TUNICA -- You think it's hard to groove a golf swing or a tennis backhand?
Try rolling a pair of dice down a long, hard table so that they bump against a pyramid-studded wall and come to rest with a winning combination showing. Not one time and not every time, but often enough so that the casino's advantage becomes the shooter's advantage.
Think about the physics for a minute. The grip matters. The position of the dice when they leave the hand matters. The shooter's position relative to the stickman matters. Velocity, rotation, yaw, trajectory, and dissipation of mass in motion matter.
But if you could master all of that, think of the money you could make.
Somebody has thought of it a lot. And practiced it. And written books about it that have inspired both players and casino owners to take a serious look. Dice-control players, as they are called, are further proof that no human enterprise involving sex or money is without a subset of specialists with jaw-dropping abilities and dedication.
"The theory seems sound, the mathematics make sense, and the technique is backed by several authors and gambling experts," writes casino consultant Bill Zender in Casino Enterprise Management magazine. Even so, he concludes, "there is plenty of room for skepticism."
Dice-control players, also known as rhythm rollers, are a little like card counters -- savants and disciples of gambling gurus such as Christopher "Sharpshooter" Pawlicki, who preaches that the house can be beaten. Fact or fiction, belief in dice control may be good for casinos if it encourages more play. Unlike blackjack, which is the most popular table game in the casino, and poker, which is enjoying an enormous surge in popularity thanks to television and Texas Hold 'Em, craps is a dying game and a labor-intensive one at that, requiring a crew of three employees. According to the Mississippi Gaming Commission, the monthly "drop" or amount wagered at craps tables in the North River Region is about half that of blackjack and barely 2 percent of the amount poured into slot machines.
The irony is that craps is "the best game in the casino," says Brian Delaney, a craps-table stickman at the Grand Casino in Tunica. By playing the "pass" or "don't pass" line on the outer rim of the table layout and taking the maximum odds "behind the line," players can reduce the house advantage to roughly 1 percent.
That's what makes craps attractive to "Sharpshooter" disciples. If the roll of the dice can be controlled ever so slightly over a series of throws, the advantage shifts to the player. Delaney says that a few years ago, three Tunica casinos were hit for approximately $10,000 each by a team of Mexican craps players. Professing ignorance of English, five of them would bet and create confusion while the expert "dice slider" tossed the dice so that only one of them hit the wall and the other pivoted but did not roll over.
Such a throw will ordinarily get the shooter a polite reminder from the pit boss or stickman if it doesn't happen often. Dice control players believe that even if both dice hit the wall, the outcome can still be influenced. The shooter positions himself near the middle of the table next to the stickman to shorten the length of the throw. He grips the dice so that the "six" face and the "ace" face are against each other and a "hard way" combination (2-2, 3-3, 4-4, or 5-5) is showing on top. The dice are thrown so that they stay together, land flat, and lightly bump the wall.
Delaney and Grand Casino pit boss Chris Douglass say they can easily spot dice control players. Douglass was noncommittal when asked if there is anything to it.
"Some think so and some don't," he says.
On a recent visit to the craps tables, shooters displayed a variety of backhand and sidearm deliveries that consistently sent the dice crashing against the back wall or, once, onto the floor. All of them looked like straight shooters, but practice makes perfect, and it is probably only a matter of time until the Craps Channel appears on cable.