A Game of Unclear Origins
While Baccarat may be one of the most popular games today, its origins are uncertain. The first written record of the game is as recent as the 19th century. However, historians have worked hard to trace its roots. Some believe that Baccarat may have partially been derived from a non-card game, such as the Chinese game of Pai Gow (which is played with tiles). This theory is mainly founded on the similarity between the meaning of Pai Gow (make nine) and nine being the strongest score in Baccarat. However, there is no solid evidence for it.
Another idea, which also relates to the number nine, traces Baccarat’s roots back to Ancient Rome and a ritual in which vestal virgins would roll dice to determine their fates. If they rolled 8 or 9 they would become a high priestess, 6 or 7 would mean that their status as a vestal virgin would be revoked, and any other number would mean that the woman would have to drown herself at sea. While it is an interesting theory, once again there is absolutely no solid evidence for it.
The best theory seems to be that Baccarat was developed in Italy. Many believe that the game was created in the 1400s by a man named Felix Falguiere or Falguierein. It was named ‘baccara’, Italian for ‘zero’, as all the tens and face cards were worth zero. Adding some weight to this theory is that there was another popular Italian game at the time called Macao that was played to the total of nine. This game is often called Italian Baccarat and it could be the source of the modern day game.
Baccara Goes French
Many people associate Baccarat with France and for a long time, the game has been spelt the French way (Baccarat not Baccara). It is believed that Baccarat was introduced to France by soldiers returning from the Italian conflicts in the 1490s. From there, the game soon became popular with the French nobility. There are actually a number of versions of Baccarat and Baccarat en Banque (Baccarat Deux Tableux) and the non-banking Chemin de Fer were very popular during the Napoleonic era. In fact, the games were so popular that even after Louis Phillip make casinos illegal in 1837, Baccarat continued to be played.
It is hard to pin point the origins of these two versions of Baccarat, but considering that Chemin de Fer means “railway”, it is assumed by many that this version became popular after the first railway was opened in France in 1832. However, there is no real evidence for this.
Baccarat Spreads Around the World
From France, it didn’t take long for Baccarat to spread to England and around Europe. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that Baccarat officially made it to the US. In fact, there are several gambling writers who claim that the first Baccarat game played in an American gambling establishment took place in 1911.
On the other hand, the first printed record of Baccarat being played in the US was in 1871. An article appeared in the New York Times that described a club house at Long Branch where visitors were said to be drawn to the “faro spread, the roulette table and the Baccarat board”. A second article in the New York Times, from 1899, detailed the arrest of 30 Frenchmen for playing Baccarat. This means that the game was being played in the US long before official games were taking place in gambling establishments.
Baccarat Grows in Popularity
As discussed, there is evidence of Baccarat being played in America towards the end of the nineteenth century. Despite this, the game was not mentioned in the Assembly Bill that legalised gambling in 1931. When the Sands opened its first Baccarat table in 1958, they offered Chemin de Fer. This non-banking game that sees the casino take a commission on winning bets is likely the game that Mark Twain was referring to when he said that he would have stayed playing at the table if he could have borrowed the dealer’s oar.
Over the years, Baccarat spread to more casinos in the US, but the game never really took off. Gamblers were far more interested in Blackjack and Craps. However, this changed in 1959 when Tommy Renzoni brought a new version of Baccarat, Punto Banco, to Las Vegas. Punto Banco was actually developed at the Mar del Plata casino in Argentina in the early 1950s. Sometimes referred to as American Baccarat, it is the game that you will be familiar with from playing online and it is the game that is most commonly found in land casinos around the world.
Punto Banco Spreads in Vegas
The first Punto Banco table opened in the Las Vegas Sands on November 20th 1959. The casino put a huge amount of effort into promoting it and the evening was full of traditional Vegas glamor. However, things didn’t end very well for the casino, which ended up losing roughly a quarter of a million dollars. Nonetheless, the casino owners chose to keep the new game and in the long run, it certainly made them a profit.
It was quite some time though before Baccarat lost its air of exclusivity. As late as the 1970s, there were just 15 Baccarat tables on the entire Vegas Strip, most of which were only open part time and they tended to have very high minimum bets. Often, they were the domain of the rich and famous, but not the average gambler.
Today, Baccarat can be found at the vast majority of casinos. While it is still a game favoured by high rollers, casinos will also have tables with very low minimum bets. As such, absolutely anyone can enjoy this elegant game that has such a rich history. Furthermore, the increase in online gambling has made Baccarat more accessible than ever before. It is easily to enjoy RNG and live dealer versions of the game from home, and there are online versions to suit every type of player.
While Baccarat en Banque and Chemin de Fer are still relatively obscure games that are mainly played in mainland European casinos, Punto Banco is a game recognised by all and loved across the world. Here at Spin Rio we have several versions of the game available, including in our live casino, o you can discover for yourself just how exciting the game is.