Issue 278
January 9, 2006 - January 15, 2006
Volume 6
page 3

Is Craps the Best Game?
By Donald Catlin

  I recently received the following letter via email:

Hi, Don,

I have been reading some of your articles and noticed that you were almost a neighbor of mine. I live in Connecticut and would venture to guess that we might be about the same age.

I have been interested in craps but don't get to the casinos all that often. I have read many books on the subject and have been intrigued by a method called the "Five Count," which I am sure you are familiar with. I am interested in your personal opinion of this strategy.

I have a BA in math from Brooklyn College and a Masters and doctorate in psychology from UCONN. Statistics has always interested me and I have read that craps gives you the best odds at the casino.

Like I said I am definitely not a gambler but I don't mind taking risks so long as I have a close to even chance of winning. I have never tried online betting but would be interested in a website that gives odds that are similar to the casino and would appreciate a recommendation for an internet site if you would feel comfortable.

I will continue to follow your articles on the Casino City Times and any suggestions that you can offer me.

David (last name withheld by request)

Well, David, thank you for your letter; it brings up several interesting issues. I felt that some of my answers to you would be of interest to other readers which is why I am answering you in an article.

First of all, if you and I are about the same age then you, like me, are older than dirt. I don't even buy green bananas. This, of course, is not one of the interesting aforementioned issues!

Next, I cannot give you a gambling website because I do not gamble online and thus do not follow the information on such things. I have nothing against online gambling (although I do believe that its accessibility can encourage irresponsible behavior) but sitting by myself pretending to roll dice or play cards has all the charm of being invited into someone's home and being asked down to the cellar for a glass of ginger ale. When I go to a casino I not only enjoy the games, I enjoy chatting with other gamblers, having a drink, having a good meal, kidding with the dealers, and enjoying a great room (I didn't mention cocktail waitresses because my wife reads these articles). Freedom of choice is a wonderful thing. Just as my television has a channel selector and I am not forced to endure Pat Robertson on my TV, my computer has a keyboard and I can choose not to type in gambling web sites and can instead email friends, read news items, or shut the thing off and go read a book. I'm not telling you what to do; just explaining why I'm totally ignorant of online gaming. There are gambling magazines that will provide this information or will lead you to sources that will give you good advice.

Now to the main issue, namely, does craps give you the best odds at the casino? Or, more accurately, does craps have the lowest house edge? In general, the answer is "no," although in a particular casino the answer could very well be "yes." Let me explain.

Craps has a house edge of right around 1.4% if you play either the Pass or the Don't Pass Line. I'll stick with the Pass Line for this article since it is the way most players bet. If one takes odds when a point is established, then the house edge (on a per unit wagered basis) drops to around 0.85%. Double odds drop it even further. For a detailed discussion of these numbers refer to the archives on this site and check out my September, October, and November articles of 2003.

There are video poker programs around that return over 100% to the player when played properly; that's right, the house edge is negative. The catch here is the phrase "played properly." Perfect play for these games is very, very complicated and requires a lot of study and practice to be able to execute it. This is the one exception to my feelings about gambling on the computer that I expressed earlier. There are some good video poker and blackjack computer simulations around (I've written about them in other articles) and if you're going to play either of these games they are worth buying and using for practice. I won't say they are my favorite ways of entertaining myself, but they are really useful in developing skills.

Suppose that you can find a blackjack game the uses two decks, the dealer stands on the soft 17, you can double after splitting, and can resplit Aces? This game, played using Basic Strategy, has a house edge of right around 0.16%. I know of a game exactly like this in downtown Las Vegas. But here's the rub. You won't find any blackjack game like that in Connecticut. Also, to the best of my knowledge, you won't find any video poker machines in Connecticut that return over 100% to the player (the best I've seen there is 9/6 Jacks that returns 99.54% but requires $25 per game to get that return).

So, David, in Connecticut casinos the Pass Line with odds looks quite good. There's even more good news. There is such a thing as controlled shooting, which means, at least at my skill level, reducing the frequency of the seven occurring. It is not an easy skill to acquire but it is one that, with practice, can be achieved. I would recommend that you purchase and read the new book by Frank Scoblete and Dominator called Golden Touch Dice Control Revolution. This is the best book on the subject I have seen; the pictures are really amazing (I will be reviewing this book in a later article). If you like what you see and you think you might like to become a craps player at this level, you could enroll in one of the Golden Touch craps seminars. If you would like to read about this skill, check out my article entitled Rhythmic Rolling and the Gambler's Jamboree that appeared in December of 2003.

Finally, you mention the Five Count. This is a monitoring technique that reduces, in a systematic fashion, the number random rolls on which you bet. There is no claim that this counting procedure changes the long run edge in the game; only that less money is wagered. One could easily devise a different system that would have this same effect, but the Five Count has been analyzed (by me and by Prof. Stewart Ethier of the University of Utah) and its effects are well known. One thing I discovered is that if there is a controlled shooter at the table, the Five Count can turn the game into a positive one for even a random roller. Nevertheless, I tend to play down this fact since I can easily spot, and thus bet on, a controlled shooter. You will find all the information on the Five Count in the Scoblete/Dominator book and you can also check out my article entitled The Five Count, which appeared in June of 2004.

Thanks for the letter David and I'll see you all next month.

About the Author

Don Catlin is a Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. In addition to his research in stochastic estimation applied to submarine navigation problems, he has been both a casino gambler and a fascinated observer of casino gambling. In his business Technigame (P.O. Box 9427, North Amherst, MA 01059-9427), Don does mathematical analyses for gaming developers.




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