People have disagreed for a long time on when and how ‘craps’ emerged. One theory, that of Richard Epstein, is that craps has its roots in an earlier game played during the Middle Ages, known as ‘Hazard’; the formal rules of which were formulated by Montmort in the early 1700s. The origin of the name itself is even difficult to determine, but it most likely evolved from the English word “crabs”, or from the French Crapeaud (toad). On this point, however, gambling historians have divergent views. It is a viciously contended subject among many scholars and self-professed experts and even occasionally ends in tears and, unfortunately, fisticuffs!
According to other sources, there is also evidence that a form of Craps can be traced back to the time of the Holy Roman Empire. Soldiers in the Roman Legions used to shave down pig’s knuckles into the shapes of cubes, and toss them onto their inverted shields as a form of entertainment while in camp (“to roll the bones”). Most people now, generally, accept that the game of Craps came to the U.S. from Europe.
There are two general variations of Craps played today that can be directly traced back in history – they are called “Street Craps” and “Bank Craps”. In recent times, the Internet version – Online Craps – has also become very popular.
According to gaming guru and gambling legend Geoffrey W. Dibben, Craps even dates back to before the Middle Ages. The Arabs played a game using little numbered cubes, called azzahr (meaning “the die”). The game showed up across the Mediterranean in France, where it was renamed ‘hasard’, then jumped the English Channel to England sometime before 1550 AD, where the English spelling, hazard, was adopted. The roll of lowest value in that game was called crabs. The French, trying to be amiable, adopted that term from the English, but spelled it the French way: ‘crabes’. In the early 1700’s, the game crossed the Atlantic to the French colony of Acadia, in what is now eastern Canada.
In 1755, the French lost Acadia to the English, who promptly renamed it Nova Scotia and evicted the French-speaking Acadians. The Acadians then bitterly roamed the area and finally settled much farther south in Louisiana, where they were (and continue to be) called Cajuns. They still played the good old dice game, but dropped the title of ‘hasard’ and called the game simply ‘crebs’ or ‘creps’, which was their spelling of the French crabes.
By 1843, the Cajun word came into American English as ‘craps’. People were apparently careful for a while not to omit the final ‘s’ for fear of confusion with a slang term having a totally different meaning, and thus were reluctant to use the word on many occasions.