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Home > History of Baccarat


The History of Baccarat

Baccarat appears to have been invented by Felix Falguiere in Italy in the 15th century, although there is a claim that it originated from France. The name is derived from the Italian word “baccara”, meaning zero, in reference to the zero value of face cards and tens in the game.

The game was originally played with Tarot cards, and it has been suggested that it may have been invented to represent an ancient mythical Etruscan ritual wherein a blond virgin cast a nine-sided die to decide her fate. Baccarat found favor in the French court in the 16th century, and became the preferred game amongst the nobility of that country.

For a while it was played exclusively by the ruling class, who called it “chemin de fer”, which is French for “railroad”. This was colloquially shortened to “chemmy”. It is closely related to the baccarat played today in US casinos – the main difference being that one of the players acts as the bank. Chemin de fer caught on in England, where some rule changes were introduced and the name changed to European baccarat. From England it spread to South America, specifically Argentina.

It became immensely popular among well-heeled locals. When the game reached Cuba, another rule change was introduced: whereas previously players had placed bets between themselves, the Capri Casino in Havana allowed players to bet against the house instead. It was here that Francis "Tommy" Renzoni “discovered” the game. On leaving Cuba he moved to Nevada, where he was instrumental in getting The Sands Hotel to introduce baccarat. Allegedly Frank Sinatra also had a hand in this, as part owner of the Sands.

The atmosphere created at the Sands was one of exclusivity and sophistication, hearkening back to the days when baccarat was the province of the French nobility. The baccarat area was roped off and dealers were dressed in tuxedos. It was also made obvious that the game was for high rollers only. As a result, it was slow to take off with the average casino gambler, who initially found this all a bit unapproachable. However baccarat has gradually became more and more popular over the past 50 years, helped by casinos offering “Mini Baccarat”, which is played on a standard blackjack table, for lower stakes. Traditional baccarat is still played in a separate area in the casino.

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