Other casino games Gaming

Sic bo: a game of three dice

Written by Pai Yao

This article first appeared in the Chinese New Year 2010 special issue of World Gaming magazine.

Sic Bo is unquestionably one of Macau’s most popular games and it revolves around the possible combinations of three dice.

Sic Bo is a Chinese dice game whose origin is much disputed. What is known is that this popular game has been around for hundreds of years in this region. Even the name is strange as ‘Sic Bo’ is a Chinese name but the game is only ever referred to by that name in western casinos. The term Sic Bo literally means ‘dice pair’ which is slightly confusing as the game is actually played with three dice. The game is sometimes referred to as Big and Small, Dai Siu (Cantonese for ‘Big Small’), Cussec, Tai Sai (meaning ‘lucky dice’) and in the Philippines it is sometimes called ‘Hi Lo’. Although played in western casinos, the game’s spiritual home is Macau as it is undeniably a game with a strong Asian tradition. It easily represents the second biggest table game behind baccarat.

The game is played with three dice and a cage shaker and takes place on a large white, plastic surface that is powered by electricity (known as the layout). Players place their bets on the layout. The standard Sic Bo layout has 50 different bets – ranging from even money for the ‘Big’ and ‘Small’ bets right through to 180 to 1 for hitting a triple of a specified number.

A cage shaker is a device with a shaking surface covered by a metal lid. The dice are shaken, the lid is removed and the numbers on the three dice are revealed. The casino croupier will then punch the dice combination into a computer. Every winning bet will be lit up on the layout by lights underneath it to show players if they have won or lost. The casino will first remove all the chips on the unlit sections as they are losing bets and will then pay all the wagers on the lit sections.

As you can see from the layout the betting for the game is very similar to roulette, in that the player has the option to bet on many different combinations.

The best value for the player is to bet on the ‘Big’ and ‘Small’ bets which are at the top left and top right areas of the board. The player pays less commission on these bets which makes them appealing to the savvy better. The advantage of betting on the other options is that you can turn a small wager into a large win if you are lucky enough to hit the right combination.

You will find this game being played in all major Macau casinos and it can be a very exciting game to play especially if you start hitting combinations at large odds.

There’s also another version of Sic Bo called Fish-Prawn-Crab (in Cantonese it is called “Yee Hah Hi”). Fish-Prawn-Crab uses symbols and colours on the dice instead of numbers. We’ll explain that version of Sic Bo in a future issue so make sure you pick up your copy of World Gaming magazine every time it comes out.