Does Craps Strategy Matter?

No matter the casino game, there are plenty of people who try to hoodwink players into thinking that they’ve got a ‘secret’ strategy or system that is a guaranteed long term moneymaker. For that matter, it doesn’t even need to be in the casino–you can even find books and websites hawking ‘systems’ to ‘beat the lottery’. Given that the house edge of most lotteries is around 50% the notion that it can be ‘beat’ in the long term is laughable.

While this type of duplicity has been associated with gambling since the early days it might be more pervasive today than ever before. This is unusual since there’s also more information about the mathematical and statistical foundations of gambling available than ever before. Like PT Barnum may or may not have said ‘there’s a sucker born every minute’.

There might not be a ‘secret system’ that turns a negative EV gambling game into your own personal ATM machine but there are a number of them where a savvy player can benefit greatly from using some type of legitimate strategy. The most obvious example is ‘basic strategy’ in blackjack. Making decisions within a statistically derived framework is clearly a better option than simply ‘guessing’ from hand to hand. There’s also a right and wrong way to play video poker. If you know how to properly play some full pay Deuces Wild machines you’ll enjoy a payback in excess of 100%.

DOES CRAPS BENEFIT FROM A ‘BASIC STRATEGY’?

There’s no shortage of books and websites that offer strategies–basic, intermediate or advanced–on craps and every other casino game. While it’s definitely helpful to understand which bets have a more favorable house edge than others there isn’t much statistical evidence that there’s a comprehensive craps strategy that is more effective than just making the right bets.

To expand upon this line of analysis–there are some basic craps strategies that make since in theory but don’t stand up to statistical scrutiny. For example, one common strategy is to bet an equal amount on the ‘pass’ and ‘don’t pass’ on the come out roll. Once the point is set, the player lays full odds against the number. By making both bets it increases a player’s chance of winning but what most fail to realize is that they’re playing into a combined half edge–that’s obviously higher than the house edge on one bet or the other.

This is counterintuitive for many players–how can it be bad for them to win more often? It’s simple and it is a psychological tendency that many modern slot machine variations take advantage of. The ‘dopamine rush’ from a winning bet is stronger for most people than doing the right thing statistically. In other words, it ‘feels better’ to win more bets in the short term even if the higher house edge results in long term losses. Conversely, a player that bets on online one side of the ‘Pass/Don’t Pass’ wager will lose more bets in the short term but be dealing with a lower house edge in the long term.

Next time you’re at the casino, play or watch someone else play a newer vintage slot machine or video poker machine with multiple hands and/or paylines. These games make it almost inevitable that *something* will hit with each spin/hand–the bells will ring, the credit counter will go up and that gives the player the psychological ‘reward’ he’s seeking. While all this is happening, however, the player might not notice that he’s betting 50 credits a hand and only winning 40. The flip side–playing a single hand video poker machine might not be as ‘exciting’ and produce as many winning hands but is a better bet in the long term.