The History and Evolution of the Baccarat Game

Baccarat History Header

Ever wondered where a game like baccarat comes from or how it evolved? Well, wonder no more! Let us take you on a brief but detailed overview of baccarat casino game history.

The Baccarat casino card game has become an extremely popular title over the past decade. While it enjoys a steeped history, its player base has exploded recently. Its sudden growth is probably due to the increased interest in the game among high rollers at online casinos.

The easy-to-grasp baccarat strategy, rules, and elementary mechanics make it a simple game to learn and play. More and more gamers are figuring this out, dispelling the old misconception that it is a complicated card title.  While the baccarat casino table game may not be as well known as blackjack, poker, and other prominent casino card games, it has a long history and a rich culture.

What is Baccarat?

Baccarat, known as baccara outside of the UK and the USA, is a card game that is commonly associated with gambling. The aim of the game is to land the hand closest to the value of 9 (a natural).

There are two prominent versions of the game that have evolved over baccarat casino history:

  1. Chemin de Fer (known affectionately as Chemmy): This is a game where players at a table compete against one another for the best hand. Each player, in turn, has a chance to be the banker.
  2.  Punto Banco: This is the most popular baccarat game variant at both land-based and online casinos. Here, all players at the table play head-to-head with the dealer, who is the sole banker in the game.

Unlike other casino games, baccarat gives you the unique opportunity to wager on one of three outcomes. You can bet for the banker to win, for the player to win, or for a tie outcome. There are also various other side bets available, which vary from game to game and baccarat casino to baccarat casino. It is, therefore, the only game whereby you can bet against the player’s hand. Of course, if you win while betting on the banker’s hand, you will have to pay a commission of the takings to the house.

To learn to play the game effectively, you will need to study both the rules and keen baccarat strategy. It all starts by learning the assigned baccarat casino card values. There is little skill involved in making your game decisions, but a good knowledge of the odds-on various options will stand you in good stead to benefit regularly when playing.

Card Players 18th Century

Card Players in the beginning of the 18th Century by Leclerc. Published on Magasin Pittoresque, Paris, 1850.

Baccarat History

Baccarat history is not as clear-cut as we would like. There is strong contention that the game originated in France, because of its early prominence there. However, a more likely genesis of the title ties back to Italy in the 1400s.

It is widely believed that the game of baccara was based on the old Etruscan legend of a virgin who had to throw a nine-sided die to determine her eternal fate. If she threw an 8 or a 9, she would inherit glory (also the top hand in baccarat). If she threw a 6 or 7, she could live (also a strong hand in baccarat). But if she threw anything worse, she would be banished to the sea to drown (less than 6 is a weak baccarat casino hand). While the tale is a little frightening, it obviously made an impression upon baccarat’s creators. I mean, the outcomes of the story seem to correlate perfectly with the possible outcomes in the baccarat casino card game. However, the card game’s results are far less severe than the fate of the virgin.

Games of Influence in Early Baccarat History

Often popular games find inspiration in older games. There are two titles that could be the early ancestors of baccarat. These cannot be ignored in our investigation of baccarat history. The first was a Roman dice game, whereby players who threw a 9 or an 8 would receive prizes for their luck.

The other is a Chinese game, called ‘Pai Gow’. While Pai Gow is still popular today, its history pre-dates baccarat and may very well have been an inspiration for the newer game. Translated into English, Pai Gow means “make nine”. While the Chinese variant uses tiles with symbols on them, it shares certain principles with the baccarat card game.

Flag of Italy

Italian Routes in Baccarat Casino History

Most notable historians seem to trace baccarat back to medieval gambling times in Italy. Here, it was said to have been created by a man by the name of Felix Falguiere. He allegedly named the game baccara, which is the Italian word for “Zero”. It is most likely that it received this name because of all the zero-value card rankings found in the deck. All the tens and face cards are worth nil.

Flag of France

The French Effect on Baccarat History

The French were the next to inherit the game towards the end of the 15th Century. It was brought back by soldiers who engaged in battles against the Italian armies of the time. It became very popular among France’s royal aristocracy and nobility. They even developed their own brand of the game – “A Deux Tableaux” or Baccarat Banque.

The game became quite prominent among French gaming halls and casinos, too. However, when Louis Phillipe the 1st banned gambling houses in 1837, a newer variant of the game was developed for people to play informally amongst each other. This is where Chemin de Fer comes onto the scene. The game’s name literally means “railway” in French, showcasing the fact that it was a popular game among the nobles on long train voyages.

Flag of Great Britain

British Evolution of the Game

The game spread across Europe, landing in the United Kingdom. Here, it became the center of a scandal in 1891. Sir William Gordon-Cumming filed a case for slander against Arthur Wilson for accusing him of cheating while playing baccarat. The scandal was amplified by the fact that the baccarat casino game was declared illegal in 1886 – 5 years prior to the incident. Many noble figures appeared in court as witnesses in the debacle. The public interest in the dispute brought baccarat to the fore, publicizing a game that was not well-known until that point.

Even Ian Fleming was a fan of the game and a notable baccarat casino influencer by way of his famous casino novel. He added baccarat among one of the many skills that his famous spy character, James Bond, had. You can read all about Bond’s skills at the game in the book, Casino Royale. While the 007 casino movie of the same name showcases a poker game in 2006, the original book and 1967 movie depicted baccarat as the game Bond was engaged in, not poker.

Star Spangled Banner - Flag of the USA

American High Roller Option

Baccarat was first mentioned in American literature in the New York Times in 1871. It struggled for popularity there amidst the craps and roulette craze. So much so that it was not even mentioned in the bill that legalized gambling in 1931. The 1967 release of the Casino Royale film seemed to attract attention for the game in the US again. This, therefore, prompted notable casinos to rethink the offering on their floors.

Even with the introduction of the renowned Punto Banco variant of the game, the entire Vegas strip only offered 15 baccarat casino tables in total throughout the 1970s.

Punto Banco – A Defining Moment in Baccarat History

Baccarat enthusiasts out there will recognize the term “punto banco” immediately. Translated as “player and banker,” this version of the game is now the most popular of all. It dominates both the casino floors and online casinos around the world.

It’s a relatively new version of the game but has made big ripples in the timeline of baccarat casino history. It originates from Havana, Cuba in the 1950s and comes loaded with multiple side bets and other exciting stake options.

Mobile Baccarat Interface

Modern Baccarat Mobile Interface

The Modern Baccarat Experience

Today, the trends in baccarat history are almost being rewritten. The game is a hot prospect at land-based casinos in Macau, where it generates more than any other title thanks to its Chinese fan base. However, they bring superstitious rituals with them that you won’t see in Vegas.

Scott Milburn, the Vice president of table games at City Dreams Casino in Macau said:

“We have 70 percent of our floor space of mass-market dedicated to baccarat tables.”

The other place that baccarat is excelling is online. Even live casino game providers, like Evolution Gaming and others, provide multiple titles in their library that appeal to their fast-growing audiences. A good percentage of the players that enjoy baccarat are high rollers, making it the perfect game for those with loaded wallets. Nowadays, baccarat casinos are a dime a dozen in states like Mississippi, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Nevada. It seems like the game has gained traction and is here to stay.


Sean van der Merwe

Sean is a senior writer at PokCas. He is an Entertainment, Gaming & Cryptocurrency News Reporter. He has more than 5 years of full-time writing experience.