High Stakes Baccarat

Published: 21/08/2012

Almost from the day it was first introduced as a casino table game, baccarat has been popular among the world’s wealthiest gamblers. Only recently have versions such as Mini Baccarat brought the game to the masses. But now, even as lower stakes tables have found wide acceptance, the betting minimums and maximums in the high-stakes salons of major casinos have moved ever skyward.

Back in 1922, a group of Baccarat players known as the “Greek Syndicate” took over high stakes gambling in Europe. Led by a professional card player with a photographic memory, Nicolas Zographos, they put together a bankroll of 50 million francs and purchased the rights to deal Baccarat en Banque at the Casino de Deauville in France. It was there that they introduced the game “tout va”—meaning “anything goes” or no limits.

As news of “no limit” baccarat spread, Europe’s rich and famous began making the trek to Deauville. Zographos played for the House and was soon taking millions of francs from the Aga Khan, Baron Henri de Rothschild and others. The spectacular wins and losses made for excellent publicity.

By the 1930s, the Greeks had opened “no limit” rooms in casinos in Cannes, Paris and Monte Carlo. Single bets of more than 10 million francs were not unusual. During a seven-year period, French automobile maker André Citroën allegedly lost 30 million francs playing at the Syndicate’s tables. Only World War II slowed the baccarat betting frenzy, which lasted until shortly after Zographos’ death in 1953.

Today, high stakes baccarat is played at £5,000, £10,000 and even £50,000 per hand. But don’t look for such games online. They can be found only at the very largest casinos—those that can afford the risk. In 1990, Japan’s Akio Kashiwagi won $6 million at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. In 1997, Australian billionaire Kerry Packer reportedly took home $24 million from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. And as recently as July 2012, the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa witnessed a 16 percent drop in gross revenues when $5 million was lost to a single patron playing baccarat against the House.

In the casinos of Macau, baccarat alone has contributed as much as 86 percent of the total earnings, which amounts to around $12 billion annually. Indeed, many of the high rollers who now frequent high stakes baccarat tables in Las Vegas and Monte Carlo are from China and other parts of Asia. Casinos compete for the patronage of such high rollers, offering rebates of 20%~40% on their losses in addition to free rooms, meals, shows and transportation.

No doubt high-limit players enjoy this VIP status, but it still begs the question of what makes baccarat such an attraction. Casino owners in Macau say that Chinese players prefer to play baccarat “because it often offers better odds against the House compared to other games.” But there are less logical answers, too.

For example, in a recent issue of World Gaming Magazine, a feature article on baccarat speculated that “the thing that gives the game all its style, class and high drama is ‘the squeeze’.” That’s a reference to how the players handle the cards at the table. Since the decks are used only once in play, it is quite permissible (and even expected) to bend, fold or crumple the cards. Many Asians believe this allows chi energy to be brought into play.

Another reason cited for the popularity of high-stakes baccarat is the flexibility of seating up to ten players at a table so that large groups can be accommodated. Others point out that little or no talking is necessary, so no language barrier exists. Nobody ever rushes a high roller to makes decisions about how to play a hand, and food and drinks are typically served right at the table, so there is no need to interrupt a good game for meals.

All in all, playing high-limit baccarat makes for a very special occasion for anyone with a bankroll of £100,000 or more. And there are signs that a few online casinos are following suit, creating special high roller areas for their VIP customers. As benefits, they point to bonuses and promos, faster payout times and the convenience factor for those who find traveling to land-based casinos a chore, even if free air fare is available.

Published on: 21/08/2012

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