How to Play Dominoes for Money

Hands Grabbing Dominoes, Guy Holding Up Cash

Most people learn how to play dominoes as kids, taught by relatives at cookouts, family reunions, and holiday parties. Others learn from friends on road trips or in the dull parts of backyard parties and friendly get-togethers.

Dominoes is an informal game with a lot of variety. It’s also a perfect vehicle for wagers, with clear winners and losers and a skill element to keep things interesting over many rounds of play.

This post looks at dominoes, how to play, and how to wager real money on your games.

A Brief History of Dominoes

Though playing tiles are at least 1,000 years old, hailing from Song dynasty-era China, most modern dominoes players wouldn’t recognize those props as dominoes and wouldn’t have a clue how to use them.

The modern domino, with its black and white color scheme and trademark pip layout, was first described in early-18th century Italy. The name of the tile – domino – gives some of the prop’s history away.

The domino was an Italian robe-like costume mainly used for masquerade balls and theatrical performances, in a familiar black-and-white color scheme, though devoid of spots. When the first black-and-white playing tiles hit the scene, it was only natural for the Italians playing the games to identify it as a “domino.”

The games played by Italian dockworkers, seamen, and military personnel spread through Europe, appearing in England around the year 1800, though we don’t see it in American literature until the Civil War some six decades later. The game was slow to cross the Atlantic but quick to burn through the continental US, popular everywhere in America by the turn of the 20th century.

Modern players would have no problem recognizing or playing those early American dominoes games, most of them simple block games that aren’t that far off from home rules dominoes as played in the early 21st century.


Before we dig deeper into the game of dominoes and how people may bet on it – a single playing piece is called a “domino.” The plural is “dominoes,” with an e. The familiar spots on dominoes are called pips.

Those are all important distinctions that people new to playing or gambling with dominoes may miss out on in the rest of the post.

Types of Dominoes Games

You can categorize every version of dominoes as one of three types of games, and these categories mostly have to do with how points are scored. Here’s a look at each of the three categories of dominoes games:

  • Blocking games are the most basic form of dominoes and generally ask players to match their hand of tiles to a predetermined layout. The object is to get rid of your dominoes before your opponent. Points are scored by getting rid of all of your playing tiles and earning points equal to the pips in your opponents’ remaining hand.
  • Drawing games start out as blocking games but include a crucial rule difference that separates them. In a drawing game, players cannot pass until the boneyard is empty or very nearly empty.
  • Scoring games are all those in which players score points by performing certain configurations of pips or making specific types of moves. The purpose of these games isn’t to block your opponent or force them to draw a backbreaking number of pips; it’s to play tiles in such a way that you score points during gameplay.

Three Common Ways to Play Dominoes

Because dominoes are just gaming tiles, props for various ways to play, it can be difficult to wrap your head around the game and consider it as a whole. That’s not great because that’s kind of the whole point of this post.

If we start with a short guide to three of the most common dominoes variants in the world, the rest of the post (the stuff about playing dominoes for money) will make a lot more sense.

1 – Block Dominoes

Sometimes called bones or just plain old “dominoes,” this is the dominant form of the game played informally at parties or other gatherings. This is generally the game you see being played in saloons and jails in the old movies, and it’s a kind of precursor to tons of other dominoes variations. Most variants of dominoes follow the template of block.

Here’s how it works – the dominoes are shuffled facedown, and each player (up to four per game) draws seven tiles and keeps them hidden from the other players. If only two or three players are playing, the leftover dominoes are formed into a pile known as the boneyard.

Lead starts with the double-six, and players take turns laying tiles onto the open ends of the layout, same number to same number. Doubles are often placed horizontally, and play can continue off these tiles in any open direction.

The purpose of most games of block is to form combinations of pip totals in units of 5 – 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, etc. Players score by creating pip totals in these five-pip chunks, and by being the first to relieve themselves of their stack – they then earn the pip total remaining in their opponents’ hand.

While scoring variations and house rules abound, this is the basic pattern for folk dominoes games and by far the most common way the game is played in North America.

2 – Fives and Threes

This is by far the most common dominoes game in the UK and most of Europe.


Anyone familiar with the traditional rules of bones in America will recognize Fives and Threes.

Play moves a lot like a standard game of block dominoes, but points are scored a little differently. Instead of scoring in units of five, players can also score for combinations of three, and players can score for multiple combinations of the two. Games move fast because of additional scoring and tend to be played to 31, 61, or 121 points.

3 – Texas 42 Dominoes

This one’s nothing like block or fives and threes – the game it’s most similar to is whist. A trick-taking game, Texas 42 was created by two young Texans frustrated by their parents’ ban on playing cards.

Texas 42 is usually played by four players in two teams of two. Partners sit across from one another. Your object is to be the first team to score seven marks (or less commonly 250 points). It’s a bidding game where one team attempts to win a specific number of tricks while the other team attempts to disrupt them.

Texas 42 is an insular game, loaded with tradition and jargon and beloved by Texans and people all over the American south. Check it out more in detail below.

Playing Dominoes for Money

Since dominoes is a kind of folk game of skill, played at family reunions or on long bus trips during your school days, the ways to play it for real money bets are as many and varied as you can imagine.

The simplest way to risk cash playing dominoes is to make an outright bet along the lines of “I bet you $10 I’ll score 200 points before you do.” This is a straightforward type of bet that’s easy for all parties to understand and take part in.

You can start to complicate things as much as you want.

It’s easy to imagine someone playing a game of Texas 42 for $5 a mark, hoping to put a lot of distance between themselves and their opponent to increase the point differential and, therefore, the profit.

It’s also easy to imagine a simple game of street bones played along those same lines – say $1 per point, with payouts taking place after each round or after a set number of rounds.

Online dominoes for real money is a big deal these days, allowing for tournament play, individual head-to-head cash games, and even free play to practice and hone your skills. In these formats, the most common way to play for cash is heads-up, in which each player pays an ante, and the winner takes all.

Is Playing Dominoes for Money Legal?

In most cases, playing dominoes for money is legal.

Even in states where this kind of gambling may not be explicitly legal, if you set your game up properly and follow a few basic rules, you’re unlikely to get caught, mostly because nobody outside of your game will even know what you’re doing.


In two dozen states, no form of betting on a game of chance or skill is legal. In places like Hawaii and Utah, this includes a total ban on casino gambling.

Obviously, in those states, betting on dominoes means breaking the law, and if you do it in public, you run the risk of getting caught and prosecuted for illegal gambling.

However, in most parts of the United States, betting on the outcome of a private game of dominoes is legal, provided the game takes place in private, the host doesn’t profit from hosting the game, and everyone involved is of general legal gambling age.

Just be sure to always check your country and state gambling laws.


Playing dominoes for money is an informal way to add an element of risk and thrill to that same-old boring family game of Texas 42.

In most cases, betting on the outcome of dominoes is totally legal, and even if you live in one of the two dozen or so US states that outlaws social gambling, you’re unlikely to get caught or prosecuted for betting $20 on the outcome of a game of dominoes between you and your awkward third cousin.

Petko Stoyanov
Get in touch with Petko
About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.