Is Rolling Dice for Money Illegal? – Playing Street Dice

Hand Holding Dice With Rolling Dice Written Above

Doing some research for this post, I came across one of the best synonyms for dice I’ve ever read. In a 1952 report for the New York City Police Department, Sgt. John Drzazga described dice as “galloping dominoes.”

Is it illegal to let the galloping dominoes do their thing? If street craps is illegal, are you likely to get busted? What’s the penalty for someone caught playing an illegal game of street dice? The answer to these questions depends on a few factors, mainly where you live, where you’re playing, and how you’re playing.

There’s a world of difference between the private backyard social games of dice played between friends and the illegal casino-style operations that run afoul of gambling law.

This post is designed to answer the most common questions about rolling dice for money – its legality, your likelihood of getting busted, and the penalties typically associated with illegal games of dice.

What’s Street Dice?

Betting on dice is probably as old as the dice themselves.

We’re not sure exactly how old these simple gaming props are – there’s evidence of 8,000-year-old dice, thought to be used as fortune-telling tools or as part of religious ceremonies. It’s not difficult to imagine the shaman and his assistants betting on the outcome of a toss of the dice while they unwind after a difficult ritual.

The six-sided cubed die we’re familiar with today, with its opposing pip pattern adding up to seven, has been with us since before the creation of Arabic numerals. Archaeologists have uncovered six-sided die with the typical one-opposite-six arrangement from around the year 1300 BCE in Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq.

Street dice, also known as street craps or just dice, is an umbrella term for a family of informal games played with a pair of six-sided dice.

A simplified form of craps, street dice has informal rules that remain the same pretty much anywhere you play. A shooter’s come-out roll ends on a result of 2, 3, 7, 11, or 12 – the shooter wins on a 7 or 11 and loses on a 2, 3, or 12. A result of 1, 4-6, or 8-10 sets the point. If the shooter rolls the point before a 7, he wins. When the 7 comes up, the shooter loses. A round is over only after a 7, or the point comes up.

Street dice has no banker, no craps table, and no security. As a game generally relegated to alleys, docksides, and the like, it has a bit of a reputation as a nefarious game. I think the fact of the game’s illegality makes it more dangerous, as it pushes the game underground and out of the purview of society.

Whatever the reason, dice games remain controversial. Look at California, a state where dice are so verboten that even licensed casinos and game rooms have to offer versions of craps based on playing cards, removing the game’s main prop from the equation entirely.

In the next section, I’ll talk in more detail about the real-world legality of betting on informal dice games.

Is Street Craps Illegal?

Before we get into the details, I want to start out by saying that I’m not a lawyer and I absolutely don’t intend anyone to take this post as legal advice. If you’re genuinely concerned about the legality of something you’re doing, please talk to a real lawyer.

When researching the legality of rolling dice for money, you come across this sentiment pretty frequently – “rolling dice for money is unregulated gambling, and that makes it illegal.” That’s not entirely true.

Many US states allow what’s called social gambling or private gambling. Social or private gambling is a legal way to talk about things like card games in private homes, Super Bowl squares bets, or raffles and bingo games played in social settings to raise money for charity.

Player Throwing Dice on Craps Table

Carveouts in state gambling law for social gambling are common. Some 27 US states allow a form of unregulated gambling under the right conditions. These US gambling laws are a recognition of the social history of games of chance in America, the fact that most of us have participated in some form of private or social game of chance or skill in our lifetimes.

Most of the time, the law specifies what makes a game private. In Texas, state law spells out what must occur for gambling to be considered social – the gambling must be done in a private place, meaning one that’s inaccessible to the public, the only person to receive any benefit must be the winner of each individual bet, and the chances of winning and losing must be equal between all participants.

At the other end of the spectrum is Alaska, where social gambling is legal so long as it takes place in a person’s private residence.

I said all of that to say this – the legality of a game of rolling dice depends mainly on where you live and a little bit on how you play. The actual game you’re playing doesn’t matter, provided you’re playing it according to the private/social gambling laws where you live.

If you want to play street dice in Texas, you can do so if you follow the rules. That means the host can’t charge entrance or rake the pots or anything like that, and the game has to be fair and played entirely in a private setting.

What about states without social gambling carveouts? You could make a strong case that playing street craps in states like Oklahoma and Missouri, where no allowance for private gambling is made, is illegal. Without a “private gaming” defense, the unregulated gambling you’re engaging in by betting on the outcome of a game of dice is most likely illegal.

Here’s a list of states that don’t currently allow for private or social gambling, which I interpret as being the states where a game of street craps may be illegal:

  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Now that you have a better sense of whether your particular dice game is illegal let’s talk about your likelihood of actually being charged for committing a crime.

How Likely is a Street Dice Game to Get Busted?

I’ll get right to it. In my opinion, you’re unlikely to have a truly private game of rolling dice for money busted anywhere in America.

Played under legal conditions, like those outlined by the state of Texas, it’s unlikely that anyone outside of your social circle (or, more specifically the participants in the game) will even know you’re playing. A game of dice between friends in a private home is just not subject to intrusion – the door’s closed, the game’s private, and the public is not invited.

In other contexts, your game is more likely to get you in trouble with the law. If you’re rolling dice for money literally on the street, meaning on the sidewalk or in an alley or somewhere like that, your game is left open for anyone, including law enforcement, to see it.

Some areas of the country seem more prone to make busts for illegal dice games than others. The city of Baltimore reports about 100 arrests for “playing cards or dice” every year. The police department of the City of Houston seems especially keen on illegal gambling arrests, arresting more than 150 people a year for similar crimes.

Macau Suncity Group Arrests

Law enforcement seems to go after illegal dice operations and the operators of illegal dice games more than alleged participants in the games. This falls in line with federal gambling law enforcement, which has never sought to prosecute a person for simply playing an illegal game.

The more private a game of street craps is, and the less formal of a dice game operation you’re running, the less likely you are to face any prosecution.

What’s the Penalty for Getting Caught Rolling Dice for Money?

As with anything in American law, the penalty for the crime of illegal gambling depends on several factors.

Most first-time offenses will be considered misdemeanor offenses, and generally low-level ones at that. These low-level misdemeanors carry light penalties – in Texas, a person busted for illegal gambling for the first time faces a $500 fine and no jail time.

It’s only on repeated offense that the person is guilty of enhanced misdemeanors – a Class A offense leads to a $4,000 fine and a minimum of one year of jail time.

We can extrapolate from the laws in Texas, California, and a few other big states that the US gambling law system operates in an increasingly hostile manner. Your first offense is usually a small fine or community service commitment, while repeated offenses lead to enhanced charges and more punitive penalties.

Our Conclusion

People have been rolling dice and betting on the outcome for literal millennia. Street craps is easy to learn and easy to play. The simplicity of the game fuels its popularity. All you need is a relatively flat surface and two six-sided dice. Dice are cheap and readily available.

The legality of a game of street dice is a bit more complicated. Depending on the type of game you’re playing and the local gambling laws where you live, you may be playing a totally safe and legit game of chance, or you may be breaking the law.