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Best of Madeliene Bizub

Gaming Guru

 

Of Dice and Men--and Women

28 September 1999

Unlike many of the other female patrons of casinos, I have only a nodding acquaintance with slot machines. The table games are what call my name in casinoland, and most especially the game of craps, which is the most male-dominated games in the casinos. There are many women who play craps, of course, and play it well, but the female gender is certainly in the minority. The longer I play it, the more curious I get about why there are so few women at this fast-paced, sometimes rowdy, rollicking good fun game. For me, at least, part of the attraction of craps is the predominance of men--but I don't mean that in the way some might think.

I've tried to entice some of my friends into playing craps, and have even been so bold as to recommend it to the many wonderful ladies I have met while playing other casino games. The vast majority of them act as though I suggested they take a stroll into the men's locker room with me. Such a look of horror meets my attempts to get them to the craps table, I can only assume that they see me as some kind of gambling pervert.

What's the big deal? It's not as if I'm extolling the wonders of gaming to the Southern Baptist Convention. These are women who already gamble in casinos, some even who play blackjack with a skill I both envy and admire, still others who know more about poker than many men who play the game regularly, and even those who play only the slots because they are "so easy".

I claim no special understanding of human nature, men's or women's. Psychology was my worst subject in school, and it's one of the few things that hasn't changed about me since I was in college. However, it has often been expressed--in a hushed, excited voice--by many of the women I've met, that they would really like to try craps, but they are unknowledgeable about it and intimidated by the atmosphere surrounding it. Most certainly, obtaining knowledge about the games prior to playing them is paramount to success and should decrease the intimidation factor. I wouldn't presume to try to tell anyone the best way to play; there are some great books out there on the subject of casino games. But what I can offer is a glimpse of what it's like to be a woman who enjoys playing a casino game amidst wisecracking, sometimes uninhibited, men and has lived to tell the story.

I fully acknowledge that I was once a little nervous about approaching a craps table. I was very young when I was first exposed to the game. I didn't know anything about it, and more importantly, I didn't have the money to really give it a good shot.

I was fascinated by craps. There were plenty of games to watch, because in the days of my youth in Las Vegas, craps was dominant in the casinos. The craps games appeared the height of glamour and intrigue to my naive mind, with the male patrons dressed to the nines, often with stunningly beautiful women at their sides, shouting orders to the dealers, confident and laughing as the dice rolled down the table to decide their fate. People dressed up in those days at the casinos. They resembled celebrities from some of the old black and white movies I consumed like fodder in front of the tiny TV in the decidedly middle-class suburban home in which I grew up.

My small town Southern upbringing did little to prepare me for the excitement of a casino town, and I'm sure I tended to make the whole thing appear more romantic and exotic than it actually was. If my parents had known that I would end up in what they considered such sordid surroundings, I have little doubt they would have placed me under house arrest. Open rebellion of parental command was just coming into vogue in those days, and I was much too preoccupied with changing the times with Bob Dylan to give much serious consideration to gambling, no matter how intriguing it may have appeared to be. Many years would go by before I pursued the games with any real vigor.

As luck would have it, gaming came to nearby Mississippi and returned in triumph to the middle class suburban neighborhoods of my native Georgia after I had completed my assignment of youthful rebellion. My husband and I were looking for some interesting vacation destinations and decided to visit the Mississippi gaming resorts. We read a tremendous amount about the table games. We even went so far as to practice on computer-simulated games so we would be familiar with them before we risked our money. I had a little knowledge of the games and some money I could afford to risk, if I played conservatively.

Anyone who has ever been in a casino has likely noticed the craps tables, heard the shouts of glee and groans of despair coming from one of the few games where the players all stand up, which in itself implies no leisurely pastime. I just wanted to see what all the shouting was about, and I didn't want to pay too high a price for the experience. I had already learned that experience is an excellent teacher, but she sends in terrible bills sometimes. It was the terrible bills I was trying to avoid by learning all I could before jumping into the fray. I've never regretted that I did so.

One of the most unique characteristics of the craps table is the boisterousness of the whole scene. Players seem to let loose around the table in a manner that would provoke raised eyebrows, at the least, in other casino games. I can't imagine a Blackjack player, pushing his way into a crowded table and shouting, "I've got a hunnert that says I get a blackjack this hand!"

One of the reasons that it might appear to the novice that so much is going on at craps is that most of the bets must be placed by the dealer and the player must tell the dealer what bets she wants. One dealer may be handling as many as six to eight players, all jockeying for attention. The dealers place the bets on the layout in a pattern that corresponds to the player's position at the table. Add to that the myriad of bets available to the craps player and you have an open invitation for what appears, on the surface, to be chaos.

Actually it's not chaotic at all. The vast majority of the craps crews that I have encountered are excellent and handle the whole thing with grace under fire. As a matter of fact, watching a good crew work as a team is one of the many things I enjoy about the game. Then, of course, there is the shouting stickman adding to the cacophony when he calls out the numbers that are rolled.

