The 900-Year Evolution of the World’s Oldest Casino Game
The face of gambling as a pastime has changed a lot over the years. What once was a trip to the casino, can now be accomplished conveniently from your home computer or mobile device. Just as the appearance and methods of the entertainment industry have changed, so too have the games we play.
Oldie and Goodie
Many modern casino games have their roots in ancient history and none so much as the classic dice game: craps. Today, we’re looking at the history and evolution of the world’s oldest casino game.
The Invention of Craps: A Complex Mythology
Like the origins of most games, the exact birth of the game of craps is not known for sure. There are many theories, however, and speculation surrounding the invention of this dice-based game.
Archaeologists have found evidence of dice and pictorial representations of a craps-like game in ancient Egyptian tombs and crypts in India. The Greek playwright, Sophocles (5th century BCE), wrote about a game like craps that was played by soldiers during the siege of Troy. Soldiers in the Roman legions played a dice game using the knucklebones of pigs.
Still, others claim that craps was invented in the ancient Arabian peninsula, originating from an Arabic dice game called Al Dar, which means “dice” in Arabic, and subsequently brought over to Europe by traders and merchants.
According to HeadlineCasinos, craps was invented by the French mathematician Blaise Pascal, while Eastern scholars assert the distinct probability of craps originating in ancient India, where an Indian cosmogonic myth (creation myth) describes the process of creation of the world by means of four throws of craps.
In all likelihood, craps in its earliest iterations probably sprang up in various parts of the world simultaneously in antiquity. The prevalence of dice throughout Europe, the Near East, and Asia lend credence to the idea that a primitive form of craps could have potentially been evolving throughout this period in multiple locales.
A Crusader Pastime?
One of the stand-out theories of the origin of craps comes from the history of the Crusades. In the 12th century, it is believed that the game was invented by Sir William of Tyre, a French (or Italian) nobleman who created the game with his knights to keep them entertained during long stretches between campaigns.
He called the game Hazarth, which was the name of the castle (or Asart) that the Crusaders laid siege to in 1125. Much has been made of this possibility since the name is so close to the word “Hazard,” another name for a version of craps that sprung up only a few centuries later.
Craps: A Game of Hazard
More modern theories of the genesis of craps can be found in the pre-Enlightenment period in England and France. During the late 16th and early 17th centuries, a dice game began to gain popularity in taverns (and eventually English gambling houses) known as “Hazard”.
Similar to Craps, Hazard required players to take turns to serve as the caster, who was responsible for throwing two dice and placing bets on whether they thought they would win the round.
The origin of the name is also disputed. It may service from the English slang term for a roll of two or three, “craps” which comes from the French slang term “krabs” — the worst possible roll of two. It could also come from the French word crapaud, which means “toad,” referring to how players would squat or crouch to play it on the streets.
Modern Casinos: Craps as We Know It
From Europe, it is thought that craps made its way across the seas to North America with the earliest European explorers, pilgrims, and colonists. The modern game of craps and popularity in America owes its start to Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville, a wealthy politician descended from Louisiana landowners.
Even de Mandeville’s version had a flaw, however. An oversight in the rules allowed players to exploit the House until in the 19th century, an American dice maker named John H. Winn corrected this issue by implementing the “don’t pass” betting option. It is for this reason that he is often considered the father of modern craps.
Over the years, this simple dice game that may have entertained Roman soldiers or Egyptian pharaohs has become a whole new animal in modern casinos. What were once knucklebones are now red plastic dice and green felt mahogany tables, surrounded by the glitz and glamor of today’s luxury casinos.
The game’s rules and object, however, have not changed too dramatically over the centuries but the way we play it has. In addition to the richness seen at craps tables in Las Vegas, now more than ever, players have started playing digital versions of craps on their computers and mobile devices. This ancient game has come a long way and it will be interesting to see what the future of this casino game has in store.