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Craps and Hazard History

Craps and the closely related ancient game of Hazard have a long and interesting history.

Craps is a descendant of an ancient game called Hazard and the origins of both are a matter of debate.  Hazard was claimed to have been invented by the Englishman, Sir William of Tyre and his knights, during the crusades.  It is said to have been a pastime for the crusaders while laying siege to a castle called Hazarth or Asart in 1125 AD.  The name of  Hazard is therefore supposed to be a corruption of the castle's name.  However the Encyclopaedia Britannica says the name came from the Arabic words 'al zar' or 'azzah' which means simply "the dice".  This would seem to imply the game is Arabic in origin.

Whoever invented it, Hazard became a hugely popular English game.  Geoffrey Chaucer mentions it in the Canterbury Tales frequently and it was played by the English through the centuries.  Luxurious gambling houses (the original casinos) in 17th century England staged games of Hazard and fortunes were lost by the higher classes and noblemen.

The French took up playing Hazard and it is claimed that they changed the name to Craps, using and corrupting the name given to a losing throw of 2 in the game of Hazard, known as crabs.  However there is no documented evidence to support this and the name is almost certainly American in origin.

Some claim that the French took the game to America while others think it probably went with the British.  The earliest British settlers, perhaps on the Mayflower, would almost certainly have played with dice. 

Whoever took Craps to America it was there that the game was simplified to become the game of Craps that we know today.  The French settlers where displaced by the British and moved south to eventually become Cajuns.  It has been said they took the game of Hazard south with them.  It is in the south that the development and invention of the game of Craps is attributed to African Americans in the early 19th century. An American slang for Crapshooting and dice play is African Dominoes.  Some claim the name Craps comes from the term given to the French - Johnny Crapaud (Crap being French for toad.  A nickname referring to the French taste for eating amphibians).  But the name Craps is almost certainly a corruption of the name for a losing throw of 2 in Hazard - crabs.  It may have been the French who came up with the name or the African Americans of the south who first played it.  No one knows for sure. 

The game spread to the riverboats on the Mississippi and then from there to the rest of the country until a dice maker called John H Winn developed the game further so that players could bet with the shooter or against him.   This development negated the usefulness of playing with crooked dice, a common practice at the time.  John H Winn is known as the father of modern Craps and his development became the modern 20th century casino game of Bank Craps with layouts and tables.

Today Craps is the biggest gambling game in the history of the world in terms of money wagered.  Played with just two dice in a casino or as a private game in an alley or backroom, the game captured the public's imagination and is portrayed in countless Hollywood films as the low and high-rollers game of choice.  All from its beginnings as Hazard, hundreds of years ago and man's desire to throw dice and win or lose by tempting the gods and Fate.    



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