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Rolling Las Vegas

Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Winston Churchill, Autumn 93

(continued from page 1)

If a point is established on the shooter's first roll--dubbed Making the Point in craps jargon--players may make an "odds" bet in addition to their original bet; it is often called a "behind the line" bet, and there is a physical line on the table behind which your odds money is placed. This bet is as low as twice the original bet or as high as ten times. (The more odds the player may take, the better. You want to find a casino that will allow the smallest bet on the pass line and the largest bet behind the line. If a casino lets you bet ten dollars on the pass line and $100 behind the line, you're getting full odds.) Then, if the shooter rolls a seven before he rerolls his established point number, he loses, and must pass the dice. If he rolls his point before he makes a seven, he and the pass/odds bettors win.

The original "pass" bet pays even-money, while the odds bet pays true odds: 2-to-1 on the four and ten, 3-to-2 on the five and nine, and 6-to-5 on the six and eight. Players may also elect to bet the "don't pass" and lay odds, wagering with the house. Maybe one out of ten players do this, and they are generally not appreciated by the other players because they usually go against the majority at the table who are playing the pass line, while the don't-pass bettors are clamoring for a loser seven. (Nonetheless, there is a slight advantage on the don't-pass line.)

In addition to wagering that the shooter will make his point number, players can also bet On The Come. Seven or eleven is an instant winner, otherwise the bet gets placed on the number rolled much like the point. Then if the shooter rolls that number again before he makes a seven, the "come" player wins. This way, a player can conceivably cover all the numbers and reap handsome profits if the shooter rolls a long succession of numbers before a loser seven. But if he's trying to cover all the numbers and a shooter rolls a four, five, six, eight, nine, and ten followed by a seven, the bettor loses everything.

Then, of course, there is the category most easily labeled as All Other Bets or "proposition bets." Here's what Jack Binion, whose casino, Binion's Horseshoe, takes the biggest craps bets in the world, has to say about proposition bets: "The best way to play is to bet the pass line and take all the odds, or the come line and all the odds. If everybody took full odds on every bet, we wouldn't meet our overhead. Basically, forget about all the other bets, the Field [betting the shooter won't roll a five, six, seven, or eight], Hardways [betting the shooter will roll doubles], all the one-roll bets, [betting that the next roll will bring, say, an eleven]--those are all bullshit."

But in craps, as in life, no one at the table is ready to accept that not playing is the best choice or that a wide array of betting possibilities and gambits isn't worth the trouble. In fact, for every cynic watching the action at the table, there's someone with the dice in his hand recalling a story about the lucky sap who won the house--and the car and the boat and everything else.

Anyone who spends more time in a casino than he ought can tell you a craps story or two. A handful of them won't be apocryphal. The fanciful ones are legion: "I saw a guy once. He turned five bucks into $50,000 in 20 minutes. I'm serious"; "There was this rich guy, right? He's betting, like, close to $100,000 a roll..."; "I didn't see it, but I heard there was this guy who bet $250,000 on one roll and had a heart attack while the dice were in the air."

Some of the best (i.e., true) stories emanate from Binion's Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas. During three weeks in the spring the Horseshoe is home to the World Series of poker, the planet's premier card-playing tournament. For those weeks in May, Binion's becomes the center of the poker universe. But during the rest of the year, Binion's Horseshoe flourishes on the strength of one remarkable distinction: It has the world's highest limits.

In the Hollywood hit, Indecent Proposal, Robert Redford bets $1 million on the pass line, rolls a winner seven and invests the proceeds in a night of fun with Demi Moore. Impossible, right? Yes and no. In the movie, the gambling sequences take place at the Las Vegas Hilton. "It could never happen here," according to Jerry, one of the Hilton's pit bosses. "We'd let him bet maybe $10,000. We don't need to take any more action than that."

Indeed, at Las Vegas's swanky uptown resorts--Ceasar's Palace, the Mirage, Bally's--all owned and operated by large corporations, relatively low betting limits ($100,000 a roll) reduce the house's exposure to inordinate risk. But down on Fremont Street, the famed Glitter Gulch of countless television shows and tourism commercials, the game is altogether different. At Binion's Horseshoe, not only could the $1 million bet happen, it did.

In 1983, a man named Robert Bergstrom from Austin, Texas, called the Horseshoe's owner, Jack Binion, on the telephone. Bergstrom, who apparently possessed more money than sense, had recently lost $50,000 at the craps table. Thanks to a lucrative real-estate business, his plunge was not going to keep him awake at nights. In fact, Bergstrom was calling Binion to ask whether he could return soon and bet a "significant amount." Binion, adhering to his casino's policy of your first bet is your limit, no matter how high, naturally said yes.

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