Nowadays, baccarat is the most popular gambling game in the world, accounting for the majority of casino revenue in Macau and Singapore and, even on the Las Vegas Strip, playing second fiddle only to the ubiquitous slot machines in terms of profitability.
Like many ancient card games, the origin of baccarat is disputed. The name ‘baccarat’ is derived from the French word ‘baccara’, which dates from the mid-nineteenth century, but the origin of which is unknown. One suggestion, by independent game historian Thierry Depaulis, that the name is derived from the Provençal expression ‘fa bacarrat’, which translates into English as ‘go bankrupt’, seems at least as plausible, if not more so, than unsubstantiated rumours of an Italian heritage. In his ‘Dictionary of Conversation and Reading’, published in 1867, William Duckett claims that baccarat was originally an Italian game, imported into the south of France in the late fifteenth century, but provides no supporting evidence.
Whatever the origin of the game, the first printed records of baccarat being played in the United States appeared in ‘The New York Times’ in the late nineteenth century. Baccarat was not played in Nevada casinos until 1958 but, the following year, a new version of the game, known as ‘punto banco’ was imported to Las Vegas from Cuba by Tommy Rezoni. The original version featured a side bet on ‘naturals’, which has since been replaced by the ‘tie’ bet but, otherwise, punto banco was virtually indistinguishable from modern baccarat.