Craps: ‘lay’ the wood!

Jan 29, 2002 7:25 AM

Most craps enthusiasts are familiar with Place and Buy bets. These are wagers directly on one or more of the boxes: four, five, six, eight, nine, or 10. Each wins if the number rolls; all lose if a seven rears its ugly head.

Many dice devotees, however, know surprisingly little about the opposite propositions. “Lay” bets that win together on a seven and lose separately when their numbers appear. Yet, these are the soul of simplicity. And they can be highly profitable in games where shooter after disgusted shooter misses out in short order. Here are the mechanics. You must bet enough to win at least $20, adding a “vigorish” or “vig” to the wager. The vig equals 5 percent of the projected payoff, rounded down to the next lower whole dollar; the house keeps the vig whether you win or lose. The bet, excluding the vig, is paid in exact inverse proportion to the odds of winning. At the minimum levels, these bets are accordingly $40 plus $1 vig to win $20 behind four or 10 (you’re favored 2-to-1), $30 plus $1 vig to win $20 behind five or nine (you’re favored 3-to-2), and $24 plus $1 vig to win $20 behind six or eight (you’re favored 6-to-5). The rounding downward keeps the vig at $1 if you bet as high as $78 to win $39 on four or 10, $57 to win $38 on five or nine, and $42 to win $35 on six or eight. When projected win reaches $40, vig goes to $2, and so on.

The primary appeal of Lay bets, taken individually, is that the odds of winning are with the player. Multiple Lays, on up to six boxes, offer another attractive feature. Players can lose bets singly as numbers hit, and get back over the top or at least temper initial setbacks when the roll concludes. This contrasts with Place and Buy bets, where solid citizens often pick up one or more winning bets, but still finish a hand in the red.

The main obstacle for many players is betting high to win low. Also, the minimum outlays may be bankroll busters. A $200 or $300 buy-in can support a total of $17 Placed on five, six, and eight. But $113 Laid behind four, five, and 10 can ravage such a stake.

There’s another way to view the contrast between multiple Lay and Place or Buy bets that reverses the odds and payout ratios. Remember, you can put these wagers up or take them down at will, so each throw is actually a separate betting round.

Pretend you Place all six numbers with $32 across ”” $6 each on the six and eight, $5 on each of the others. You have 24 ways to win on any given roll, and will collect $7 or $9 depending on what hits. You have six ways to lose $32. So you’re favored to win, 24-to-6 or 4-to-1, but you’re risking $32 to win $7 or $9.

Instead, say you Lay bets behind all six numbers at the $20 payoff level. You drop the dealer $194 including the vig. This provides six ways to net $114 ($120 minus the $6 vig). And you have 24 ways to lose $41, $31, or $25 depending on which number shows. The odds accordingly favor the house, 24-to-6 or 4-to-1, and you’ve risked $41, $31, or $25 to clear $114 on any throw.

Inquiring minds always want to know about the edge in alternate cases. Comparisons are ambiguous because the bets are structured differently and have reversed odds. One basis of correlation is the house’s theoretical profit on a projected win around $20. It’s $1 on any of the Lays. Placing the four or 10 for $10 to win $18, it’s $0.67. On a $15 five or nine, paying $21, it’s $0.60. And on an $18 six or eight, paying $21, it’s $0.27. For wins just under $40, the take on Lay bets stays at $1 while on Place bets it essentially doubles. Lays also look better if the casino’s cut is figured in terms of money at risk rather than projected win.

Should you try Lay bets? Lots of factors can be weighed, most notably how fast you can lose if numbers start popping. Still, if you’re disheartened at what seems like a cold table, can tolerate the exposure, and like the idea of offsetting intermediate losses with a winning sweep at the end, they may be viable. This, from the beloved bettors’ bard, Sumner A Ingmark, may help you decide:

Who says you have to do things just one way?
At times, a change in tactics saves the day.