Baccarat is the most important game in Las Vegas. It accounts for nearly 30% of all gaming revenue in the state. You can see Sin City’s biggest players (the Whales) risking $100,000 a hand at Caesars Palace, Wynn, and Bellagio.
Those are some big bets. Even James Bond played baccarat in the early 007 movies. How cool is that?
“So,” you ask, “What’s the fuss?” To start with, the game is deceptively easy, and the house edge is a tiny 1%. A million-dollar swing in 10 minutes of play isn’t uncommon for a high roller, so there’s that.
And, the card game has an impressive history, likely named for an Italian game, Baccarat – which means zero – played for more than 500 years. But that’s confusing.
You see, although the game is known to most players as baccarat, the game usually played in Las Vegas casinos is really Punto Banco. Other forms of the game, including Chemin de Fer (Chemmy) and Baccarat Banque (sometimes called “à deux tableaux”) are also found in casinos.
There are 376 baccarat tables to choose from in Nevada. Of those, 360 are in Las Vegas and 331 are on The Strip. Last year, the state’s casinos reported $4.2 billion dollars in gaming revenue. Of that total, $1.2 billion was won at baccarat.
Las Vegas Baccarat Rules
A large table is used at baccarat to accommodate several players and the movement of the dealing shoe. Larger than the size of a casino poker game, the table can easily sit 12 to 14 players.
Six decks are used, shuffled and laced together with a cut-card placed seven cards from the back of the shoe. No more hands are dealt after the cut card appears in play.
For all the glitz and glamor, the beautiful “starters” of the daily game, women in evening gowns and men in tuxes, there really isn’t much to the game itself. In fact, all the player does is decide where to bet.
The dealer makes all playing decisions. You just choose the player (punto) circle or the banker (banco) circle to place your wager.
Don’t have a hundred grand to bet?Don’t worry, there are lower limit games available.
So, what to do? The hand closest to a total of 9 is the winner in baccarat. There is also a separate tie bet, but the odds are terrible. It pays just 8 to 1, so the house edge is 14.4%. You might want to steer clear of that one. Oh, and by the way, the banker wins all ties! So, choose wisely little grasshopper.
Find a seat, have the dealer change your cash for chips, and choose your bet, banker or player. Then, the dealer will deliver one card to the player spot and one card to the banker spot, and then the player and banker again.
Now both have two cards. Aces always count as 1. Face cards count as 0. Cards 2 through 9 retain their standard value. Hence, 4 and 5 totals 9. If the cards total more than 9, the ten’s column is dropped, so 7 plus 6 doesn’t equal 13, it totals 3. Likewise, two face cards total zero, not 20.
If either the player or banker have a two-card 8 or 9, the hand is over and the higher total wins. If the hands are 8-8 or 9-9, the tie rules apply (banker wins). For other hands, a little more explanation is necessary.
Rules for the Player Hand
As explained earlier, an 8 or 9 is a natural, and the hand is over. When the player total is 6 or 7, the hand stands and awaits the outcome of the banker hand. When the player total is 0 to 5, a third card is drawn. That’s it. Pretty simple compared to the banker hand.
Rules for the Banker Hand
Again, if the two-card total is 8 or 9, the hand is over. In addition, the banker stands on a 7. For other totals, the dealer must follow these rules:
Banker cards total 0, 1, 2, draw a third card
Banker cards total 3, draw a card unless the player’s third card was an 8
Banker cards total 4, draw a card if the player’s third card was 2 through 7
Banker cards total 5, draw a card if the player’s third card was 4 through 7
Banker cards total 6, draw a card if the player’s third card was a 6 or 7
Yeah, it sounds weird, but it’s not. After you watch a few hands, it will all make sense. Those are pretty much standard rules used in casinos around the world, including those found online.
Winning hands at baccarat always pay 1 to 1, or even money. In addition, a 5% commission is charged on all winning banker hands. You must pay the commission before you leave the game, even if you lose all the chips you have on the table!
The house edge at baccarat (Punto Banco) is 1.06% on the banker bet (after the commission) and 1.24% on the player bet. Other variations of the game offer a slightly different house edge, depending on how the banker plays their hand.
Chemin de Fer
You probably won’t find a game of Chemmy in Las Vegas, but for clarity’s sake, the game is offered as player to player, often with the house taking a commission on all bets.
Should you find a game, you’ll act as either a player or the banker, stating a bank wager you are willing to risk on each hand.
The banker offers a bank wager and other players may bet up to the total of that wager. When the total is met, no more players can wager. The banker delivers two cards to the player and banker spots and holds his or her breath (alright, that’s optional).
The player and banker view their own cards. A natural 8 or 9 ends the hand, high total wins, or a tie is announced. If there are no 8 or 9 totals, the player making the largest wager against the bank has the option to draw one additional card.
After the player hand is finished, the banker has the option to draw a card. Afterward, if there is a tie, there is no exchange of money. The hand is a push.
If the banker hand wins, all bets are brought to the banker, a new bank wager is announced, and play continues.
Should the player hand win, payoffs from the banker wager are made to the players, and the shoe and banking privileges are passed to the next spot on at the table. Players do not have to bank and may pass the shoe.
Baccarat Banque is similar to Chemmy, but at this variation, house dealers will handle all the action.
One player is chosen to bank until the end of the shoe. The banker covers all bets.
However, you don’t have to continue banking, and may quit at any time. If you do so, the next player on the table has the option to become the banker.
If the next player chooses to bank, they will be required to risk the same bank amount while finishing the shoe. Sometimes, the entire risked bank is covered by the first player or two and players seated farther down the table will be unable to bet.
However, the banker may offer to cover later wagers, even if they exceed the original bank.
If the big baccarat games are full, or too scary, you can always find a Mini-Bac table!
The game plays the same, it’s just faster. There’s no big table, no starters, no intrigue, just good odds.
The house still collects a 5% commission on your winning banker Bets. The stakes at the larger tables in Las Vegas are likely to be a minimum of $25, but Mini-Bac games are sometimes offered for as little as $5 per wager.
Generally, there are few, if any, baccarat games in the Downtown area, but The Strip has hundreds of games. The bigger the club (Mirage, Bellagio, Venetian), the higher the table limits. If you hit the smaller clubs like Bally, TI, or Hard Rock, the limits will be lower.
Keep in mind that clubs add and remove games regularly, so you might want to call ahead to the smaller clubs before expecting a baccarat table, but most will have Mini-Bac.
One of the coolest things about this game is that even though it’s played the richest and most elite of the world in beautiful Las Vegas, it’s a game that all of us can play for stakes that won’t make us have a heart attack.
If you happen to live close to a brick and mortar casino or are taking a trip soon, most casinos or river boats will have a Baccarat table that you can play at.
They are usually tucked away in the corners as the players that play usually like things a bit quieter. You may have to do a little searching to find the tables.
If you want to get started now, though, you can always start playing online. Online casinos will let you play for pennies, so you can learn the game and then you can up your bets if you want or keep playing for small stakes for fun.