The History of Baccarat

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An illustration of early 18th-century card players.
BetMGM Oct 20, 2023, 6:15 AM

Baccarat is one of the most popular casino table games played in USA online casinos today. It’s easy to play, has an attractively low house edge, and received a shot in the arm when it was depicted as “a passion” of the most famous baccarat player in the world, James Bond, in four of the famous franchise movies. But did you know that baccarat has been around for hundreds of years?

Take a look at the fascinating history of baccarat, all the way from ancient China through to Europe and the USA. 

Back to the Beginning

While the precise origins of baccarat are uncertain, at least two similar games were played in the ancient world. 

Baccarat in China

A paper titled “The History of Baccarat,’ ”from the Center of Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, describes how it may have been possible that baccarat was influenced by the Chinese game Pai Gow, a game played in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 BCE.) Instead of cards, Pai Gow was played with tiles similar to those used in dominoes. Pai Gow means “make nine.” Since nine is the best score in baccarat, there seems to be a strong possibility that Pai Gow is one of the earliest forms of baccarat.

Baccarat in Europe

The same paper also discusses how baccarat may have been influenced by the Roman ritual that used a nine-sided dice to decide whether a Vestal Virgin (a priestess who worshiped the virgin goddess Vesta) would ascend to the position of high priestess, lose her Vestal Virgin status or be forced to walk into the sea and drown. The connection to this game is believed to be that of the number nine on the dice, which rewarded the Vestal Virgin with the title of high priestess (as does the number eight.)

If the Asian connection is correct, it’s further believed that Pai Gow was brought to Italy after Marco Polo returned from his famous travels around China. Fast-forward to 15th-century Rome, and you’ll learn that Italy is where the game of baccara, meaning “zero,” was created by Italian croupier and tarot card reader Felix Falguierein. It was named “baccara” because all the face cards and tens had the value of zero.

It became popular in 19th-century France at the court of King Charles VIII, who enjoyed the game so much that he introduced it to aristocrats and the nobility. In its early form, it was called Chemin de Fer and later “Chemmy,” as its popularity spread throughout France, where it was played for centuries.

French travelers brought Chemin de Fer to England, where the game quickly caught on and eventually spread to Argentina, Cuba, and the U.S.

Baccarat in the USA

“The History of Baccarat” describes how other authors who researched the origins of baccarat in the USA describe how it arrived in the country in 1911 but was played illegally in the early 20th century. However, it couldn’t compete with more popular casino games such as craps and blackjack. The author of “The History of Baccarat” found mention of the game being played in New York State much earlier. An 1871 New York Times article mentions a “Baccarat board,” while another New York Times article makes mention of the game in 1899, although this time, it was due to several Frenchmen being arrested for playing it illegally. 

While it may have been illegal to play this game in New York state in the late 19th century, this was not the case in Nevada in the mid-20th century. “The History of Baccarat” names Francis “Tommy” Renzoni as the person credited with bringing Punto Banco, the version of baccarat everyone knows and loves, to Las Vegas from Havana, Cuba, in the 1950s. It was quickly taken up by players on the lookout for the best casino games to play.

How Is Baccarat Played Today

Baccarat is a casino game that has changed over time. Today, the casino card game rules include betting on whether “the player” or “the banker” will end up with a card value closest to nine. Players can also bet on a tie. Cards are passed from one player to the next, moving counter-clockwise, with the player holding the box (called the “shoe”) representing the banker. Four cards are dealt and placed face down. Two cards are given to the player whose bet was the highest on the player’s hand, while the other two cards go to the banker. Once the player who received the two cards has looked at them, they’re passed to the dealer and the value of the hand is announced. The same procedure is followed for banker’s cards. The hand that is closest to a total of nine, wins.

When it comes to placing bets, there are three main options that you can bet on (as well as a range of side bets): the banker, the player and a tie bet. If you guess correctly, you’ll be paid out for your wager. 

Virtual Baccarat

Those who play casino games are aware of the convenience of playing games on a desktop, tablet or mobile device. After introducing baccarat to the online casino offering, many more people have taken up the game.

While the online version has a few differences, it retains all the elements that fans have come to know and love. The cards are dealt by a random card generator and shown on the screen in their graphical form and the virtual layout of the baccarat table has clearly marked areas for the player’s and banker’s deal as well as the draw or “tie” option. Other than that, the classic baccarat casino card game rules remain the same.

A slightly newer development was the introduction of live dealer casino games in the mid-2000s. These games involve a real-life dealer and other players, with the action live-streamed from a casino-like studio setting to your chosen device. Your real-time experience is further enhanced by a chat function that lets players communicate with the dealer via a chat box. While you can’t message other players directly, you can see the dealer’s response to their remarks and questions.

As for the future of baccarat, the number of game variations is likely to increase. Right now, in addition to American Roulette, you can play Baccarat Professional Series, First Person Baccarat, Live Baccarat, and more. There are also constant developments in the areas of AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) and how this technology can be applied to baccarat for an enhanced player experience.

The Online Home of Baccarat and Other Casino Games

Baccarat is just one of many online casino games with a fascinating history. BetMGM continues to bring you all the old favorites and many new games, always with an eye on current and future developments. If you’re interested in learning how to play casino card games or you’re after the best online gaming experience around, simply register with BetMGM to join in the fun.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.