It must be some unwritten rule that the stickman must describe the number, as well as call out the actual number itself. The descriptions can sorely test the hardened sensibilities of even the most seasoned craps players, as they are loaded with double entendre. Some of the more common and printable calls are "Little Joe from Kokomo"--four, "Yo-leven"--eleven, "big Red"--seven, and of course "craps", which refers to any two, three or twelve.

It is not unheard of for players to come to the craps table, quickly make a few bets, and leave immediately after the decision. These people tend to bark orders to the dealers like a drill sergeant preparing the troops at boot camp. So, in a word, a craps table is often loud.

Just because a craps game is loud, though, doesn't mean it's hard to follow. If you read a book or two, you'll have no trouble at all knowing what's going on and following your betting scheme. I've been playing craps long enough now that I approach the table confident that the dealers aren't on their first day at the job and can understand with ease the bets I want to make with the most basic of instructions. Sometimes, I just put my chips down on the table and point to the bets I want. The dealer will say something like, "Six dollars on the six and eight, Ma'am?" I just nod my head, no problem. It helps to ensure attentiveness to your bets by sometimes tipping the dealer, which I do by placing a small bet beside my own on the pass-line when I am the shooter. I don't even have to say it is for the dealers. They inevitably notice and say, "Dealers on the line?" Again, I just nod my head. There are many ways to tip the dealers and through study and experience you can become comfortable with a style that is right for you. Do plan to tip the dealers, though, however small. It's the courteous thing to do, it's much appreciated and deserved by the dealers, and it is one of the best bets in the house for increasing your enjoyment of the game.

Another aspect of the game that causes trepidation among women is rolling the dice. I've seen women who are top executives, adept at public speaking in front of hundreds of people, quake at the thought of holding two little dice and rolling them down a table in front of a few shouting men. Me, I love to roll them bones! Being a great respecter of style, I've developed a manner of rolling the dice that is unique and kind of funny, and I get teased unmercifully about it. It's lighthearted teasing, though, and it gives me an opportunity to banter back at the players who feel free to give me lessons in dice rolling. All the rituals people have developed to roll the dice amuse me. It's just another entertaining part of the game for me.

There are two rules governing rolling the dice. You can use only one hand when you roll, you can't switch the dice from one hand to the other, and the dice must hit the wall at the other end of the table. Just watch a few shooters first to see how they roll. Rolling the dice is very simple and does not require the skill of a major league pitcher.

If you are a woman and it's your first time rolling the dice, you'll be an instant celebrity at the table, I can assure you, because of some of the superstitions about first-time female shooters.

Speaking of superstitions, they abound at a craps table, and breaking some of the taboos can get you a reprimand by some players who treat this voodoo with higher regard than the Lost Covenant. Good grief! I just try to be respectful of it, without taking it all too seriously myself. If you are the shooter and the dice fly off the table, just say "same dice" so you can have the same dice back after they are retrieved and checked. This small gesture identifies you as someone who, in the eyes of many other players, knows what's up. Don't dangle your hands over the table or fiddle with your chips on the layout, especially when the dice are out. If the dice hit your hand and a seven comes up, you'll be damned to eternal suffering.

These are just a few of the many superstitions that follow craps players to every craps table I've ever been at. Quite frankly, I think they are silly, but I would never communicate that by word or deed to the other players, who regard them as sacrosanct. Participating on a superficial level in some of the superstitions unites me with the other players in some way, and that too is most enjoyable.

Come to think of it, that camaraderie is the main source of joy for me at the craps table. I feel like "one of the guys" in a very real sense, like I have enjoyed a glimpse into some special brotherhood, and I didn't even have to go on a retreat in the woods. It's just fun. And with smart, conservative play, it can be lucrative fun or, at least, not real expensive fun.

If you have been longing to play craps, by all means do so--man or woman. It's the most exciting game in town, but please prepare yourself by studying a little. It can be a wild ride if you are clueless, and sometimes even if you have a clue. One of my favorite books is Guerrilla Gambling by Frank Scoblete, which gives excellent overviews of almost every casino game. Its main attraction for me, though, is how well it prepared me for the very real psychological challenge of participation in gaming.

I have a great time in casinoland, but I take it seriously because I know it's a tough sport. I yuck it up at the tables with the crew and players, wear my lucky shirt and shout prayers to every God of chance you can name. I also keep my head in many good books about craps and other casino games in between battles in casinoland. I believe that I am the master of my fate, not some nebulous thing called "luck."

I hope to see you around a craps table someday soon, and you can know the special thrill that comes when the stickman shouts, "New shooter coming out!" I never tire of it.


For more information about craps:

Beat the Craps Out of the Casinos: How to Play Craps and Win! by Frank Scoblete
The Captain's Craps Revolution! by Frank Scoblete
Sharpshooter Craps Audio Cassette Tape (60 minutes) with Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Craps! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
Madeliene Bizub
Madeliene Bizub is a craps aficionado and an experienced gambler who is making
quite a name for herself in craps circles. She contributes to many internet
gaming sites and her opinions are well respected.
Madeliene Bizub
Madeliene Bizub is a craps aficionado and an experienced gambler who is making
quite a name for herself in craps circles. She contributes to many internet
gaming sites and her opinions are well respected.