Newlyweds Andy and Maggie Jones fell in love while honeymooning in Las Vegas this summer. Not with each other -- that had happened when the pair met in college -- but with the game of craps.
After returning to their Montgomery Village home, the Joneses shared their new favorite pastime with friends. What began as a vacation novelty quickly became a shared addiction. In fact, the games proved so popular that the Joneses established a monthly casino night that draws friends and neighbors alike. Their townhouse morphs into "Charlie's Casino and Bar," named in honor of their black cat. No money is exchanged (that's illegal); instead players buy in with a donation of snacks or beer.
"We like hosting, so it's an excuse to have a regular party," Maggie says. "And craps is so fun for a party because you're not playing against each other, so everybody wins together."
The Joneses find that giving their casino night a different theme each month keeps things interesting. A recent gathering paid homage to those who made Vegas a gambling mecca, with men sporting fedoras and natty ties, and women channeling mob molls in fishnets, boas and feathered headpieces. Lounge tunes such as Peggy Lee's "Big Spender" and Sammy Davis Jr.'s "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" provided the jazzy (if not entirely era-appropriate) soundtrack.
Vegas is rife with 24-hour breakfast joints that serve eggs by the hundreds to fortify hungry gamblers. Before the dice started rolling, Andy and Maggie dished up two variations on Strip-worthy eats for arriving guests: Eggs Alfonso, a hearty open-faced sandwich that layers bread, ham and a kicky tomato sauce, topped with a poached egg; and the Club Omelet, in which fluffy omelets replace bread in a sandwich of Monterey Jack, ham, turkey and tomato -- a combo that could cure even a three-martini hangover.
Once the food disappeared, it was on to the main event. The couple's dining table was modified with a removable topper for craps games found on eBay. Andy and his father-in-law built a bumper out of lightweight wood and foam on one end to keep the dice on the table (a bumper for the other end is phase two of the project -- scheduled for later this fall).
Maggie played "pit boss," monitoring the game and paying the winners in chips. Andy was the "stickman," using a stick to push dice to the designated shooter. The stick isn't necessary for a home game, but like the detailed "Charlie's" sticker Andy has placed on each of the chips, it's a nice touch.
Like any Vegas gambling joint, Charlie's Casino has rules. Players must roll only with the hand they used to pick up the dice, a regulation that prevents cheaters from sneaking in funny dice. And there's a system for staying in the game once your chips are gone: A player can be "sponsored" -- meaning he must wear a Charlie's sticker -- to get an extra $20 worth of chips. After that's gone, a player can earn chips by fetching beer for fellow players. And the last straw is when the game really gets interesting: Players can shed items of clothing for more chips. Corinna Laird, a friend of the couple's from Gaithersburg, says that rule determines her wardrobe choices. "I've learned to wear layers," she says.
The Joneses' friends, who now wager and roll like pros, were all craps novices before Andy and Maggie returned from their fateful trip. "I was totally new at it. I don't know how well I would have done learning at a casino," says pal Nasser Qadri. "But it's easier with friends."
HOW TO PLAY
Craps is a fast-paced group game in which all players bet on one player's dice rolls; their odds vary according to where on the craps table they have placed their chips. Mastering the game may seem a bit daunting to newbies, but these tips will help get you started rolling bones (er, dice) like a "Guys and Dolls" extra.
Learn the Rules. The concept of craps is simple: Everyone places bets on what number the shooter will roll. The first roll is called the "come-out roll," and if it is a seven or 11, everyone wins and the shooter rolls again. If he rolls a 2, 3 or 12, he "craps out" and everyone loses their initial bet. If he rolls a 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 or 10, then that number becomes the shooter's "point." The dealer puts a marker down on a square representing the point number. Now, the shooter is trying to roll that same number, and he keeps rolling until he does. If he rolls a seven before he hits the point, he -- and everyone else (unless you bet this would happen) -- loses their bets and the round ends.
Get the Gear. The setup for craps is relatively simple and inexpensive. Most gaming stores and eBay have felt craps layouts you can spread out on a table or the floor. You'll need chips for betting -- again, try gaming stores or retailers such as Target -- and a pair or two of dice.
Bone Up. Andy recommends the online tutorial on the Going to Vegas travel Web site (www.goingtovegas.com/kpv-crap.htm). Some casinos in Atlantic City offer free lessons, usually earlier in the day before the floors get crowded. Or just do it the old-fashioned way: Watch and learn.