The History of Craps

Published on: April 7, 2010 

There are several different stories as to the earliest origin of craps. There is evidence of dice games being played in ancient Egypt around 2600 BC. However historians have not been able to conclude that these dice games were in any way connected to the game of craps. It is widely believed that craps originated from a dice game called Hazard, but there are two stories about the origin of Hazard. One relates it to an Arabic dice game called Al Zar, which means dice in Arabic. Merchants trading with the Arabian countries in the 12th century learned of this game and brought it to Europe with the name Al Zar corrupted to Hazard. The other story is related to the Crusades in which Sir William of Tyre laid siege to a castle named Hazarth in 1125AD. During the siege the favorite pastime of his knights was a dice game which came to be known as first Hazarth, after the castle, and later Hazard. Hazard was played with two dice and is mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. 

Hazard was extremely popular in England from the 17th to the 19th centuries and played in the taverns and the casinos. The most popular of these was the Crockford’s Club in London, which was frequented by the nobility. During this time the rules of Hazard were simplified and the game moved to France. The French had a penchant for distinguishing themselves from the English and gave a new name to this game. They called it Crabs after a losing situation in the game in which the player rolls a 2. Another source claims that the French called the game Crapaud, meaning toad.

When the French and British settlers went to America they took the game with them. It was in America that the name Craps was used for the game, some say as a corruption of Crabs or of Crapaud. The game became immensely popular along the south eastern coast. It was promoted by Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville, belonging to a family of wealthy Louisiana landowners and himself a gambler and a politician.

In the beginning of the 19th century the American John H. Winn reshaped the game of craps and gave its present form. In fact Winn is often known as the father of modern craps. He invented the present layout, which was initially called the Philadelphia layout. He introduced the Pass and Don’t Pass bets and also the Big 6 and Big 8 bets. Win also introduced the concept of wrong betting or betting against the shooter. This concept ended the practice of the use of crooked dice because players could bet either way. This single development is responsible for the widespread popularity that craps enjoys today.

In the 20th century craps received fillip from two sources. One was the popularity of the game with American soldiers during World War II. It was a regular pastime during the lulls between the battles. It became popular wherever American soldiers went during the course of the war. The second was the Hollywood film industry that portrayed craps being played in glamorous casinos and fired the imagination of the public.

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