Today we flash back to 1966 to take a look at gambling in Sin City, specifically a game surrounded in mystique – baccarat.
Baccarat was brought to Las Vegas from the casinos of Havana, Cuba, in 1959 by John Scarne and Tommy Ronzoni. It was first played in the Deuville Room at the old Sands Hotel. In our Flashback Friday photo, guests are enjoying baccarat at the Dunes. Today there are less than 100 baccarat tables in the state.
Mention baccarat and it conjurs an image of men in tuxedos and women in gowns playing for ridiculous sums of money, not unlike our picture. It is the favorite game of James Bond and shows up in a number of the Bond books and films. Most of the plot of Casino Royale revolves around a baccarat game between Bond and the villain Le Chiffre. Though for the 2006 movie version of Casino Royale, the game was changed to Texas hold ’em poker.
In Vegas, baccarat is a favorite game of high rollers including Australian tycoon Kerry Packer. Packer, who passed away in 2005, was well known to favor the game and his wins and losses are legendary. At $100,000 – $250,000 a bet, it is easy to see how the numbers can add up fast. One of Packer’s more famous losses, $20 million, came after three days of baccarat at the Bellagio in 2000.
Stories about Packer aren’t the only legends around baccarat. The history of baccarat is filled with tales of gamblers who won and lost fortunes in single sessions.
Here are some popular baccarat stories as compiled by the Las Vegas Sun from several accounts (the sources are in parentheses):
- In baccarat, the highest of high-rollers are called “whales.” Perhaps the Moby Dick of all whales was Japanese gambler Akio “The Warrior” Kashiwagi. In 1990, he waged an epic baccarat battle with casino mogul Donald Trump at one of Trump’s Atlantic City properties. The deal was that Kashiwagi would risk $12 million in a marathon session, stopping only when he either doubled his money or lost the $12 million. At one point, Kashiwagi was up $7 million, but his luck turned. A dispute over credit ended the challenge before the money was lost or doubled. The final result, however, was that Trump’s casino won $9 million. (From “The Big Game,” a story in Casino Player, August 1996.)
- Several years ago at The Mirage, a gambler placed a side bet of $100,000 for the dealers. He won and the dealers split $200,000. (From “The Big Game” article).
- An Asian gambler at a Las Vegas casino asked that the maximum limit be raised to $250,000 per hand. The house agreed, figuring he would lose at least half his bets and the casino would rake in commissions of $12,500 on the hands he won betting on the banker. The bettor went on an amazing win streak. When the session ended, he left with $18 million of the casino’s money — one of the largest takes in Las Vegas history. The next day, the casino’s stock plummeted on Wall Street. A few weeks later, the gambler returned and lost a bundle on baccarat. (From “Casino Secrets” by Barney Vinson, 1997, Huntington Press.)
While the legends persist about baccarat, the one truth is that the game, and the high roller betting that goes with it, is it can seriously impact casino profits both positively and negatively.