Games of chance involving 'dice' have been around since the dawn of civilization. The earliest dice were probably shaped from animal bone or carved from hardwoods like ebony and oak. We know that Roman soldiers tossed pig knuckles onto their shields more than two thousand years ago in a game some called 'bones'. But where did Craps come from - and how did it get that name?
The answer to both questions is certainly open to debate, but here is one take on the convoluted journey from pig knuckles to a casino classic:
Arabs adopted the Legionnaire's pastime of 'throwing the bones' (tossing dice) when they expanded into former Roman provinces. They called their small, numbered cubes 'azzahr'. At some time during trade with Europeans in the Middle Ages, this dice game came back across the Mediterranean to be adopted by the French as 'hasar' or 'hasard'. During the interminable wars between France and England during the 13th and 14th Centuries, English knights brought the game home as 'hazard' - meaning to take a chance or to put at risk (as in 'hazard a guess').
As the English played the game, they called the lowest roll 'crabs'. In the aftermath of yet another war, French soldiers picked up this variation from their English prisoners but, maintaining their linguistic independence, used the French word 'crabes'. Early in the 18th Century, French colonists took the game to the Canadian wilderness. As England extended its reach north from the American colonies, some of the displaced French-speaking Canadians migrated to Louisiana where, by the end of the century, a simplified version of Hazard lost its English name and became known simply as 'creps', the Cajun spelling of crabes.
As Cajun riverboat men journeyed up the Mississippi, the venerable dice game was again introduced to English speakers, this time American frontiersmen, who adopted the game and corrupted the name to 'craps'. As Americans spread out across the West, they made craps a mainstay of every saloon and casino in the land. After the U.S. Civil War, a dice maker introduced an innovation that made imperfectly manufactured dice a non-issue: players could bet for or against the roller. As the popularity of craps continued to grow, various bets (like the Hardways and Horn bets) were incorporated to add some spice and give players more ways to win.
Today, craps is one of the most popular games in any casino. Craps tables are easy to spot on the casino floor - they're the ones where large crowds have gathered round to watch the thrilling action in rapt fascination.