Baccarat Gaming

The history of baccarat

Written by Pai Yao

This article first appeared in the Nov 2009 (pre-launch) and Mar/Apr 2010 issues of World Gaming magazine.

The origin of modern day baccarat is still debated from country to country. The most common belief is that the game originated in Italy. Then the French embraced baccarat and made it their own with the Americans transforming baccarat into the game we know today. Finally the Chinese made it the biggest table-gambling game in the world.

The word baccarat means zero in both Italian and French so the name doesn’t really help us in determining the origin of the game. The Italians claim that baccarat was invented by Italian gambler, Felix Falguiere in the Middle Ages and he played it with tarot cards not with playing cards. The story goes that the game was based on an old Etruscan ritual of nine gods, who prayed on their tip toes to a blonde virgin and waited for her to throw a nine-sided dice. If she threw an eight or a nine she would become a priestess; if she threw a six or a seven she would be banished and if she threw any number less than six she would walk into the sea. This really has nothing to do with baccarat as we know it today, but it is an interesting story nonetheless!

What we do know for sure is that a game known as baccarat found its way into the gambling dens of the French aristocracy centuries ago. The French would embrace the game for hundreds of years before it became the modern day casino game that we all love today.

There is a French version of the game known as chemin de fer. In this version of the game the casino operates as the controller and moderator and simply takes a commission for their service. This makes the game similar to poker for the casino as they don’t actually lay any bets themselves. For this to be profitable the game was played only by the rich and the stakes were very high. Baccarat became popular in England and in South America and finally Tommy Renzoni brought the game to the US in the late 1950s after the Cuban government closed the Havana Casinos around the same time.

The problem with the original game was that it was complicated to run and you needed a group of players all looking to wager a similar amount of money. The game took up a lot of space and casinos were not simply happy to act as controllers; they wanted to be in on the action. This is where the term mini baccarat was coined and the game we enjoy today was born. It was called mini because the table used was a lot smaller than the huge tables that were used in the other previous forms of the game.

What was then called mini baccarat is now known simply as baccarat, although the expressions mini-baccarat, midi-baccarat and big baccarat are sometimes used by casinos to describe the format of the game and size of the table. All big baccarat games and some midi-baccarat games are “squeeze games”, meaning the players are allowed to hold and squeeze the cards, slowly revealing the hand’s value with high drama. This is a big part of the game, especially in high stakes baccarat. The game is played in casinos all over the world but the epicentre of the game is certainly Macau where it is the most popular table game by a significant margin. Baccarat accounts for nearly 90 percent of all gaming revenue in Macau.