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Deal Me In: What in the world is going on with craps tables in California?

25 March 2016

Dear Mark: So I go to the craps table at Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs, as it is my favorite casino endeavor. I place $20 on the pass line. Being the only player, I am presented the dice, pick out a pair, and send them down the road. To my delight, I see a 6 and a 1. Now, that's a great start! As I look forward to the $20 coming back, the stickman announces my point is 5. I tell him "No, I just rolled a 7." I am then informed that the point is determined by the playing cards present at the top of the table and that the 6 is actually a 3, and the one is a 2. I noticed some playing cards when I placed the pass line bet, but I thought it was a prop bet of some type. The stickman tells me "It has something to do with a compromise with Nevada regarding casino gambling in California." I was dismayed, to say the least. What in the world is going on with the craps tables in California? Gary T.

Let's begin, Gary, with your account of "The stickman tells me it has something to do with a compromise with Nevada regarding casino gambling in California."

Gambling on Native American lands in California was legalized in 2000 following a constitutional amendment (Proposition 1A), which passed by popular vote. After passage, the tribes then negotiated individual compacts with the state of California, compacts that dictate what kind of gambling can take place on Indian reservations. Nevada gaming law, or as the stickman put it, "some kind of compromise," has no influence on craps in California.

The real reason you came upon this form of craps is that California law prohibits casino game outcomes from being determined by dice (craps), and Indian casinos must abide by those same regulations.

Most California Indian casinos have made accommodation to this law by offering modified versions of craps that use just cards rather than dice; others allow the shooter to throw the dice but the sum of the two dice thrown is determined by the use of playing cards.

Since dice alone may not determine the outcome in craps, there are multiple ways that casinos can incorporate the use of dice to determine the outcome. Here is one of the simplest versions that I have personally played in a California Indian casino.

With six cards numbered 1-6, the cards are randomly placed face down in six different positions on the table. To determine the outcome for betting purposes, the roll of two dice will determine which card(s) are flipped over. The numerical result of the dice thrown is somewhat academic as it has no real effect on the table wagers, but instead, it is the turned cards that determine an end result. Cards are rearranged after each new shooter.

It is that straightforward, Gary. Moreover, under the method above, you are NOT being bilked in any way since the odds on each bet are the same as that of a conventional craps layout. You are just abiding by California law.

As for the playing experience, what is missing is the fun factor of a stickperson yelling out mumbo-jumbo like "front line winner, back line skinner" after the number you throw with two dice settles; but the speed and service of this form of craps is only slightly slower than that of a standard crap table.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "As I walk from crap game to crap game, my brain becomes active and agile and dwells on lofty thoughts." – Nick "The Greek" Dandalos, King of Gamblers (1969)
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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.