’t have as much buffer for a cold streak when you are adding max odds behind your $5 bet each time.
I do want to point out a couple more things when playing the odds.
First, do not expect your odds bets to be factored into any kind of comps calculations. If you are grinding for comps, you’re better off using the money you would put as odds bets on place bets and buy bets (again, I’ll cover these in a future article).
Second, make sure you are betting an even amount if the number is 5 or 9! The payout is 3 to 2, and the casino will round down to $7 if you have a $5 odds bet for those two numbers. For these numbers, put at least $6 and keep it even to get paid true odds.
Final Verdict: Is the Pass Line a good or bad bet at the craps table? Good bet!
A house edge of 1.41% is very low in the casino. Most craps strategies involve a pass line bet. As long as you practice bankroll management, you should be able to keep your head above water long enough for a hot streak to come your way. I’ll lay out my favorite strategy that involves pass line bets in a future article – just like when I’m teaching my friends, I don’t want to overwhelm you yet!