Sic Bo is a dice game that was played in ancient China before the invention of paper 1,900 years ago, and it’s still played more or less in the same form today. Then the money changed hands during the game based on the throwing of bricks with painted sides in dark alleys, and now it’s based on the virtual dice rolls on an iPad.
Sic Bo was first played outside of Asia in the 1860s when thousands of Chinese migrated to the United States to work on the first transcontinental railroad. But the game never made it out of the “Chinatowns” that sprang up in places like San Francisco and Victoria, British Columbia. When Americans finally adopted the game from these Asian gambling dens they morphed it into a carnival game called “Chuck-a-Luck”. A small cage was used to shake the three dice used in the game so it was also called “Birdcage” by some players.
Original Sic Bo remained a Chinese pastime until the 1960s when it found a champion in Stanley Ho. Ho was descended from the family of influential Hong Kong businessman Sir Robert Hotung but his entrepreneurial empire was never seeded with family money. Instead, Ho began his career doing clerical work for an import-export business in the Portuguese province of Macau, the first European colony in China. Ho was quickly promoted to partner and made his first fortune smuggling luxury goods from China during World War II. He then used his profits to start a successful kerosene company.
Gambling has been legal in Macau since the 1850s, and over half of the colony’s income traditionally derived from gamblers. In 1961, the government put its gambling operations up for bid and a consortium led by the 39-year old Ho won with a promise to give Macau modern infrastructure and promote tourism. In Ho’s first casino the Asian Sic Bo tables had equal prominence alongside the American blackjack and European roulette tables.
Ho made good on his promise to the government, and when Macau was turned over to China in 1999, it was one of the richest cities on earth. Ho himself owns 18 casinos there and Macau has passed Las Vegas as the greatest generator of gaming revenues on the planet.
Sic Bo is second only to baccarat as a revenue producer in Macau, and devotees of the game can expect to find a table in just about any casino they visit around the world.
Sic Bo is played with three dice and a game table, and wagers are made before the dice are shaken and rolled. The bets are then resolved and a new game starts. Unlike the other dice game in a casino, Craps, there is no objective sought in any roll of the dice – it is simply a game of random chance.
Sic Bo tables and betting choices can differ from casino to casino but generally the rules are usually the same. There are four standard bets that players can make in the game:
- Big: The total of the three dice will show between 11 and 17 without a triple.
- Small: The total of the three dice will show between 4 and 10 without a triple.
- Odd: The total will be an odd number not being a triple.
- Even: The total will be an even number not being a triple.
All of these wagers are even money bets and carry a house edge of 2.8%. There are many more possibilities, and you can wager on any combination of the numbers that are possible by combining three dice: specific triples, specific doubles, specific combinations, specific numbers and more. All of these probabilities are paid at higher odds with more benefit to the house, with some of the wagers resulting in a steep house edge of over 30%.
How to Play
Each roll of the dice is a completely independent event having no relevance to past results. The only strategy to employ concerns your bankroll and how you manage it. Long sessions at the Sic Bo table will suggest playing the even money, low house edge bets. If you’re looking to bet a little to win a lot and move on, then a few plays on the long shot triples and other combinations are the way to go.
The only variations of Sic Bo found in casinos are in the payouts. The game is never more complicated than rolling three dice and seeing what arrives.