Minibaccarat has drawn headlines in recent months following two separate cases of unshuffled cards that resulted in large gambling losses for two different casinos.
A third, unrelated, incident saw a gambler legitimately win $5 million at Borgata Casino Hotel & Spa.
Casinos may have seen high-profile losses from those incidents, but the game — often referred to as minibac — has proved to be profitable and popular. In recent years, casinos have marketed the game to Asians with success, officials said.
Atlantic City has five times more tables offering blackjack than minibaccarat. Blackjack gamblers, however, generally wager less on average than those playing minibaccarat.
Gamblers at the 609 blackjack tables in Atlantic City waged a total of $251 million in August, figures from the state Division of Gaming Enforcement show. That averaged to $412,000 a table. Yet for minibaccarat, on which $74 million was waged across 114 tables that same month, the average was $648,000.
Those figures may be the reason every casino in Atlantic City offers minibaccarat. Poker, meanwhile, has disappeared from the floor of Resorts Casino Hotel, the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel and Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.
“Minibac has kind of flourished the last few years,” said Joe Lupo, senior vice president of operations for Borgata. “I don’t have the answer why, other than there have been many more Asian customers who have come.”
Gaming officials do not provide statistics that would show how many minibaccarat gamblers are Asian. A check of casino tables in Atlantic City, however, confirms the game’s popularity with them. Casinos heavily market the game to Asians, placing the tables close to noodle bars and other games that are similarly popular.
The game has the same rules as classic baccarat, made famous by Hollywood in the James Bond films. In minibaccarat, six players, rather than the traditional eight, sit around a smaller table. The bet limits for classic baccarat also are much higher, making that game suitable mostly to high-rollers.
Only two casinos offer the classic game in Atlantic City — Borgata has one table, and Caesars Atlantic City has four. Those five tables pulled in nearly $1 million in winnings for the casinos in August.
In Nevada, baccarat regularly ranks as the highest gambling revenue generator, even though only 22 casinos offer the game. Casinos in that state won nearly $200 million in baccarat in July — close to double what was won at blackjack, which is offered at 149 locations. Many of the baccarat high-rollers arrive in Las Vegas from overseas, particularly Macau, Singapore and other wealthy areas.
Atlantic City casinos in recent years have been marketing minibaccarat to Asian-American workers from across the Northeast, particularly during the off-season. Borgata, for instance, has a show on Saturday specifically aimed at Asian visitors. The show doesn’t start until 1 a.m., so visitors have enough time to travel to the city by bus.
“The Asian demographic is a pretty hard-working customer base that is still working up in New York and Philadelphia,” Lupo said. “They primarily come here late in the day, late in the night.”
As a game that depends more on luck than skill, minibaccarat is a draw to gamblers on many levels, said Dr. Timothy Fong, a director at the University of California Los Angeles’ Gambling Studies Program.
“The one thing that baccarat offers is an illusion of control in a game that you do nothing except bet,” said Fong, who specializes in addictive disorders.
For starters, the game is one of the easiest for players, who need to make only two decisions — how much to wager and on which hand to place the bet. Language barriers aren’t a problem because players need little communication with the dealer.
“You just sit there,” Fong said. “There’s no talking. You just do it.”
The predetermined rules decide which hand — referred to as the player’s or banker’s — will win. Based on the traditional rules of the game, the banker’s hand has an edge in winning when played over the long term.
But because most casinos charge a commission on wages won on the banker’s hand, the edge that comes with betting on the hand is eliminated. At casinos where no commission is charged — such as Borgata — the rules are altered slightly to not pay out when the banker’s hand wins on a three-card total of 7. That also results in eliminating the edge the banker’s hand traditionally has.
The predetermined rules are one reason unintended consequences for casinos occur when the shoe of eight decks isn’t shuffled. If the cards continue to appear in the same order, the same pattern of banker and player hand wins will repeat itself.
Most minibaccarat players believe in patterns, and some believe they have the ability to influence cards, which is one reason in games that allow players to turn over the cards, gamblers inject a certain amount of drama into revealing the cards. At some tables, some players fan the cards before turning them over. Others use their fingernails to ever so slowly bend just one small corner of the card to reveal part of the number before flipping over the rest.
“They have all of these techniques for turning the cards over that are dramatic,” Fong said.
But however players turn over the cards, the outcome in legitimately played games is based solely on chance. Even if it doesn’t make sense, some gamblers believe they are able to influence the outcome or that whatever happens in the game holds a deeper meaning, Fong said.
“There’s this illusion that is being played out,” he said. “My destiny is predetermined, and if I play games of chance, I may be able to inquire into what my future holds.”
Fong said minibaccarat may appeal to Asians much like shows such as “American Idol” appeal to audiences in the United States. Marketing campaigns that cater to that demographic also help to increase its popularity, he said.
“It just has to do with this is what the culture likes,” Fong said.
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