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With a Roll of the Dice

Some world-class craps players have discovered a way to limit the number of 7s that they hit
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Cigar of the Year, Jan/Feb 2005

(continued from page 1)

Team play among the dice-throwing elite is common, and Scoblete will often go out with 11 other accomplished dice throwers. Four will be selected to shoot and eight will stand in backup position, betting but ready to slip in should one of the original throwers go sour. "You can shoot anywhere from two to four hours at a time," says Scoblete. "But you always hope that the first guy to pick up the dice rolls for an hour and a half. Then we all make some money and call it a night."

Back in Vegas, the hope is that Wong can have that quick moneymaking run before we call it a night. The idea is for him to show me that his approach to the game really works, and if I win some money in the process, all the better. (Yes, I decided to bet with my own money rather than his.)

We begin inauspiciously at the Fremont, a mid-level joint downtown. Wong, lanky and gray-haired, looking like the world's biggest tourist in khaki shorts and a floppy hat, approaches the stickman at a Fremont craps table and asks whether the all-but-shiny felt is new.

The stickman answers in the negative, but after a series of lousy rolls, Wong has good reason to believe that the guy is either lying or misinformed. We pack up, cash out depleted chip stacks, and head across the street to Binion's Horseshoe, where there is no mistaking at least one felt as anything but old and worn out—which, of course, means it won't be so springy.

This proves to be a pretty sweet setup for Wong. Over the next two hours, he throws long strings of numbers without crapping out—which does not go unnoticed by patrons around the table, who have a habit of ratcheting up their bets every time the dice come to Wong. An older dude with sharp features and nasty-looking eyes sprays chips across the felt and points to Wong, continually insisting, "That guy is the best shooter in this joint."

Slowly but surely, money lost at the Fremont is more than compensated for at the Horseshoe. By the time Wong steps back from the table, I've made a few hundred painless dollars. (Wong's done better because he's bet more.) He palms his chips and suddenly the crowd around the table disintegrates as Wong takes his money and dice skills across the street to a pub in the Palace Station Hotel & Casino.

Over a sushi dinner, he explains that he stopped shooting at the Horseshoe because his arm began to tire. But, he says, the physical act of throwing dice is only half the equation. The other part of it is about getting your bets down, managing your bankroll and wagering with intelligence (that is, staying away from sucker bets, such as the one in which you predict a particular number will come up on a single roll). "Getting an edge is one thing," explains Wong. "Using the information is something else. You can have an edge on some bets, but if you make enough bad bets"—anything beyond a pass-line wager, taking odds, betting on particular numbers being hit before a 7 comes up—"overall you will make no money. Also, because the dice move around the table, you can lose money on other people while waiting for the dice to come back to you."

The strange thing about advantage rolling—especially strange for a veteran card counter like Wong—is that the casinos don't seem to mind. While Wong was hitting his numbers, the croupier smiled, joked with the gamblers and divvied out chips. Even Beau Parker, who teaches dice throwing and tutored Wong in the game's fine points, makes no effort to conceal the fact that he is an advantage player when it comes to craps. It's the sort of thing that a card counter could never dream of doing.

One reason why savvy craps players don't get hustled away from the tables is because casinos doubt that precision dice throwing is truly effective. Another is that casinos apparently make plenty of money from bad bettors and ongoing action generated by the good shooters.

Even if one accepts the premise that precision dice throwing is possible, it is certainly difficult to master, and most people won't put in the necessary practice time required to do it well. Frank Scoblete acknowledges that only 50 or so people in the world can consistently make money at craps. Considering that 1,500 or so people have been trained in the art of dice throwing, the statement is telling.

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