Baccarat has gone from strictly being a high roller affair to becoming the casino world’s most-popular table game. A 2017 report from the UNLV Center for Gaming Research shows that baccarat earns the largest revenue share (37.36%) out of Vegas Strip table games. Baccarat’s popularity is even greater in Macau, where it takes up over 80% of gaming floors.
The public has spoken with their betting habits: baccarat is king. It’s easy to see some of the reasons why people enjoy playing this card game. It has a low house edge, the strategy is simple, and new players can quickly pick up the rules.
But for all of baccarat’s advantages, it also has some distinct downsides. I’m going to cover five of the biggest drawbacks to this game along with suitable alternatives.
1 – Other Casino Games Have Lower House Edges
Baccarat features a 1.06% house edge whenever you bet on the banker hand defeating the player hand. 1.06% isn’t much of an advantage for casinos. The average gambler stands to win back $98.94 for every $100 wagered at this rate.
But players shouldn’t be hung up on the low house edge, because certain games offer an even stronger chance to win.
Here are a few casino games with lower house advantages:
- Jacks or Better video poker = 0.46% house edge
- Craps = 0.46% (2x odds on don’t pass line)
- Blackjack = 0.5% (varies by rules)
Blackjack and video poker require considerable strategy to drop the house advantage to its lowest point. Of course, much of the reason why people play these games in the first place is due to the strategic element.
Craps requires that you find a game with odds bets, which don’t have a house edge and can be placed behind pass line or don’t pass line. The good news is that most craps tables do feature odds wagers.
Unlike the three aforementioned games, baccarat’s house edge doesn’t go much lower than 1.06%. The best you can do is finding EZ baccarat, which offers a 1.02% house advantage. Again, 1.06% is a good house edge by any means. But you’ll lose more money on average than a knowledgeable blackjack, craps, or video poker player.
Here’s an example:
- You bet $10,000 on a blackjack game with a 0.5% house edge.
- 10,000 x 0.005 = $50 in theoretical losses
- You bet $10,000 on the baccarat banker hand.
- 10,000 x 0.0106 = $106 in theoretical losses
- 106 – 50 = $56 difference
Most players don’t bet $10,000 in a single session. But even if you were to spread this out over 2-3 sessions, then $56 will make a difference in your bottom line.
2 – Mini Baccarat Plays Fast and Leads to High Losses
Land-based mini baccarat is the fastest table game in the casino. Croupiers can deal anywhere from 120 to 200 hands per hour based on their skill and the table size.
You can see how this compares to the average speed in the following games:
- Blackjack – 60-80 hands per hour
- Caribbean stud – 50-70 hands
- Craps – 125 rolls (approx. 25 multi-roll bets)
- Pai Gow poker – 35-50 hands
- Roulette – 40-60 spins
Mini baccarat moves quickly in comparison to other table games for a couple of reasons. The first is that the dealer is the only one handling cards. Players merely focus on placing their chips in the appropriate betting circle.
The other reason behind baccarat’s speed is that gamblers don’t have to make any strategy decisions. Baccarat hands basically play themselves, with predefined rules determining when the banker and player hands receive more cards. Compare this with blackjack, where players can choose between hitting, standing, splitting (w/ pair), and doubling down. A blackjack player might make several decisions in a single hand.
The nature of baccarat leads to more potential losses than the average casino game. Here’s an example:
- You play baccarat, blackjack, and Caribbean stud for one hour each.
- You bet $10 per hand on each game.
- Baccarat: 150 hands x 10 x 0.0106 house edge = $15.90 in theoretical losses
- Blackjack: 70 hands x 10 x 0.01 house edge = $7 in theoretical losses
- Caribbean stud: 60 hands x 10 x 0.0522 house edge = $31.32 in theoretical losses
You can see that Caribbean stud has the highest losses, because its house edge is five times that of baccarat and blackjack. Baccarat has double the theoretical losses of blackjack, though, even in a situation where both have a similar house edge. The high losses are all due to the speedy play rate.
None of this suggests that baccarat is a terrible game in terms of loss rate. But you can see where the low house edge is quickly minimized by the large number of hands dealt each hour. The best way to even out the high hand rate is by playing online baccarat. This version is roughly equal to blackjack, Caribbean stud, and other games in terms of the play rate.
3 -The Betting Selection Is Limited
Baccarat leaves plenty to be desired in terms of betting options. You only have the following three choices:
- Bet on the banker hand to win (1.06% house edge).
- Bet on the player hand to win (1.24% house edge).
- Bet on both hands tying (14.36% or 4.85% house edge).
A winning player or banker hand bet results in a 1:1 payout. Winning a tie wager results in either a 9:1 or 8:1 payout, depending upon the rules. A 9:1 payout for the tie bet lowers the house advantage to 4.85%. But this still isn’t good enough to justify wagering on ties over either the player or banker hands.
Therefore, you really only have two good choices in baccarat. The banker and player hands are relatively close in terms of the house advantage. Casinos take a 5% commission from winning banker hand wagers. Otherwise, casinos would lose money on the banker wager, which has a 50.68% chance of winning.
Even with the 5% commission being taken, the banker bet still offers better odds than the player wager. This is why many gamblers simply continue wagering on the banker hand again and again.
4 – The Average Player Has Difficulty Understanding Baccarat Hand Scoring Rules
The objective of baccarat is to bet on whether the banker’s or player’s hand score will be closest to 9. You can also wager on both hands tying. An ace is worth 1, face cards are worth 0, and every other card is worth its numerical value (e.g. 4 = 4). If either hand goes over 9, the second digit of the score is dropped (e.g. 18 = 8).
The basics of baccarat scoring seem simple. But things become complicated when looking at how hands are dealt.
