California Craps and Other Unique CA Games

So you’ve played craps, roulette and blackjack. But have you ever played California craps, California roulette or California blackjack?

What’s the difference, you ask? In terms of actual gameplay, the differences between these California-only versions of these popular casino games and their traditional counterparts aren’t necessarily huge. But they do make these games unique.

Read on to learn more about some of these games that you’ll find only in California casinos and card rooms.

Why is standard craps and roulette illegal in California?

In California’s Indian gaming casinos you will find a range of popular games. However, there are two common casino favorites that California law technically forbids: craps and roulette.

The California Penal Code explicitly prohibits “any banking or percentage game played with cards, dice or any device.” That mention of dice has commonly been understood to make craps, a game played with dice, illegal. The law also specifically lists a number of other prohibited games, including roulette.

More than 70 California tribes have gambling compacts with the state, and each one of those compacts is different. That said, all of them allow the tribes to conduct house-banked card games like blackjack, baccarat and other titles like Pai Gow Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold’em. The compacts do not, however, make any exceptions for craps or roulette — those games are not legal.

As a result, the casinos have come up with distinct versions of roulette and craps that regulators confirm do not violate the law. These versions of the games use cards to determine outcomes, thus making them house-banked card games like the compacts permit.

You will sometimes see incorrect explanations of California law stating that casinos cannot use a wheel or dice at all in their games. That is not quite correct. The casinos can use a wheel or dice in their games, but the wheel or dice cannot solely determine outcomes as in the traditional versions of roulette and craps. That’s where cards come in, which casinos will use in combination with dice (in craps) or a spinning wheel (in roulette) to determine whether a player wins or loses.

California craps – Playing craps with cards

California craps, or “card craps,” plays a lot like regular craps but uses cards to determine whether bets win or lose.

Generally speaking (with some exceptions), the use of cards in California craps doesn’t affect the odds or how you play the game. You can still make pass line or don’t pass bets, come or don’t come bets, place win or place lose bets, odds bets, buy bets, lay bets, other proposition bets and so on, just like in regular craps. But the cards do change how you play the game.

How to play craps in California

To describe one example, here’s how they play California craps at the Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula.

Six cards numbered 1 to 6 are shuffled and randomly placed on designated spots on the craps table that are also numbered 1 through 6. The “shooter” then rolls two dice as usual, but instead of the roll determining the outcome, the roll instead indicates which cards are chosen and the cards determine the outcome.

For example, say the six cards come down as 2-1-4-6-5-3 (in positions 1 through 6), and the dice show a 3 and 4. If this were a regular craps game, that roll would be a 7. In California craps, however, the 3 and 4 mean we must look at the cards in the third and fourth positions to learn the outcome. In this case, the 4 and 6 are in those two positions, meaning the result of the roll is 10.

If the dice showed 2 and 6, the outcome would be 1 + 3 = 4. If the dice came up 4 and 4, the outcome would be 6 + 6 = 12. Make sense?

Note that the cards signify both the total of a roll and the particular combination for wagers that require those. For example, a bet on a “hard six” is a bet on 3-3 (and not 2-4 or 1-5). If the cards appeared as in the above example (2-1-4-6-5-3), that means in order to win you’d need the roll to be 6 on both dice to choose the sixth card twice.

Other California casinos offer their own twists on California craps. Casinos with craps in California might offer one of the following options:

  • Twelve cards, six each from two decks (ace through six).
  • A 36-card deck with the cards showing each of the 36 possible combinations when rolling two dice.
  • Even more cards — hundreds, in some cases — and employing a dealing shoe that can hold multiple decks (this can affect probabilities somewhat, making them slightly different from those that a pair of dice would produce).
  • Different colored dice, with the colors helping to determine which cards the dice choose.

All of these changes make California craps legal.

California roulette – Playing roulette with cards

Meanwhile California roulette, aka “card roulette,” comes in different forms but always uses cards in some fashion to determine outcomes.

Sometimes numbered cards will appear on a spinning wheel that has a flapper as in a Wheel of Fortune game. Other times a dealer draws the numbered cards and places them on a table on different colored sections, then the wheel selects a color, revealing the card on that section.

The game itself plays just like regular roulette with the same board, the same selection of “inside bets” and “outside bets,” and even the same odds and payouts. Typically California roulette games use both the zero and double-zero, making them like American roulette.

Click here for more explanation of California roulette and how it differs from regular roulette.

California blackjack and other ‘California games’

What about those so-called “California games” or “CA games” you sometimes see in California card rooms? How are they unique to the Golden State?

CA card rooms cannot legally offer card games that are not house-banked. For example, the rooms can offer traditional poker, a game in which players don’t play against the house but against one another. But they can’t offer traditional house-banked blackjack (for instance), or other card games in which players compete against the house.

In order to offer those other card games, then, the card rooms came up with modified versions that abided by the law. The California Penal Code spells out how these games are legal because they are not technically house-banked games. Rather, they have players take turns occupying the “player-dealer” position and compete against the other players, thereby “preclud[ing] the house … from maintaining or operating as a bank during the course of the game.”

As a result, many California card rooms offer variants of blackjack, baccarat and other casino card games in which players play against one another rather than versus the house. Therefore, when you enter a California card room, you might find any of the following games available alongside traditional poker tables:

  • EZ Baccarat, Dai Baccarat, No Collection 21st Century Baccarat (versions of traditional baccarat)
  • Pan 9, Super Pan 9 (baccarat variants with cards removed)
  • 21st Century Blackjack (a common CA version of blackjack with some additional rules)
  • 21st Century Blackjack Switch (players receive two hands and can switch cards between them if they desire)
  • No Bust 21st Century Blackjack (players going over 21 earn a “push” if the player-dealer also busts and has a higher total)
  • 2-Way Winner (a game combining blackjack and poker)
  • Pai Gow Poker (a casino favorite said to have been invented in LA in the mid-1980s)
  • Fortune Pai Gow Poker (a version of the game with a bonus side bet)
  • Pai Gow Tiles (a game that uses dominoes rather than cards)

Other California card room games

You’ll also find in California card rooms other “casino poker” games such as are often available in casinos in other states. Typically in these games players play against the house in a fashion that resembles blackjack. But in California, these games again have players take turns occupying the player-dealer position in order for the games to abide by the prohibition against house-banked games. Here are some examples of games you might find:

  • Ultimate Texas Hold’em
  • Three Card Poker
  • Mississippi Stud
  • Crazy 4 Poker
  • Let It Ride
  • Casino War

Those who have played card games in non-California casinos can see how these games are mostly very similar. Indeed, they often play very much like those house-banked games, and in many cases, there will be a card room staff member present to assist with the game. However, the staff member doesn’t play the games or represent the house in them.

That’s the key difference, the one that transforms these card games into “California games”

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