We’re back with our Fascination of the Game blog series and we thought we’d treat you to a history of Baccarat, one of the oldest card games around, yet one which is still hugely popular across the world today. There’s plenty to unpack, so no time to mess around here. Let’s dive in.
There’s been some dispute over the exact origins of Baccarat, with many claiming that it dates all the way back to medieval Italy. It’s said to have been created by a man named Felix Falguiere in the 1480s from a deck of tarot cards as a game for the elites. It’s said that because all the 10s and face cards were zero, he named the game ‘Baccara’, which was thought to be the word for ‘zero’ in some Italian dialects at the time.
The game is believed to be based on a legend from Ancient Rome of nine gods, who prayed to a blonde virgin to determine her fate by throwing a nine-sided die. An 8 or 9 would make her a priestess, while a 6 or 7 meant she was no longer permitted to take part in any future religious events. If she threw anything lower than a 6, she would be banished to walk into the sea and drown. Luckily, this isn’t the policy in modern casinos!
The reality of how Baccarat came about is a little hazy, but if one thing’s for certain, France had a lot to do with its enduring popularity. It’s believed that it may have been introduced there after the Franco-Italian War towards the end of the 15th century. Prior to the legalisation of casino gambling in 1907, French nobility would regularly recline in private gaming rooms and indulge in a game of Baccarat.
As for the UK, Baccarat first popped up in the English language on 13th January 1866 in the Daily Telegraph. After this, the game began to get traction in both the UK and the USA. This gained momentum when Ian Fleming wrote his first James Bond book in 1953, Casino Royale. The plot centres around a high-stakes game of Baccarat, and Bond’s clear role in the upper echelons of society further cemented the idea of Baccarat as a game for the high-class. Smooth.
There are three popular forms of Baccarat, and the first to emerge was the 3-person game Baccarat Banque, in which the house is the bank. The second to emerge was Chemin de Fer or ‘Chemmy’, a 2-person version, where the bank passes from player to player. Here in the UK – as well as the United States, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Finland, and Macau, for that matter – the vast majority of casino baccarat played is the third variant of baccarat, known as Punto Banco.
In Punto Banco, the bank appears to pass from player to player but is actually held by the house. This version was developed in Havana, Cuba in the 1940s, with ‘Punto’ meaning ‘Player’ and ‘Banco’ meaning ‘Bank’. It quickly gained traction across casinos in South America, and once it was discovered by Tommy Renzoni during a visit to Argentina’s Mar del Plata casino, he promptly imported it to Las Vegas at the end of the 1950s.
In 1959, the Sands in Vegas opened a Punto Banco table…and the casino notoriously lost a whopping $250,000 on its opening night. Instead of abandoning the game, the casinos persisted, and soon enough the game began to generate profit.
By the 1970s, however, there were still only 15 Baccarat tables on the entire Vegas strip. This was seen not so much as a failure, but as a marketing opportunity that enabled Baccarat to stick to its roots and serve as a glamorous game for high rollers. While forms of gambling like slots or roulette were widespread in popularity, Baccarat was almost exclusively targeted at the rich and famous. It was common for casinos to hold Baccarat games in private rooms with velvet curtains and luxurious leather chair, always running the game with high minimum bets.
Thanks to the explosion of online gambling in recent years, Baccarat is now a much more inclusive game, as players can now play at any time, in any place. That being said, there’s still a huge market for Baccarat in land-based casinos, particularly in Asia. Macau is considered the Baccarat hotspot of the world – in 2017, the city’s casinos made an astonishing 88% of their $33.2 billion from the game alone, outdoing Las Vegas itself!
Of course, at Grosvenor we have plenty of Live Baccarat tables for you to enjoy against our high qualified dealers – all without leaving your home. Play at varying paces and with different side bet rules for a truly unique experience.