***Updated: August 25, 2019***
Sic Bo is a dice game that started 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 based on the throwing of bricks with painted sides in dark alleys, and now in the form of 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 help build the transcontinental railroad. However, it never made it out of the “Chinatowns” springing up in places like San Francisco and Victoria, British Columbia. When Americans finally adopted it from these Asian gambling dens they morphed it into a carnival attraction called “Chuck-a-Luck”. A small cage was used to shake the dice, referred to as a “Birdcage” by some.
Original Sic Bo remained a Chinese pastime until the 1960s when it found a champion in Stanley Ho. Ho was a descendant of influential Hong Kong businessman Sir Robert Hotung, but no family funds were used to finance his entrepreneurial empire. Instead, Ho’s career began with 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 took the profits and started a successful kerosene company.
Gambling has been legal in Macau since the 1850s, and over half of the colony’s income traditionally derived from the industry. In 1961, the government put its operations up for bid and a consortium led by the 39-year old Ho won with a commitment to give the city 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 globally. Ho himself owns 18 casinos in Macau, which has surpassed Las Vegas as the greatest generator of gaming revenues on the planet.
This table is second only to baccarat when it comes to revenue production in Macau, and devotees can expect to find it in just about any gambling establishment they visit around the world.
Sic Bo is played with three dice and a table, and wagers are made before the ivory is shaken and rolled. The bets are then resolved and it starts all over again. Unlike the other dice-based casino pastime, Craps, there is no strategy required and it’s simply a game of random chance.
The felt and options may differ from place to place but generally the rules are usually the same. Four standard bets can be made:
- Big: The total of the dice will show between 11 and 17 without a triple.
- Small: The total of the 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 pay even money and carry a House edge of 2.8%. There are many more opportunities, and it’s possible to get action on any grouping of numbers by combining three dice: specific triples, specific doubles, specific combinations, specific values and others. Keep in mind, these probabilities are paid at higher odds, meaning added benefit to the operator with some of the wagers resulting in a steep 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 real strategy to employ concerns bankroll and how it’s managed. For extended sessions at the Sic Bo table play the even money, low House edge options. If you’re looking to risk a little to win a lot and move on, consider action on the long shot triples and other combinations.
The only variations of Sic Bo found in casinos are in the payouts. The game isn’t any more complicated than rolling the dice and seeing what arrives.