Blackjack and Poker have for decades dominated gaming floors in Las Vegas, but in the world’s biggest gaming market of Macau, only one game matters: Baccarat. Baccarat tables dominate the self-governing Chinese region’s gambling landscape, overshadowing all other games in gambling revenue to the tune of billions of dollars. It’s not just James Bond’s game anymore.
While Vegas casinos are looking to cram more Baccarat (or “Punto banco”) tables onto gaming floors — clearly keen to attract Chinese high rollers — Macau is already the Baccarat player’s utopia. So what is it about this card game that is so appealing to Chinese players?
The common appeal of Baccarat
Baccarat is a simple card game that offers the opportunity to win big.
Chinese Baccarat players love the game due to its fast style, and because it’s not too heavily weighed in the casino’s favour. With a house edge on a player bet being a paltry 1.24%, it’s easy to see why Baccarat’s popularity is expanding outside of Macau’s borders.
Macau’s rise from a forgettable ex-colonial outpost to a glamorous gambling mecca could very well be put down to the popularity of Baccarat. It’s unsurprising during an era of unprecedented economic growth, Chinese gamblers flocked to the only place in China where gambling is legal, and a game like Baccarat has exploded as it has.
It’s certainly not hard to appreciate the appeal, because Baccarat is incredibly easy to play. It’s strictly a game of chance. There’s no skill or strategy involved, and each move is forced by whatever cards a player is dealt.
This is where we discover and understand the love Chinese players have for Baccarat. It’s treated as a game of fate, not of skill, and it introduces some fascinating superstitions to the world of gambling.
Lucky number 8, and the influence of Baccarat superstition
Any visit to Macau would be incomplete without a visit to one of the thousands of Baccarat tables scattered across the region’s many casinos. Players can be seen hovering around Baccarat tables, keen to test lady luck in a game many Chinese believe to be determined purely by fate.
Watching a game of Baccarat take fold, you’ll notice a number of unique play methods employed by players. These methods are entirely superstitious, fuelled by cultural appreciations of fate any non-Chinese player may find difficult to understand.
One such method involves squeezing the cards tightly between the fingers, slowing peeking at the cards by lifting them up, and then turning the hand horizontally to check the card a second time. Each card is creased slightly by the player to render it unusable for another round, perhaps as means to do away with any cards which may ruin the hand. Finally, a player may blow on the cards to rid the hand of any bad numbers.
As you can see, the Chinese method of playing Baccarat is riddled with superstitions, but in a game determined entirely by luck, who’s to say the methods don’t work?
The luck of the player also plays a hand in how the Chinese approach a game of Baccarat. If a player is doing well, those around the player may be more inclined to bet against the house. If a player is losing, then expect to see plenty of bets against said player.
Baccarat might lack much in the way of strategy and skill, but Chinese players won’t shy away from betting trends, hot streaks and big losses. Much in the same way Roulette players look for number trends, Chinese Baccarat players hop from table to table searching for players on four or five-game winning streaks.
Then of course there is the relevance of the number 8, a figure held in high regard by the Chinese. If the banker or a player has an 8 (or 9) combination after the first deal, the coup is over and they win the hand. The pronunciation of the word “eight” in Chinese is similar to the word meaning “wealth” or “prosper”, so as you can see, in a game where the number 8 is held in such high regard, it’s unsurprising Chinese players enjoy playing it.
Best odds in the house
Baccarat’s popularity among Chinese players can also be put down to the game’s low house edge. While most other table games run at a 3-5% house edge, Baccarat offers a 1.06 statistical disadvantage on a “banker bet”, and a 1.24% house edge when betting against the house.
This low statistical disadvantage makes it an incredibly popular game in high-stakes rooms in both Las Vegas and Macau, where high rollers look to quickly expand their bankroll. Considering the nature of the game and how low the house edge is, land-based casinos typically reserve the tables for high-stakes rooms, although more casinos are adding them to the general gaming floor.
Thankfully, many of our recommended casino sites offer easy-to-find Baccarat games.
Best sites for Chinese Baccarat players
Many of the best and top-rated online casinos offer Baccarat for both low-stakes and high-stakes players. Online baccarat is easy to access and won’t be hidden away in VIP rooms like in land-based casinos, making it perfect for Chinese players who want to play Punto Banco.