Baccarat - the Players' Game

Baccarat is generally regarded as the number one casino game in the world. Baccarat has been a staple of the Grande Vegas Casino and for many years. Since the waning years of the 20th century, the popularity of all variations of baccarat has skyrocketed, particularly in Asia and in America. In 2014 almost 91% of Macau casinos’ total income came from Punto Banco, the most popular variant of the baccarat game.

Casino managers are conflicted about baccarat. They are happy to provide their patrons with the games that they enjoy but baccarat offers a low house edge and the potential for the player to walk away with huge winnings from just one hand. Casinos struggle to find ways to leverage the game to their benefit.

Baccarat has become the game that casinos love to hate.

About Baccarat

There are 3 different variations of the basic baccarat game – Punto Banco, baccarat banque and baccarat chemin de fer.

The main difference between these three game types is that Punto Banco is a game of pure chance while baccarat banque and baccarat chemin de fer involve choices made by both the player and the house. In these 2 baccarat variations, the odds of winning favor the dealer, though the house edge never goes below 1%. 

All three game variations have three possible outcomes: the banker wins, the player wins or there’s a tie. In all baccarat variants, the cards are assigned a specific value or point:

- Aces are treated as one

- Cards from 2 to 9 are valued at face value

- Tens and face cards (jacks, queens, and kings) have zero value

When calculating the final points of a hand, the rightmost digit of the sum of the dealt cards is used. So, if you’re dealt a 2 and 3, your hand is worth 2+3 = 5 points. However, a hand consisting of a 5 card and a 7 card would be equal to 12 points which means that, since the rightmost digit of the sum total of 12 is 2, you’d have 2 points. The goal is to get a sum total of 9 and whichever hand has closest to 9 – banker or player -- wins.

Growth

Since 2006 casinos in Macau have made more money than casinos in any other country in the world. They report that 88 percent of their total take is from baccarat. Likewise with casinos in Singapore. Even in Las Vegas, which caters to a clientele that knows little about baccarat, 18% of total casino handle is from baccarat.

Bill Zender, who has worked as a consultant, casino dealer, and Nevada Gaming Control Agent, said that he’s seen baccarat grow considerably over the last 4 decades. “Before the influx of Asian players, to get people interested in the game, we really had to dress it up,” Zender said. “So you had the big double tables, dealers in tuxedos, and attractive women in evening gowns standing around. It was very James Bond.” 

According to Zender, Asian players have demonstrated that they prefer baccarat because it’s uniquely suited to their cultural preferences.

“The cards are shuffled, and they are put into the dealing shoe,” he explained “There is no hitting or standing for the player—it is all based on pre-determined rules. So they believe that their luck flows into the shoe. This is very important. It used to be that we would burn [discard] a card if a dealer made an error, but when we did that the Asian players would leave the table; they thought it ruined their luck. So we started saving the card and dealing a dummy hand instead.”

Simple and Problematic

Casinos tend to tuck baccarat tables in the corner. It’s an extremely simple game – the player chooses whether to bet on the “Banker” or the “Player” hand, then sits back while the dealer does the rest. The dealer follows a fixed set of rules to determine whether a third card is drawn, so the only decision that the player needs to make is how much to wager and on which hand to bet.

So why do casinos regard baccarat as problematic? The game has one of the lowest hold percentages of all casino games. The average house edge is approximately 1.2 percent on player and banker bets. (bets on ties have a larger house edge – over 14 percent).

The game is risky for the casino because, due to the thin house edge and the large amounts of money bet, there’s more of a chance for the casino to lose serious money than with other games. Betting limits are high, reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single hand. The casino could potentially make millions in a few hours – BUT they could also lose millions.

Advice

The game that started in Europe received a boost in Asia and has become more accessible than ever to American gamblers is risky for casinos. Most casino operators, however, have come to the conclusion that it’s not worth sending the baccarat enthusiasts, many of whom are high rollers, away.

Zender has some advice for casinos that want to offer baccarat but are wary of odds that favor the player. “The rule of thumb I tell them,” said Zender “is that your risk is 100 times your average bet. So if a guy is betting $10,000 a hand, he could conceivably win $1 million from you. That’s within two standard deviations, so it can happen.”

Some other games to consider if you’re looking for a game with a low house edge include:

  1. Single Deck Blackjack (house edge from 1.5%)
  2. Craps (house edge from 1.4% to 5%)
  3. Three-Card Poker (house edge from 1.5%)
  4. Video Poker (house edge from 0.5% to 5%)

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