As we learned last week, gaming is something that dates back thousands of years. Indeed, people have been gambling their money, property and more for as long as we’ve been able to place a bet. But when you walk into a casino, you may not realise that the games you sit down to play have a rich history — going back hundreds of years, and sometimes more. In the second of this two part series, we’re exploring the stories behind the casino games we know and love.
Last time, we looked at blackjack, roulette wheel for hire, and poker. This time, we’ll look at three more games, including James Bond’s favourite game: craps, big wheel, and baccarat.
Craps is probably the oldest casino game that’s currently played. Archaeologists have found evidence that Roman soldiers carved up animal bones into cube-shaped dice and rolled them.
The earliest modern precursor to craps was an English game known as “hazard,” which itself dated back to the Crusades. However, the world didn’t see the game of craps as we know it today until a politician and gambler with a remarkably long name — Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville — introduced it to the gambling tables of New Orleans.
Bernard’s game, called “crapaud” (French for “toad”, because people crouched toad-like over floors and sidewalks to play it) was different from modern craps in one key way. Without the “don’t pass” bet, players could rob the house with fixed dice and careful betting. The modern game of craps was inaugurated by John H. Winn, who added the “don’t pass” bet to fix this flaw.
If craps is one of the oldest games, the Big Wheel (also known as Big Six Wheel or Spinning Wheel) is one of the youngest. Big wheel has its origins in the late 1800s American carnival prize wheel — an enormous spinning wheel, installed at amusement parks which offered fantastic prizes.
Seeing the popularity of big wheel games at carnivals, casinos reduced the size a little (so it would fit inside the house) and simplified it. The result is the modern big wheel or “Big Six Money Wheel,” where you need only bet on where the pointer will stop.
Baccarat is the original game of the upper class. The name comes from “baccara,” the Italian word for zero, but the history of baccarat dates all the way back to the medieval game of tarrochi. (Tarrochi was played with tarot cards.) Despite the Italian name, however, baccarat was originally most popular with the French.
The modern game of baccarat first became popular in Europe during the 1500s, when Frenchmen took to it in droves. Under Louis XIV’s reign (from 1643 to 1715) it was the preferred game of France’s upper class. Following the French Revolution, baccarat was also a favourite in Napoleon Bonaparte’s court.
Baccarat suffered a setback when the French banned public gambling in 1837, but wager-happy Parisians still kept playing it in their homes. When casinos started appearing along the French Riviera in the late 1800s, baccarat re-emerged into the open.
A number of different baccarat variants developed over the years. Chemin de fer, or “way of iron”, is a version of the game that passes the “sabot” (an elongated box with up to eight decks of cards) around the table as the deal rotates. Chemin de fer baccarat is also the only major baccarat flavour which has an element of skill, as opposed to pure luck — perhaps why Ian Fleming made it James Bond’s favourite game. While Bond may have taken to the poker tables in his more recent movie outings, baccarat was indeed his original game of choice! We have Roulette table hire available in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adeliade, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast.