Like many other casino games, the exact origins of Baccarat are hotly debated. There is enough evidence to state with confidence that the game has been around for at least 150 years or so, although some theories suggest it could be much older than that. The most widely played variant of the game today is the simplified Punto Banco, which has a much shorter history.
Visit a casino in Europe or North America today and Punto Banco will likely be the only form of baccarat you can find outside the private high limit rooms, where a few tables of Chemin De Fer are known to still be offered. In the online casino world, any game labelled as baccarat will invariably be Punto Banco too – the older variations simply do not exist on the web. For this reason, we’ll be concentrating primarily on Punto Banco in this article.
Baccarat in the Media
Baccarat is well known as a favourite pastime of the rich, but its popularity was beginning to dip towards the end of the 20th century favouring games such as blackjack and roulette. More recently, the game has enjoyed a small-scale resurgence, demonstrated by the fact that baccarat accounts for a higher share of casino profits every year. Some Macau casinos make as much as 90% of their profits just from this one game!
This has no doubt been helped by an increase in media attention, fuelled by several high-profile scandals involving the game. The most notable of these was the edge-sorting controversy of 2014, which saw professional poker player Phil Ivey collect over $25,000,000 from several of the world’s largest casinos using a controversial advantage-play technique.
Baccarat has always been a contentious game and was at the centre of the Tranby Croft affair of 1891 which saw disgraced socialite William Gordon-Cumming tried and subsequently ejected from the military for cheating at a high-society baccarat game. Such a tale might not have garnered much attention were it not for the fact that Edward, Prince of Wales and future king of England was also in attendance. This led to the story being nicknamed the “Royal Baccarat Scandal”, much to the dismay of his mother Queen Victoria.
Fans of the fictional secret agent James Bond will, of course, be familiar with baccarat too, as the legendary character is well known as a fan of the chemin-de-fer variant of the game. Bond is seen playing baccarat in several of his most popular movies including Thunderball, Dr. No, and of course, the original movie adaptation of Casino Royale which features an extended baccarat scene in which Bond gets the better of his nemesis Le Chiffre.
How to Play Punto Banco Baccarat
The objective of Punto banco is to bet on the hand which finishes with a point value as close to nine as possible. The numbered cards count at their face value, the pictures and tens are zero, and the aces are worth one. When adding the total of your cards together, only the last digit is counted therefore four and seven equals one, not eleven.
The game is dealt from a shoe using either six or eight decks. Each round is called a “coup” in baccarat and begins with two sets of cards being dealt, called the player and banker hands. Note that no player has any particular association with the player hand, nor is the dealer directly linked with the banker hand.
The naming of the hands may be a tad confusing at first, but the easiest way to think about this is simply to remember that Punto banco is an evolution of a much more complicated game. In this simplified version of baccarat, the names given to the hands are only there to provide clarity as to which of the two totals you are betting on.
You can also choose to bet on a tie between the two hands if you wish, but after you have selected from the three available options you do not need to make any further decisions for the remaining duration of the coup. Instead, the cards are dealt according to fixed drawing rules, so the dealer will handle all future actions for you.
This lack of player decisions makes Punto banco an ideal choice for live dealer casinos, as it allows a single dealer to serve an unlimited number of customers at a single table. It is advantageous for players too, who have the peace of mind of knowing that a problem with their internet cannot cause them to lose money as it can in blackjack.
Once you have placed your bets and the initial two cards have been dealt to both the player and banker hands, the dealer will then follow a set of fixed guidelines to determine what to do next. The first step is to determine if either hand has a total of eight or nine, as the coup will conclude immediately if this is the case. If both hands are of equal value the current round will complete in a tie, otherwise the hand with the highest total wins.
Next, the dealer will turn their attention to the player hand only. If the total is less than six, the dealer will add a third card to the player hand. Totals of six or seven do not receive a third card, which is known as “standing pat”. The rules for the banker hand are a little more complicated, and use the following formula:
- The banker stands if he has a seven, otherwise his decision depends on the value of the player hand
- If the player hand stands, the banker will hit if his total is five or below.
- If the player hand hits, the banker hand is played as follows:
If the banker has a…
- Zero, one, or two, he will always hit
- Three, he will take another card as long as the players’ third card is not an eight
- Four, he will take another card if the players’ third card is a two through seven
- Five, he will take another card if the players’ third card is a four through seven
- Six, he will take another card if the players’ third card is a six or a seven
This might seem like a lot to remember, but the truth is you don’t need to memorize this schedule unless you want to, as the dealer handles all such decisions without any player input. If you do play a lot of Punto banco though, you’ll probably find that you will soon know what the dealer is about to do at any given point anyway!
Bet Types, Side Bets & Payouts
There are three main bets you can choose to make when playing Punto banco:
- Player Bets pay even money and have a house edge of 1.24% in a regular six or eight-deck shoe game. Occasionally you may come across a single deck baccarat, which increases the house edge to 1.29%.
- Banker Bets usually pay even money minus a 5% commission, which results in a house edge of 1.06% in games using a six or eight-deck shoe. Single deck baccarat reduces this to just 1.01%. Some casinos occasionally use different payouts for the banker bet, usually by increasing or lowering the commission.
- Tie Bets return 8 to 1 at the vast majority of casinos, and has a house edge of 14.36% in an eight-deck game or 14.44% when using a six-deck shoe. The single deck variant increases the house edge still further to 15.75%.
Most casinos also offer several side bets at their baccarat games and tables too. Whilst these bets can make the game a little more exciting, they all have a house edge which is far higher than simply betting on the player or banker. Here are a few of the most popular options at online casinos, along with their odds:
- Big/Small are popular side bets at land-based casinos but are only available with a few online gaming providers at this time. When placing a wager on big or small you are betting on how many cards will be dealt during the next coup. The “small” bet has a house edge of 8.07% and pays 3 to 2 if only the four initial cards are dealt, whereas the “big” bet pays 0.54 to 1 when the total number of cards is five or six. The big bet has a house edge of 4.35%.
- Perfect Pairs is offered as a side bet in several card games and works in much the same way at the baccarat table as it does when playing blackjack. You can choose to bet on the player or banker specifically, which returns 11 to 1 if their hand receives a pair of identical valued cards.
Alternatively, you can bet on either hand at the same time for a payout of 5 to 1, or on a perfect pair of matching suits and values which returns 25 to 1. The house edge on these bets is over 13%, making it one of the worst bets you can make whilst playing baccarat.
- Dragon Bonus, sometimes known simply as Bonus is another side bet where you choose to wager on either the player or banker hand individually. The payout varies from even money if you win with a total of four, then increases gradually culminating in a payout of 30 to 1 if you win with a total of 9.
This makes it one of the more generous side bets, but only if you stick to betting on the player as that has a house edge of 2.7%. The more complicated drawing rules for the banker hand means that there are fewer winning combinations for the higher payouts, resulting in a house edge of 9.4%.
Best Online Gaming Providers for Baccarat
All the major online gaming providers have at least one version of baccarat available, with the biggest names often offering two or more with slight differences in visuals, side bets, or payout structure. There are a couple of dozen live dealer providers offering the game too, although country restrictions prohibit players from certain countries from playing their games. The most obvious example is the United States, so we have broken up our recommendations between the US and the rest of the world:
For US Players
The American online gambling market is slowly opening up state-by-state, but the country seems much more relaxed at the prospect of online sports betting than it does online casino games and poker. The only states that have moved to regulate all three activities are Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but further developments are expected in 2021. Citizens of legal gambling states have most of the same options as the rest of the world (detailed below).
If you aren’t fortunate enough to live in a state that has already joined the 21st century you can still play at many offshore casinos, although many of the largest providers do not allow US gamblers to play as a result of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which makes it difficult for casinos to accept deposits from American citizens. Instead, a secondary market has appeared of offshore sites that target the USA specifically.
Three big names continue to offer online gaming to the US market, despite the problems caused by the UIGEA. These are Realtime Gaming, Rival and Betsoft who all these offer excellent virtual Baccarat.
Realtime Gaming (RTG) was falling behind visually a few years ago but their recently updated HTML5 games are bang-up-to-date, and every bit as attractive as the alternatives as their competitors. The Rival casinos are well known for their generous bonuses, whilst Betsoft primarily stakes their name on the quality of their 3D slots. Whichever brand you choose, be sure to check that the actual casino you choose to play with is licensed by a trustworthy gaming authority.
Three companies currently offer high-quality live dealer baccarat to the US market, specifically Visionary iGaming (ViG), Arrow’s Edge and Fresh Deck Studios. ViG uses a six-deck shoe and offers the Perfect Pairs and Dragon Bonus side bets, as well as a slightly different variant known as Super 6. The maximum bet is a little lower than the other two companies at $500, although this should still be enough to satisfy most players.
Arrow’s Edge and Fresh Deck Studios both use an eight-deck shoe and offer two sets of table limits, with a maximum bet of $2,000 at Arrow’s Edge and $1,500 at Fresh Deck Studios. They offer the big/small, Perfect Pairs and bonus side bets. Both providers have a free play option available too, allowing you to try their games out before you make a deposit.
For Europe & The Rest of The World
If you live outside the United States, you should be able to gamble with the majority of online gaming providers, including those mentioned previously who accept bets from Americans. Some casinos do not accept players from certain countries as a result of strict local regulation, but the situation differs from that in the US as it is only individual casinos that do not accept those players rather than the entire software provider.
A good example of this would be the Vegas Partner Lounge casino group and their extensive range of Microgaming-based casinos. This group was present in the United Kingdom and all of Europe until roughly 2014, when several countries introduced much tougher gambling regulations causing the group to abandon those markets. The casinos continued to operate, but in a much smaller number of territories than they did previously.
Some of the largest software providers outside of North America are NetEnt, Playtech, Novomatic and Microgaming. NetEnt and Playtech have live dealer divisions too, which are some of the largest operators of those games in the rest of the world alongside Scientific and Evolution Gaming.
Microgaming have been producing online casino games since the birth of the online casino, and have earned a reputation for creating some of the best-looking slots and table games during that time. They even offer a virtual Punto banco game with increased odds for the tie bet and lower commission when betting on the banker, which results in an extremely low house edge. Their All Aces Video Poker and Classic Blackjack Gold are also legendary for their offering some of the lowest odds you will find on the web.
The Playtech brand has expanded rapidly over the last two decades and is now the software of choice with all the large British bookmakers including William Hill, Ladbrokes Coral and Paddy Power. Unfortunately, the founder of the company, Israeli businessman Teddy Sagi has long been the subject of controversy amid allegations of questionable business practices, damaging the company’s image in many people’s eyes. Despite his departure from the company in 2018, the resulting suspicion and mistrust are yet to be forgotten.
Swedish brand NetEnt is exceptionally well respected throughout Europe for both their traditional and live dealer gaming products. The company began to make a strong push into the land-based casino market in the latter half of the past decade, a move which rapidly piqued the interest of fellow Swedish software brand Evolution Gaming.
In what seemed like a counter-intuitive move to many within the industry, NetEnt was subsequently purchased by Evolution in a deal that concluded with them taking full control in December 2020. The tie-up between these gaming giants created an online casino juggernaut that boasts one of the industry’s most impressive portfolios of tier-one gaming brands, casino partners and world-class software. Their casinos already boast a combined customer base of several hundred million regular active players.
The sheer quantity of options and large size of these monstrous gaming brands ensures that players from the rest of the world have virtually unlimited choices for playing both regular online baccarat and its live dealer counterpart. High rollers can request a private table (both online and in-person) and can expect to see table stakes permitting wagers of up to an astonishing £/€ 250,000 on offer on the VIP tables of the very largest casinos.