Brief History of Dice and the Game of Craps

Do not ever roll dice with a guy called “Bones.” – Winston Groom, Gumpisms: The Wit and Wisdom of Forrest Gump

People have been playing dice for more than 5000 years. Dice were originally made of stone, wood, clay, bones and ivory. A die was discovered in Northern Iraq dating back to About 3000 B.C. Dice were played during the time of pharaohs in ancient Egypt. Prosperous Vikings played dice as part of their leisure time. Romans played dice during Caesar’s time. Dice found at Herculaneum had six (6) marked faces. The Romans called these tesserae. The Romans also played with dice that had only four (4) marked faces (two faces were blank). These dice were called tali. Tali was inherited from the Ancient Greeks, who had originally made the pieces from astragali, or knucklebones of sheep or goats. Astragali were marked on four (4) faces.

Under Roman law, games of chance played for money were prohibited. Evidence exists that gambling chips replaced actual money in games. Large numbers of “marked” gambling chips have been found throughout the ruins of the Roman Empire. These chips, called “roundels,” were usually made of bone and showed numerical markings on one side. The most common markings on the roundels show numbers such as I, V, AND X. A few roundels also were marked with II, III. VIII and IX. Some of the roundels were labeled “Remittan Libenter” meaning “I will gladly repay.”

Prior to the Middle Ages, Arabs played a game using small numbered cubes called “Azzahr” meaning “the die.” Azzahr was played in France where it was renamed Hasard. Sometime before 1500 A.D., the English changed the name of Hasard to Hazard.

The modern day version of craps was developed in England and France. In England during the 18th and 19th centuries aristocratic gentlemen rolled dice in a game called “Hazard”, nicknamed “Crabs,” in luxurious private homes. The English called the roll with the lowest value “crabs”. Crabs meant a pair of ones (“snake eyes’) which could make you lose. The French adopted the English term “crabs” but spelled it “crabes.” The French pronounced crabs as “creps.”

In the early 1700′s, the game of “crabes” was played in the French colony of Acadia. In 1755, the French lost Acadia to the English. The French speaking Acadians relocated to Louisiana, where they were called Cajun. The Cajuns dropped the title of hazard and called the dice game “crebs” or “creps.” By 1843 the Cajun word came into American English as “Craps.”

In 1907 in New York City, a dice maker named John H. Winn, introduced the first craps bank. With the craps bank, players bet against the bank, or the house, instead of each other. Winn charged both the right bettors and the wrong bettors a quarter for a $5 bet and 50 cents for a $10 bet. The quarter charge subsequently developed into a 5% charge. Because the 5% charge brought in so much money so strong and dependably, gamblers took the word vigor and added a syllable of jargon and called it “vigorish.” Throughout the years it has been refined and shortened to “vig.” “Vig” is the edge of the casino or house for paying something other than true odds for the various bets.

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