Gender Inequality at the Dice Table
by Carole P. Roman
Men have had a romance with craps for years. It’s the essence of a male game, complete with a particular language that only an insider would understand. There is a coolness factor, the knowing looks, small victories, a comradeship of us against them.
It’s noisy and dirty. Smoke clouds the space above player’s heads, their feet splayed as if they are guarding valuable territory. Hands outstretched on the rails; they dare newcomers to make a move to join a game.
Craps players have a code of behavior, almost a brotherhood. Once they are in the thick of a good game, strangers become friends, high-fiving until their hands are red and stinging from the impact.
Many have unique styles of shooting, rituals, and routines. Their fisted hand rattle the dice with confidence to shoot a long and winning hand. Sometimes, they place dice with precision on the green felt, as though it will affect the way the cubes will fall.
A hush falls over the table when a person shoots. It is filled with the expectancy, as though the entire financial responsibility of the table rests on the shooter. Although, they do show support with encouraging phrases only a dice player would understand. Sexy sayings, secret words shouted and enjoyed by an exclusive group, who nods with understanding.
Sometimes women are welcomed to a game, their plump and pursed lips are part of the act. They coo and scream, jiggle when they shoot and make testosterone drip from the table to pool on the floor until the casino is knee deep in the stuff.
When on a family vacation, many years ago, my brother suggested that we head downtown in Vegas to play craps. I looked at him with panic. We don’t know anything about dice, I told him. That game intimated me.
“You might not know how to play, but I do,” he informed me.
“Where? How?” I looked at him and saw the determination on his face. I have to add, he is legally blind, and at this point couldn’t distinguish the value of the chips anymore. Since he was dead-set on heading to the seedier part of the strip, I knew I was going to have to stay with him. At the very least, I‘d have to watch out that he didn’t end up being hogtied and left naked on Las Vegas Blvd.
You see, he told me, he had a dream of going downtown and playing in Binions, which was his idea of living the real Las Vegas experience. He had fantasized about it his entire life. It’s where the genuine players are, he related. The serious ones.
Binions is a creepy casino in the older part of Vegas.
We walked into what looked like an old saloon. The smoke stained ceiling was low, the walls darkened with age. There was little light inside; a dingy pall hung over the entire casino like a haze. It was a good thing I was there to push my brother out of harm’s way, as happy players lurched from game to game.
I was in a cowboy’s version of an old age home. Everyone had string ties and Brill Cream in their hair. The waitresses were ancient, the dealers, even older than that, the crap table had the distinct odor of a urinal.
“We are going to be partners,” my brother said. We each plunked down three hundred dollars, and the dealer handed me the equivalent in chips that were glued together with a gummy residue of nicotine. At least, I hope it was nicotine.
The game started. My brother held the dice. He called out amounts, and, I placed them on the table based on his careful instruction.
He began to roll the dice. I had no idea what he was doing.
He was screaming with enjoyment in a language I didn’t understand. I was stalwart in my management of the chips, the ever-widening rack filling with each shout of joy. I couldn’t figure out what was going on except that he was thrilled and we were getting a lot of attention.
When he crapped out, my brother told me with a shared laugh from another player, that we were having a very good day. We left ten thousand dollars richer, and I decided I had to learn the game.
Going home, I had the kids install Hoyle casino games on the computer, and for the next few months, I taught myself how to play craps.
You have to understand, even though I run a multimillion dollar business, I have a learning disability, and anything involving math is frustrating and hard to do. I still have to use my fingers to count. This was not going to be an easy game to tackle. I memorized almost every combination, the way I would get paid, and learned what bets paid the most. Things take a long time for me to learn, but I will stick with it until I understand it, whether it’s for business or fun.
Finally, we were back in Vegas. I was going to play craps.
Armed with cash, I approached a table to play my first live craps game. I knew the lingo, understood the bets. I felt confident… well, sort of.
The dice table was packed with men, their stances protective of their piece of table, smoke making a curtain as if to hide them. It was crowded, they were noisy. I tried to get in, but it was like they didn’t see me. I felt invisible scurrying from one end of the table to the other, trying to find a spot.
I struggled to join the game; a dealer kindly shook his head. “No room, honey,” he told me.
Then, I noticed him greet another player. A dude. Space magically appeared, and the incoming player was waved into the game. A cute little woman wearing a tube dress that left no room for her wallet, let alone her player’s card was invited. She blew on the dice with a breathlessness that would have made Marilyn Monroe jealous.
I wasn’t sure what excited them most, when the dice hit a number or when the woman finally crapped out. Either way, their responses indicated their delight with her. She was absorbed into the table like osmosis. I stood at the periphery as if I had some toxicity that would somehow ruin the game.
