Baccarat is one of the most popular card games in online and land-based casinos worldwide. This classic game of chance doesn’t have complicated rules and involves two players — the dealer and the banker.
Each round has three possible outcomes: banker, player, and tie. There are several ways to play this game, including:
- Punto banco
- Baccarat Banque
- Chemin de fer
While some of you may have heard of it only recently, the game has a rich history that dates back more than 600 years.
Without further ado, let’s discuss the origins and evolution of baccarat and how it became an internationally popular game.
Baccarat Early Origins
Although baccarat is one of the oldest casino classics, its origins remain murky. The first record of the game we play today dates back to the 19th century, but it existed for a few centuries before that.
Some historians associate the early baccarat with non-card games, like pai gow, played in China in the 1300s. But this game used tiles, not cards. Some think there is a correlation between the game’s name (make nine) and the best score in baccarat, which is also nine. However, there is no historical evidence to confirm it.
Others presume that the baccarat’s roots go back to Ancient Rome, where a nine-sided dice was used in various activities. Vestal virgins played the game, and their destiny depended on the number on the dice.
Higher numbers like eight and nine meant they survived and could become a high priestess. Although the game had to do with the number nine, it was a dice, not a card game.
Baccarat in Italy and France
Card games were not so common before the invention of the printing press, as making them involved hand-painting every single card.
Once the printing press was invented, card games became widely spread, with other games adapted to suit card play. Baccarat was one of them.
Some consider Italy as baccarat’s birthplace. In the 1300s, tarocchi, a tarot variant often considered a predecessor of all card games, gained popularity.
There was also Macao, a game that dates back to the 17th century. Played to a total of nine, it resembles modern baccarat and is often referred to as Italian baccarat.
An Italian man Felix Falguiere first developed the rules for the modern version of baccarat in the 15th century.
Many believe that Falguiere drew most of his inspiration from games like Macao and le her. The latter was a game in which players drew cards from a deck, and the one with the highest rank would be the winner.
Falguiere named it baccara, the Italian word for zero because the tens and face cards had zero value. Following its rise in popularity in France, the French spelling of baccarat became the norm.
Baccarat arrived in France thanks to the soldiers who brought it home following the Franco-Italian War during the 1490s.
Over time, the game evolved into two popular variations — baccarat Banque and chemin de fer, quickly becoming popular with the French nobility.
Although there are no documents to prove it, chemin de fer (railway) started garnering attention after the first railroad opened in France in 1832.
Yet, the first publication mentioning baccarat was Charles Van-Tenac’s mathematical analysis of the game “Album des Jeux’’ in 1847. And the first document that included the word baccarat in an English-speaking country was the UK’s Daily Telegraph in 1886.
Baccarat Lands in the United States
No one is certain when this casino classic crossed the Atlantic and reached American soil. At first, 1911 was regarded as the first year baccarat was played in the US. But that idea was soon abandoned as newspaper articles proved people enjoyed it decades before.
During the 1940s, Havana’s casinos were the hotspot for punto banco.
Contrary to chemin de fer and baccarat Banque, where players had the option of simply playing among themselves, punto banco would set players against the house directly for a series of bets during every round. Consequently, it quickly established itself as the preferred baccarat format on this side of the globe.
In contrast, chemin de fer only started gaining attention after being played at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1958. But it wasn’t until Tommy Renzoni introduced a new version of baccarat — punto banco, to Las Vegas in 1959 that this classic became a major casino game.
Renzoni discovered punto banco while visiting the Mar del Plata casino in Argentina and informed several establishments of its existence.
The Las Vegas Sands didn’t wait long before it opened its first punto banco table in November 1959. The opening night was a complete fiasco and resulted in the house losing $250,000.
However, the shaky start didn’t cause the owners to remove the game from the gambling floor. And they were not wrong since punto banco regained its glory during the 1970s.
Since there were only 15 tables on the entire Vegas Strip, finding a seat was challenging. The game became exclusive to the rich and famous who played it in VIP rooms hidden from the public eye.
It’s worth mentioning that the Vegas Strip punto banco was different from the variant Renzoni had brought from Argentina. The initial version featured natural hand side bets, didn’t have tie bets, and the casinos accepted cash instead of chips. However, after some banks refused to accept the bills covered in wax, baccarat tables started operating with chips.
In the past, every baccarat game had four dealers. Each player had the opportunity to be the banker, and the players could bet against the house or each other.
There is only one dealer in baccarat today, and players can bet against the house, which also acts as the banker.
The online casino industry emerged in the 1990s, which contributed a lot to the popularity of baccarat. It made the game accessible to millions around the globe.
What’s more, in the 2010s, it attracted more players online than any other casino game.
Baccarat is now a widespread game to the extent that every reputable casino features at least one variation in its gaming catalog. Those are either:
- VIP Baccarat
- Super 6 Baccarat
- EZ Baccarat
- Other popular variations we have previously discussed
The advancement of technology allows players to enjoy baccarat games in crisp graphics and intuitive interface regardless of the device they use. Plus, baccarat stakes are usually lower when playing online.
Despite the widespread baccarat popularity online, this casino staple is still a favorite in brick-and-mortar venues worldwide, particularly in Asia.
Image by: Charlie fong, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Macau has become the new baccarat hub outdoing Las Vegas in generating profit from this game. In 2017, Macau casinos reported revenues of $33,2 billion, with 88% coming from baccarat, while in 2020, 73% of profits came entirely from VIP Baccarat.
In addition, a few eminent baccarat tournaments with large prizes, such as the World Series of Baccarat and the Baccarat Tournament of Champions, regularly garner attention from a broad audience.
Baccarat in Popular Culture
It is no surprise that certain prominent individuals and events may contribute to a game’s popularity. Baccarat was brought into the spotlight a few times thanks to movies and controversies.
The game received particular attention in the UK after being part of the royal scandal. After being accused of cheating during the baccarat game hosted by Arthur Wilson, Sir William Gordon-Cumming filed a writ for slander against five members of the host family and named the Prince of Whales as a witness. This was quite controversial because baccarat was illegal at the time, and an heir first in line to the throne had to appear in court.
The public became so intrigued by the game, and the press eventually started publishing the rules and information on how to play it.