Have you ever watched a craps game during a casino outing and wished you knew how to play? The game can appear very intimidating and the layout can look very complicated, factors which prevent many people from getting up enough nerve to step up to the table and get into the game.

Craps really is not as complicated as it looks. As a matter of fact, if you become familiar with some of the basics, the rest of the learning process will take care of it itself. Furthermore, true recreational casino gamblers owe it to themselves to include craps among their entertainment options because some of the bets are among the best in the house.

A craps game is run by two dealers, a stickman and a box man. There's one dealer for each side of the table. Each side of the layout is a mirror image of the other. The proposition bets are in the center, but because those wagers pack such a high house advantage, we'll not concern ourselves with them for now. The stickman stands at the center of the table opposite the dealers and controls the dice and makes the calls. The box man is seated between the dealers and supervises the course of play.

Look for an open position at the table and step right up. Before you buy into the game always be sure the stickman has the dice in the center of the layout prior to placing your money on the table. If your hands are in the pit and the dice hit them, you may be in for some verbal abuse from superstitious players.

When the time is right, make your buy in. The dealer will pick the money up, hand it to the box man and then push the chips your way. Pick them up, again making sure the dice have not yet been pushed to the shooter by the stickman, and place your chips in the rails in front of you. You're ready to play craps.

The first bet you need to know is the pass line. It has an attractive 1.41 percent house advantage. You make your bet at the start of a new game or what's known as the come out roll. If the shooter rolls a "natural" (7 or 11) pass line bettors win even money. If the shooter rolls "craps" (2, 3 or 12) pass line bettors lose their money. If the shooter rolls a "point" (4, 5, 6, 8, 9 or 10) the game begins. If the shooter rolls the point again before a seven, pass line bettors are paid even money. If the shooter rolls a seven before the point, pass line bettors lose their money.

There's a betting option known as "taking the odds" which gives you the opportunity to make an additional wager behind your pass line bet. It's the best bet you can make in a casino. You should always take advantage of it because it's the only bet on which the house takes no edge; you are paid off at true mathematical odds: 2-to-1 on the 4 and 10, 3-to-2 on the 5 and 9, and 6-to-5 on the 6 and 8.

The house advantage on a pass line bet with single odds is just 0.84 percent; with double odds the edge drops to a measly 0.60 percent.

Whenever a shooter rolls a seven on any roll except the come out, it's called "seven out". Wagers are settled and the dice are passed clockwise around the table to the next player. You must make a pass line bet in order to roll the dice, but you don't have to roll if you don't wish to.

The third bet you need to know is placing the six and/or the eight. The payout on place numbers reflects the built-in edge the casino has against you. The true odds against rolling a six or an eight before a seven are 6-to-5 but you are paid 7-to-6. The edge is an acceptable 1.52 percent. You always want to bet those numbers in increments of six dollars. Every time a six or an eight is rolled you will be paid seven dollars for a six-dollar bet.

You can increase or decrease a place bet at any time, or you can ask the dealer to take it down entirely and give it back to you. Freedom and flexibility with your money is one of the great attractions of the game.

And remember, once you buy into the game you don't have to have a bet on every roll. Relax, play at your own pace, observe and ask the questions. When you have the best bets mastered, you'll pick up everything else about the game while you play.

The opinions expressed are solely the writer's. Reach him at jbrokopp@comcast.net. John Brokopp's Beat the Odds tips air Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM Newsradio 780.

Eloise writes about food and entertainment for The Times, subjects she has covered for over two decades in and around the Region. She was the youngest of eight children in a Chicago household filled with fantastic cooks and artists.