Baccarat, at least in America, has never quite risen to the widespread popularity of games like blackjack and roulette. However, what was once a game meant for only the elite, has been adapted so that anyone can play, and thus, it’s attracting more players than ever before.
What can’t be ignored is the history that surrounds this game, which so few fully understand. Any casino enthusiast should be well-versed in their baccarat history knowledge, but for many, that isn’t the case.
In this article, I’ll lay out some interesting facts about baccarat that both new players and seasoned veterans can appreciate.
1 – Its Name Has Changed Based on the Location
As mentioned, baccarat was originally a game designed for the rich who had deep pockets. In its earliest iterations, it was a zero-sum game and players actually took (and gave) money to each other through their wins and losses.
Going way back to gambling history, it should be pointed out that the very first version of the game was known as baccarat banque (banque, as in French for bank). The player who was designated the banker was in charge of paying out winning players and collecting losses.
The “baccarat banque” version was played in Europe during the majority of the 1700s. Then, it evolved the first time. The next version? Chemin de fer in France during the 1800s.
The main difference between the two is that no longer was one player tasked with the banking responsibilities for the entire table. In fact, if you see a game where players are passing around a big shoe, you’re witnessing this French version of the game.
Now, Americans have actually adopted a third version of the game that has origins in another area of the world: Cuba.
Because casinos in Havana knew that much of their clientele wasn’t going to be able to afford the high-stakes version of baccarat, they implemented a version of the game called punto banco. The goal of punto banco was to create a game that felt like baccarat, but did away with the pretentious rituals that most players deemed unnecessary in the first place.
The result was a version that no longer relied on player-banking, but now adopted the more traditional house-banking practice in which players bet against the casino. Another aspect of the game that was different is that players no longer passed around the dealing show, and a regular dealer was implemented.
In the end, Americans decided this was the best way to play. Today, you’ll find this punto blanco version of the game in casinos under the name “mini baccarat.”
2 – It Might Be Derived From an Awful Religious Tradition
Many of those who have studied the origins of the game trace it back to Italy sometime around the 15th century, at least 200 years before we have documentation of it first being played for fun.
Unfortunately, this earlier 15th century version was more of a life-or-death proposition for those involved. Experts say that a virgin was the subject of the game and given a chance to roll. If she rolled an eight or a nine, she was exalted to a higher position in the church order. If she rolled a six or a seven, it was clear that she was not worthy and was exiled from the church.
Finally, if the virgin in question was not able to roll higher than a six, the worst fate awaited. She was executed instantly and thrown into the sea.
Now, I won’t make any definite assertions about whether or not these rituals were the first hands of baccarat. But the numbers involved (not to mention the gamble) make for a pretty convincing argument.
3 – It’s Relatively New in America
As you’ve learned, baccarat has roots that go back 400 years, and possibly even a few centuries earlier than that. With that being said, it hasn’t been played in the US for a long time at all.
It wasn’t until 1959 that baccarat made its debut in Las Vegas. It was said that the casinos did not think it was a profitable enough game to require widespread implementation. On its first night at Sands Casino, the first casino to adopt the game, the house lost $250,000.
Keep this $250,000 that the casino lost in mind. Later in the article, I’ll share the numbers for how much the casinos are making off the game today.
4 – The Name Doesn’t Mean or Sound Like What You’d Think
Whereas blackjack and other casino games get their name from the highest possible hand, baccarat is the exact opposite.
Baccarat is actually named after the worst hand that you could possibly get in the game, a zero. This is believed to have been derived from the Italian Falguiere’s game (the one with the virgins), and was initially named “baccara” which was the old-world Italian word that meant zero.
Interestingly enough, once the game made its way over to France a couple centuries later, the name was given that French flourish that has made their language widely known, even to those who have never spoken a word.
In America, most of the pronunciations you hear will sound like the ending is “rat,” the actual pronunciation is with an ending that sounds like “rah.” The “t” at the end gets no love and is completely silent.
This knowledge won’t help you win any money, but it will gain you a little bit of respect by the casino staff when you ask where the tables are located.
5 – It Can Be Played Online
Don’t want to leave the couch to wager on a game of baccarat for yourself? No problem, the future is here!
Although the game isn’t perfectly adaptable to the real money online casino world like blackjack or poker, you can still find several platforms that offer a live dealer which allows you to play virtually. It might feel a little strange to be watching someone deal through a camera, while betting virtual (but also very real) chips on the action.
Just know that if you’ve always been one to play casino games in person, you should get familiar with the differences of online gaming and read through these tips before logging on.
6 – It’s Extremely Valuable to the House
Baccarat is known for its participating from high rollers. Often times, these are visitors from Asian countries who have deep pockets, and love taking risks. But does that mean the casinos are reaping the benefits? The short answer is, “absolutely.”
As you would probably expect, slots take the top spot for the most profitable games for the house. Honestly, it isn’t even close.
While penny slots are the casino’s highest-earner at $3.3 billion (in 2018, in Nevada), baccarat comes in at a surprising number two at $1.2 billion. This might come as a surprise to some, who would estimate that more popular games like blackjack or craps would account for more earnings.
Now, blackjack isn’t too far behind as it came in at $1.2 billion. However, craps lagged way behind at $386 million.
So, why does baccarat earn so much if it doesn’t seem as popular? As I mentioned before, it comes down to the clientele. Big bets equal big earnings for the house.
Baccarat has an almost mythological quality to it, especially when you consider its history. A game that was born in Italy, refined in France, slightly revised by Cuba, and finally, made more popular by Asians, is one of the more interesting fixtures on the casino floor.
For all its traditions and rich history, it’s actually an easy game to play. Don’t worry if you aren’t looking to bet your life savings either, there are plenty of lower-risk options you can find at your favorite gaming establishment.
My advice? Give it a try! The game is popular for a reason, and you just may enjoy it.