Here are the rules that govern baccarat hands:
- The banker or player automatically wins with an 8 or 9 on their first two cards (a.k.a. “natural”) as long as the other party doesn’t have a matching natural.
- The player receives another card if their score is less than 5. They stand when their score is 6 or 7.
- The banker draws another card if their score is 5, and the dealer has 6 or 7. The banker stands if they have 6 or 7.
- If the player draws a third card, the banker also receives a third card based on the following table:
|Banker’s Total||Banker’s Action Based on Player’s Third Card Value (D = Draw)|
Some gamblers like dealing with complex rules, because they enjoy in-depth games. Most beginners, on the other hand, appreciate an easy introduction to table games. Baccarat certainly isn’t easy when looking at the hand scoring. This factor can be a turnoff for new players.
5 – Baccarat Is a Very Plain Game
Baccarat is a complex game when looking at everything that goes into dealing hands. But the truth is that you don’t even need to know any of this to play the game.
The only thing that you really have to do is place your chips in the banker, player, or tie circles. Game rules automatically determine how hands are dealt. It’s fun to know the scoring rules so that you can watch in anticipation to see if your wager comes through. But it’s also unnecessary as long as you understand the bets and house edges.
This strange combination leaves the game somewhere in no man’s land. Baccarat doesn’t have the sophisticated play that skilled gamblers want, and its scoring process is difficult for beginners to understand.
What Table Games Should You Play Instead?
Looking for a table game alternative after reading through baccarat’s downsides? The following games all offer something unique when compared to baccarat and cater to different crowds.
Blackjack differs from baccarat in terms of both strategy and the house advantage. Every blackjack hand forces you to make decisions that impact your long-term chances of winning. You can choose between hitting, standing, doubling down, or splitting (w/ pairs).
Blackjack strategy is more difficult to master than with most casino games. But you can speed up the process by grabbing a strategy chart.
These charts show what moves you should make based on the dealer’s upcard and your score total. Here’s an example:
- You’re dealt a pair of 9s.
- The dealer’s upcard is 8.
- A strategy chart shows to split in this situation.
The blackjack house edge varies based on your skill level and the rules. You can easily control the strategy aspect by referring to a chart and mastering what to do in each situation. Rules vary based on the land-based or online casino where you’re playing. Internet casinos generally offer more player-friendly rules than land-based establishments.
The first thing to look for is tables with 3-to-2 natural blackjack payouts (21 on first two cards). A 3-to-2 payout lowers the house edge by 1.4% when compared to 6-to-5 payouts. The number of decks involved is also important. The house edge increases from 0.57% when moving from single to eight-deck blackjack.
Other notable rules include:
- Doubling down on any total lowers the house edge by 0.25% when compared to double down restrictions (e.g. 9-11).
- The dealer standing on a soft 17 reduces the house advantage by 0.2% when compared to hitting.
- Being able to double down after splitting lowers the house advantage by 0.17%.
- Being able to re-split aces lowers the house edge by 0.08%.
- Late surrender reduces the house edge by 0.07% when allowed.
Craps is a refreshing break from baccarat and other card games when considering that you get to roll dice.This game also gives you a stronger chance to win than baccarat.
The best standard craps bets are pass line and don’t pass line, which feature 1.41% and 1.36% house advantages, respectively. These wagers alone don’t eclipse baccarat’s 1.06% house edge. Butbacking a pass line or don’t pass line wager with odds greatly improves your chances of winning. An odds bet doesn’t have a house edge, because it’s based on your true chances of winning. The higher the odds bet allowed, the lower the house advantage drops.
This can be seen in the table below:
|Odds||Pass Line/Come||Don’t Pass Line/Don’t Come|
|Full Double Odds||0.572%||0.431%|
The size of odds bets varies based on the casino. Las Vegas’ Cromwell casino is the only place in the world with 100x odds. Most online and land-based casinos offer somewhere between 1x and 3x odds. But even these lower ranges give you a stronger chance to win.
French roulette is played on a European wheel (single zero) with the la partage rule in play. The la partage rule pays half back on losing even-money bets when the ball lands on zero. French roulette features a 1.35% house edge. This may not trump baccarat, but it’s at least competitive.
The real value of French roulette comes in the form of simplistic rules. The jest is that you make a bet and wait for the wheel to determine outcomes.
Here’s an example:
- You wager on high with the high/low bet.
- High = 19-36; low = 1-18
- The ball lands on 25 and you win.
- You’re paid at 1:1.
Roulette wins are easier to understand than baccarat scoring. The only difficult part of French roulette is knowing all of the different bets.
The following list will help you better understand what’s available:
- Single number – 36:1 odds, 35:1 payout
- Split – 17.5:1 odds, 17:1 payout
- Street – 17.5:1 odds, 17:1 payout
- Corner – 8.25:1 odds, 8:1 payout
- Six line – 5.17:1 odds, 5:1 payout
- Column – 2.08:1 odds, 2:1 payout
- Dozen – 2.08:1 odds, 2:1 payout
- Odds/even – 1.06 odds: 1:1 payout
- Red/black – 1.06 odds: 1:1 payout
- High/low – 1.06 odds: 1:1 payout
Baccarat definitely has good qualities that make it worth playing. This game has a low house edge and draws more betting action than any other casino game. But baccarat also has its drawbacks too. Multiple casino games have a better house advantage, including blackjack, craps, and video poker.
Even games with a higher house edge can offer a better chance to win. The reason why is because baccarat players see far more hands per hour.
This game also has the problem of being too complex for beginners, yet not sophisticated enough for strategic players. New players have trouble comprehending the hand scoring, while experienced gamblers won’t appreciate the simplistic strategy.
These downsides don’t ultimately doom baccarat. In fact, the game is thriving more than ever. But baccarat is far from perfect, and you should always be open to trying other casino games.