Macau is one of the major gambling hubs of the world. Known as the Monte Carlo of the Orient, this tiny, 30.5 km2 former Portuguese enclave (64 km west of Hong Kong, across the Pearl River Delta) pipped Las Vegas for the lead back in 2007, and the city’s casinos have never looked back since.
What drives Macau’s extraordinary success is casino table games, specifically baccarat. As far as Chinese gamblers are concerned, baccarat (pronounced “ba-car-a”) is far and away the best casino game in town, with a special atmosphere all its own. You can play baccarat in casinos worldwide, but you won’t capture the Macau experience unless you travel there.
Interested in learning more about baccarat’s connection to Macau? Here are seven things you should know about the baccarat culture of Macau.
1. Macau Gamblers Play Punto Banco
Baccarat in Macau comes in three major variations: baccarat banque, chemin-de-fer (as played by James Bond in “Dr. No” and “GoldenEye”), and punto banco. Punto banco (which translates directly to “player banker”) is the variant preferred by most gamblers in Macau, and the rules are very simple and easy to learn.
After the dealer shuffles six or eight decks of cards in a shoe, you place your bet on one of three table positions: banker, player, and tie. (There are also baccarat side bets, but more on those later.)
The dealer then deals two cards to the player’s and banker’s hands. The closest to 9 wins. Aces score 1, cards 2–9 scoring face value, and 10s and picture cards score zero. For a two-digit hand value, discard the first digit. For example, if you get a 7 and a 5 for a total of 12, you drop the first digit and get 2. A third card may be dealt depending on the hand totals. No further cards are drawn if the player’s or banker’s hand totals eight or nine. A third card is dealt if the player’s hand is 5 or less. After that, if the banker’s hand is 2 or less, they get a third card.
Bets are then resolved (banker bets and player bets have payout odds of ±100, while ties have payout odds of +800), and a new hand begins.
2. In Macau, Baccarat is More Popular Than Slots
There are many cities with incredible gambling culture, but Vegas and Macau are undoubtedly two gambling powerhouses. However, they are quite different despite being such gambling-focused cities.
If you go to Vegas, you’ll notice that most people playing casino games are seated at the slots. In fact, slots account for approximately 80% of total Vegas casino revenue. The rest are playing casino table games, mostly blackjack, followed by baccarat and roulette.
On the other hand, it’s all about baccarat for Macau gamblers. As the casino game of choice by a country mile, baccarat makes up more than 88% of Macau’s total gambling revenue, according to the Wizard of Macau, who refers to a source titled the “Smith Barney Macau Gaming Cheatsheet.” Another article on Medium.com titled “Is Casino Baccarat Legal in Macau?” shares how baccarat’s revenue was 87.6% of Macau’s total gross gaming revenue in 2019. At this point, it’s safe to say that there’s simply no other casino game that is more popular than baccarat in China.
Why is this simple card game so popular? Maybe it’s because baccarat is a casino table game with one of the lowest house edges. According to the math, the statistical disadvantage of a “banker bet” is a super-low 1.06%. The odds for a “player bet” are slightly less favorable, with a house edge of 1.24%. This discrepancy explains why winning banker bets incur a 5% commission, although you can play commission-free baccarat to avoid the commission. If you do, this shifts the odds in favor of the “player bet” as the banker house edge increases to 1.46% in the commission-free version. It could also be because of the history of baccarat, with baccarat likely being connected to the Chinese game Pai Gow, which uses tiles instead of cards but has the same goal as baccarat.
3. The Baccarat Squeeze
Watch Chinese baccarat players in Macau, and you’ll most likely see them perform the “baccarat squeeze.” They squeeze the cards between their fingers and lift the vertical end slightly for a peek at the suit and number, then rotate the card horizontally for another peek at the number. This ritual creases the cards, so they’re useless for another round, but Macau casinos tolerate it as part of the tradition. The squeeze doesn’t affect the game’s outcome, but it heightens the suspense at the table as the player chases the number 9. You can perform the squeeze for yourself online if you play Baccarat Live, one of the most innovative live dealer games on the market.
4. Baccarat Superstitions
Baccarat players of Macau are more interested in luck than working out the odds. Some players will blow on the cards in hopes of “blowing away” unlucky numbers. There’s also a widespread belief that luck (whether good or bad) is contagious.
Gamblers will walk around the casino looking for trends. If a player has a streak of three straight wins, they’ll bet for a fourth or fifth straight win. This creates a remarkable community spirit. If a player’s doing well, people will pack around the table and cheer, just like at a craps table in Las Vegas. Some casinos have installed computer monitors at their tables, each showing the winners of the last 20 or 30 rounds.
5. Baccarat Drives Innovation
With baccarat being as big as it is, it’s no surprise that the game’s also responsible for driving innovation in Macau’s casino industry. One example would be MGM Macau’s “Golden Chip” mystery progressive table game bonus. Launched in 2014 with a total prize pool of 8,888,888 Hong Kong dollars across linked tables (approximately $1,139,666 today), this jackpot can be triggered by any eligible player at any time.
This was a world first, as most progressive casino table games, such as Caribbean Stud, required a side bet (and still do). The jackpot, however, is only available to Golden Lion Club members. For less exclusive progressive jackpot options, try online casino games such as Loot’en Khamun, Book of Myths, Dragon’s Hoard, Luck O’ The Jackpot, or Melon Madness Deluxe.
6. Baccarat Side Bets
Side bets can add variety to all casino games, and baccarat is no exception, especially in Macau. The simplest side bets are any pair (dealt to the player or banker), banker pair, player pair, and perfect pair (same suit and rank). But there are many more. One of the most interesting is the Dragon Seven side bet. Here, you’d bet on the banker winning with a score of seven from a three-card hand. The odds of this happening are slim, which is why Dragon Seven payout odds are +4,000.
The most recent side bet to come out of Macau (in 2018) is called Lucky Six. This is a bet that the banker hand will win with a total of six. The payout odds are +1,200 if the banker’s hand contains two cards, and +2,000 if it contains three. The Lucky Six side bet has proven to be a popular side bet at baccarat tables around the world.
Regardless of which baccarat side bets you’re curious about, you should know they’re all high risk, but of course, that does come with the potential for high rewards.
7. Macau is a High-Roller Magnet
One noticeable difference between Vegas and Macau gambling is that the Asian gambling hub has much higher table limits. This is to satisfy high rollers from mainland China or Hong Kong — the types of players who sparked Macau’s casino boom in the first place. Bets of five or six figures per hand are not unusual. As a result, some casinos in Macau will accept baccarat wagers of as much as $500,000.
Bring Macau Home With BetMGM’s Live Casino Online
Macau is definitely worth a visit, but you needn’t book a flight to practice baccarat online. Register at BetMGM for the best online casino baccarat games, including First Person Baccarat and Baccarat Live.
You’ll also find great blackjack and roulette variations when you play BetMGM’s live casino games online. Poker tournaments are available, too, for those who prefer games with an element of skill. If you’re looking to play solo, feel free to explore BetMGM’s extensive online casino library of slots and RNG casino games.