Baccarat is one of the world’s most popular casino games, but it remains a mystery to many American gamblers. It traces its roots back to gambling salons in Italy and France, but it’s been on the rise in casinos over the past three decades. So much so that it now is the number two game behind blackjack, with a worldwide player base of more than a billion people.
The game is played with eight standard decks of cards that are shuffled together and dealt to a table with anywhere from seven to 14 seats for players and a dealer’s area. The object is to place a bet on whether the Player’s or Banker’s hand will total closer to nine. Picture cards and the tens carry a value of zero points; the rest of the numbers – from 2 through 9 – are worth their pip value, and the ace is worth a single point.
Traditionally, a Player’s and Banker’s hand are kept secret and only their third card (if drawn) is shown to the audience when the decisions are made. However, since the late 1970s, all bettors have been required to reveal their bets before the cards are dealt. With this information in hand, decision tables have been created to help players make the best bets based on the odds for each of the Player, Banker and Tie bets.
In its earliest days, Baccarat was a family business. The firm’s artisans produced some of the finest lead crystal glassware in Europe, and they were often commissioned to produce large vases for the Great Exhibitions of the 19th Century. These displays of industrial products drew the attention of illustrious patrons, including such luminaries as Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace and F. & C. Osler’s opulent chandeliers.
The modern era of Baccarat began in the mid-1960s when the game first was introduced in Las Vegas, just a year after chemin de fer came to town. The game had already been popular in Asian casinos and in a handful of US gambling salons. The popularity of the game grew in the 1980s as it became an integral part of high-roller casino offerings.
Commission-free baccarat streamlined the game and freed dealers from having to stop the game to make change like a paperboy, while mini-baccarat with lower stakes opened the door to mass play. Many older players still defend the ritual of keeping score and claiming that they can divine patterns and track “trends,” but basic number-crunching suggests that neither trends nor patterns – not to mention the color of the dealer’s underwear – can shift the balance in favor of either the banker or the player.
Despite this, there is no doubt that baccarat continues to attract new players. In fact, at G2E 2019, AGS unveiled a second-generation progressive system that can link all table games in a casino and offer a single shared jackpot. It’s an indication that the game may have some staying power as patron preferences and casino gaming technology evolve.