What do you mean you haven't heard of "Punto Banco"? This card game derived from Baccarat is said to have been created in Mexico, before making its debut in the US in the 1950s. A simplified version of the original game of Baccarat, it's been so successful that it's gradually overtaken its predecessor and is now the most commonly played form of Baccarat in the world, particularly in Asia, where its popularity is reaching the uppermost heights. We take a brief look at the history of the Punto Banco phenomenon.
PUNTO BANCO, THE FOUNDATION OF ITS SUCCESS
Punto Banco, also known as American Baccarat, took the basics of Baccarat but simplified the rules. In this version, the objective is still to get nine points or as close as possible, but here the players play against the bank (similar to Blackjack).
The casino is always the dealer, and players can bet on the bank (Banco), a tie or a player (Punto). All you have to do is place a bet on one of these three options, which makes it a very easy game to learn, the aim being to try to predict the winning side. Punto Banco is a pure game of chance, like roulette, where you're trying to guess a result, rather than a game of strategy like Poker or Blackjack, where your decisions can affect the outcome of the hand.
This configuration of Baccarat makes it even more fun, as it creates a kind of solidarity between players. Since the players have no influence on each other's game, and everyone is playing against the bank, Punto Banco creates a feeling of collaboration. Unlike Baccarat Chemin de Fer, where players bet against each other without the casino being involved, Punto Banco is a friendly game.
THE PUNTO BANCO CRAZE IN ASIA
In Macau, the new global mecca of gambling (the city knocked Las Vegas off the top spot in 2006), Punto Banco is played the most, simply labeled "baccarat". According to an article in Quartz magazine, over 91% of revenue in Macau casinos during the first three quarters of 2014 came from this game. The luck factor in Punto Banco particularly resonates with superstitious players, the idea being that winning should be a matter of luck, not skill.
If you walk through the doors of one of Macau's many casinos, you'll be met by a tide of Punto Banco tables, which are much more popular than Sin City's traditional roulette, Blackjack, craps or slot machine games. The chic atmosphere of Punto Banco tables, its notion of chance and its group spirit quickly made it popular among high-stakes players.
A GAME OF CHANCE, AS WELL AS SUPERSTITION
Chinese players in particular are addicted to it. Given the huge revenues generated by this version of Baccarat, and the various superstitions in Chinese culture, casinos in Asia have fully integrated the layout of Baccarat tables, architecture and decoration to respect the laws of feng shui and popular beliefs.
The color red dominates – a symbol of good fortune and prosperity – and numbers like 8 and 9 are considered lucky. Even the seating arrangement is affected, as it's often impossible to sit in seat 4 at a Baccarat table given that the number is associated with bad luck and death.
Note that Punto Banco has standardized rules that are similar almost everywhere, while other versions of Baccarat may differ in each casino.
INCREASINGLY CRAZY LIMITS
Asian high-stakes players have almost universally made Baccarat Punto Banco their game of choice, as it ties in perfectly with their cultural habits.
But in addition to these cultural reasons, Punto Banco's overwhelming success among big players is also due to financial reasons. Punto Banco has one of the lowest house edges among most casino games, at around 1.2% on bank and player bets. The third possible bet, the tie, has a higher house edge of over 14%. Most of the regular big players at Punto Banco therefore stick to Punto or Banco bets.
High-stakes players can potentially win big at the casino's expense, and as a result stakes have been rising quickly. For example, Singapore casinos can take bets in the range of SGD $750,000 (around US$550,000) on a single hand, while casinos on the Las Vegas Strip record bets of over $150,000 per hand. While casinos can easily make millions in a few hours, they can also lose millions in Baccarat.
Played for decades in casinos in the US, Punto Banco has gradually spread to European casinos since the 1980s. In France, authorization to run Punto Banco games was approved in August 1987, alongside approval for English roulette and slot machines. Even so, the Asian continent is still where the game has found its most dedicated audience!