“Hmmm…” I watched as more men were encouraged to belly up. Drinks were passed, the game got rowdy. I felt slighted. Was it because I was a woman? Or because I was an older woman?
I’d complain, I thought, what could I say? Were they excluding me? Refusing to make room for me? There were females at the table. They had big hair and were buxom, sexy and flirtatious.
Lewd comments filled the air as they used special moves to shoot the dice, looking up for approval when they landed. They were greeted with cheers; money rolled across the baize. I realized women were being tolerated as accessories to the game, good luck charms. They weren’t seen as capable beyond mewling and looking adorable.
No matter where I went, I met the same wall of resistance. I was squeezed out like a zit. There was no room for a middle-aged woman to play this game. I will admit they did intimate me. I shook with insecurity that even if I did manage to get in a game, I would do something wrong and cause an uproar. I was unwelcome, and I watched them bully inexperienced players when they interrupted the flow of a game.
I needed a solution. I wanted to test my abilities on a real table.
I combated this problem by rising early and playing in the morning at an empty craps table. Within a few games, I became proficient, confident enough to play with the big guys. I understood every bet, counted the colors of the chips I was paid with; knew when I was underpaid. I knew every bet you could make. I could do this.
It was a slow process. I’d ease up to a table, always standing closer to the stick-man so I wouldn’t interrupt a game. I’d slide in unnoticed, watching the players, putting my cash down when the dice were at rest in the middle and avoided holding up the game.
I am a quiet player, whispering my bets to the dealer as though we are in a private conversation. I do this because I don’t want to draw attention to myself. My bets got bigger, more aggressive. I have a system of building my bets in the hope that I will catch a long run and win big. I like that feeling as you watch the bets get bigger, it’s like hanging over a ledge and holding on…with one hand saving you from falling into the abyss.
I enjoyed craps. To the delight of pit crews, I started calling it a game of hope. That’s what it feels like to me. Even when you lose, there is the hope that the next game will go on forever, and when it happens, it’s like catching lightning in a bottle.
You start the game by establishing a point number. Then, you must hit the number, the point, again to win. There is the added anticipation that you can gamble any combination of 2,3,4,5,6,8,10,11,12, the odds and payouts changing dramatically with harder number combinations. For instance, Hard Eight can only come in one way, (often called a Pair of Squares, or Ozzie and Harriet). It pays substantially more than the two other eights combinations on the dice. (5/3, or 2/6).
It becomes a test to see how far you can go, how much you will risk before the dreaded seven shows up. Will you dare to keep your money in the game another roll, on the chance you’ll get a bigger playoff? I guess that’s why it attracts men, playing craps is muy macho. Each roll of the dice that doesn’t seven out is a fist-bumping extravaganza.
It’s more than a game. It’s like building a castle of cards to see how far you could go until it topples. Let me tell you; I have had some exciting games, where I forgot to breathe. It is beyond thrilling.
Something happened. I did start drawing attention. I knew the language of the game. When I’d say something at first, or double down my bets, men would look up and stare, as if I was an oddity. Well, to be honest, I guess I was. As the game progressed, and my signature bets paid off, looks were exchanged. Sometimes I’d get a derogatory comment that usually resulted in the pit crew growling a warning to the offender.
Many times I’d arrive at a table, and a dealer who didn’t know me would shake his head and say, “This is a higher limit. You sure you don’t want to play over there?” He’d point to a lower limit table. “They’ll go slower there,” he’d add as if he thought I couldn’t keep up with the real players.
My daughter-in-law who happened to be with me one time stiffened up like a poker, “You show them,” she said in outrage. “You show them that women know how to play, too!”
It was funny, after some time the dealers and I enjoyed the shared joke of the superior response of the seasoned players when I entered a game, as if they would indulge my presence until my chips ran out.
I shocked them. I played fast and hard, winning lots of money. Of course, the flip side is that sometimes I’d lose big, too. But, that’s another story. The dealers knew me, knew my bets, and we had routines where we worked so quickly it baffled those “real” players.
Onlookers often said, “You play well for a woman.” A seasoned player might agree gruffly or even with a hint of admiration blurt, “I never saw a woman play like that.”
Should I inquire if there is some special male trait or gene that makes men better players?
These comments generally brought a response from the dealers that bordered indignation on my behalf. You see, I earned their respect. It took time, but I think I broke a barrier at the casino. Women are not just ornaments at a table, we know how to play craps, and we can play it well. Each trip to Vegas, I’d see more females playing craps, not the ones who dressed like they were Barbie, regular women, like me.
“You’re one of the best players on the strip,” a dealer whispered to me, recently. He said it quietly so not to offend my male counterparts.
I batted my eyes at the “real” players watching and replied, “I am? Watch out, though,” I warned the smug faces of the male players. “I throw like a girl.”
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