Amid a casino’s harmonic bells and whistles from slot machines, dealers asking for bets, gamblers celebrations of an occasional win and coins plunking on hard, metal trays, it’s hard to imagine that anything is missing.
But J R Mathews, vice chairman of the Downstream Development Authority, saw a void at Downstream Casino, and he thought it could be filled with one large table -- a craps table.
“That’s where the action is in any Vegas casino,” Mathews said. “When you get a craps game going, a crowd builds, people whoop and holler and everyone looks to see what’s going on. It’s part of the atmosphere.”
With a description like that, you’d think every casino in the area would want a craps table. But the Oklahoma Tribal-State Gaming Compact, passed by voters in 2004, bars signature games such as craps and roulette.
For the last seven years, Mathews said he and others have developed a version of the game that is allowed under state law. Called “card craps,” the game is played with cards that represent the throw of dice.
The Quapaw Tribe holds a U.S. patent for the game. Because the cards are what determine the winner, not dice, the game is in compliance with state law, said Jay Graham, a gaming compliance officer with the state of Oklahoma. He said Downstream has been certified to run the game.
“That’s OK, if they are playing with cards,” Graham said. “A game to be put on the floor in any casino needs to have been certified.”
Craps is a game played with two six-sided dice. The shooter throws the dice and players bet on the results.
Downstream’s card craps uses cards to simulate the dice. Two rows of six cards (each row has an Ace through six) are shuffled and laid out on the table.
A shooter “throws the dice” by calling out two numbers, which correspond to the rows of cards. The values of the cards in those positions represent the value of the throw.
For instance: Assume a player calls out, “Two, five.” The second card in the top row and fifth card in the bottom row are revealed by the dealer.
If the top card is an Ace, and the bottom card is a six, then the value of the throw is a seven.
This system was developed so that the odds would be exactly like the dice game, Mathews said. A player has the exact same odds as turning up two aces as they do rolling snake eyes. Likewise, a player has the exact same chances of hitting a “hard eight” (a roll of two fours) or an “easy eight” (any other roll that adds up to eight).
“I have seen all kinds of card craps games, with decks in a shoe and other things,” Mathews said. “The problem with those is that they are not true odds as this is.”
Experienced craps players have told Mathews that this game is virtually the same, Mathews said. The payout rules are the same: Players can start with a come-out roll, crap out, bet on the pass line and everything else.
The same four dealers monitor the table: The boxman guards the chips, two base dealers shuffle a stack of cards each and collect and pay debts, and a stickman in the center takes bets and collects dice.
Wait... a stickman collects dice in this version?
Cubes, not dice
When players of card craps call out numbers, they throw two six-sided cubes with red, yellow and blue faces instead of numbers. If all reds or blues are shown, then players have their antes go toward a monthly drawing at the casino.
Mathews said the promotional cubes help the game feel like craps. Even though they have no outcome on the payouts at the table, they are part of the experience of the game, he said.
"We’d love to have actual craps here,” Mathews said. “Because we can’t do that, this is the next best thing.”
Sean Mathews, table game shift manager and Mathews’ son, said reaction to the game has been good. A crowd builds around the table on Friday and Saturday nights, and dealers and experienced players teach new players the intricacies of the game.
“Because this is a different type of game, there’s not a lot of craps players in the area,” Sean Mathews said. “The dealers are good at explaining the game, and experienced players help teach new groups of players.”
Graham said other Oklahoma casinos have card-based variations of traditional Vegas games. The Firelake Grand Casino in Shawnee offers Spinette, a version of roulette played with cards around a wheel.
But such games don’t come around often, said Graham, who estimated that a year could go by without a casino submitting a similar game idea.
Mathews said the tribe is in communication with other tribes about licensing the game. And Sean Mathews said the casino could install another table if the business demands are there.
Mathews said that had proponents of the 2004 election proposal known it would pass by such a large margin, games such as craps and roulette could have been included in the compact. That compact will be in effect until 2020, Graham said.