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Baccarat Comes to America

The Father of American Baccarat

American Baccarat

ommy Renzoni liked to imply that he had somehow invented baccarat as it is known today. That would, of course, be stretching the truth a little, but he is a very important figure in the game's history as it started to reach its widest audience.

If there was a "king" of baccarat as it was brought to the the United States, then Renzoni would probably fit that description. Renzoni had been working for famous actor George Raft, a "connected" individual who had opened up a casino of his own in Havana called the Capri, and he was running the baccarat table at the establishment. However, in 1958 Castro was launching his revolution from the hills, and on New Year's Eve of that year he was successful. At that point it spelled the end of casinos of any kind in Cuba, and Renzoni had to look for a new gig.

He had noticed that there was an encouraging level of patronage for the game he was running in Cuba, which had twists that distinguished it from that which was played in France. His game had the house banking the game, and the player left with no strategy decisions to make and therefore no way to really affect the long-term odds on the game with "expert" play.

He found a position at the Sands Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, where he talked the owners into putting in a table for baccarat. He employed the same rules that were in effect for the game in Havana, so that is how the game that is referred to some as "Punto Banco" became the standard for those full baccarat games that appeared in the Las Vegas casinos and beyond.

According to Renzoni, when the game was introduced to the Sands, they lost around $250,000 in its first night. That obviously did not spell the end to the game; in fact, it wound up at the Stardust, the Dunes, and eventually others on the Strip. Although some historical accounts have said that baccarat was an instant hit, the truth is that there were certain marketing problems for the game, which appeared to be a little too "high-brow" for most casino patrons, who preferred a more raucous atmosphere, such as that presented in the game of craps.

Nevertheless, it remained a presence in casinos, and although Renzoni never really cashed in big on the casino end, he did manage to do some significant writing about the game. His two books are available if you look hard enough. There are entitled, "Baccarat: Everything You Want to Know About Playing and Winning" and "Renzoni on Baccarat, and the Secrets of Professional Gambling" and they are considered to be required reading for anyone who is very serious about the game of baccarat.

Renzoni had a sad ending. He wanted to introduce other game innovations to the casinos in Las Vegas, but he was usually left frustrated. After the death of his wife, there was less and less reason for him to go on. Then one day the "father" of American baccarat walked into the middle of the Las Vegas Strip and just let himself get run over.

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