Baccarat tournament hopes to reach mainstream at Venetian, Palazzo

Baccarat tournament hopes to reach mainstream at Venetian, Palazzo

July 19, 2016 3:01 AM
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You don’t have to be a high-roller anymore to play baccarat.

That’s the message the Las Vegas Sands Corporation tries to send each year with the Grand Dragon Master Baccarat Championship, which begins here in Las Vegas this Friday at The Palazzo casino/resort.

Anyone with a Grazie loyalty member card from The Palazzo or The Venetian receives one free entry into the fifth annual event, the world’s largest baccarat tournament featuring a $10 million global prize pool.

“It’s a good way to introduce people to baccarat,” said Derek Morishita, the Palazzo/Venetian table games manager.

For a long time, the perception of baccarat was that it was only a game for big-time gamblers playing in the high-limit areas with dealers wearing tuxedos. Seeing James Bond at the baccarat table in some of his movies only accentuated that theory.

“We even used to have tuxedo dealers when we opened,” Morishita said. “It had a mystique to it. People were kind of afraid to play it. Now we’re bringing it down to where (regular) people can relate to it more. We’re trying to introduce it to the mass market. It’s a very simple game. It’s fun. It’s fast.”

While baccarat is incredibly popular in Asian casinos, it continues to take a backseat in the United States to games such as blackjack and poker. In an effort to mainstream baccarat more, casinos now have tables with much lower limits.

The Palazzo and Venetian, for instance, still have their $100 minimum bets for the high-roller rooms, but they also offer $25 tables nearby, along with video baccarat games with a $5 minimum. The electronic version includes live dealers and is a tremendous way to first learn the game, but one popular element is missing: You don’t touch the cards.

Part of the attraction for baccarat players is they actually get to handle the cards. The players tend to be quite superstitious. They will tap the cards a certain number of times for the card they need to win the hand. They’ll blow on the cards. They’ll even bend cards at times, forcing a new deck to be put in play.

As Morishita put it, “They try to squeeze their luck.”

That squeezing will take place the next two weekends – Friday through Monday, and July 29-Aug. 1 in the $200,000 Golden Dragon tournament, the first leg of the Grand Dragon, with a daily prize pool of $25,000 at The Palazzo.

The second leg locally, the Ruby Dragon, will take place in October, followed by the final leg, the Royal Dragon, in November. The top three finishers here in Las Vegas in the Royal Dragon will receive an expenses-paid trip to compete in the Global Final at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore in early 2017.

A Las Vegas-area woman, who requested anonymity, finished fifth overall last year. She and the other two local players who advanced to Singapore won $750,000 combined.

“We’re hoping for a grand total of 10,000 entries (from more than 2,000 individuals) over the course of the event (in Las Vegas),” Morishita said. “It’s grown by at least 20 to 30 percent every year. We’re hoping to keep that trend going.”

While the first entry is free with the Grazie card, players are allowed to buy unlimited additional entries for $50 each. If you buy two, you get a third for free.

“I think the average person has about four or five (total entries),” Morishita said. “We’ve had people with as many as 30 to 40. The more entries you have, the better chance you have of having a score that’s going to win you money and get you through to the finals.”

Many of the participants live here locally, but others are from California and even some are expected to attend from Pennsylvania. Perhaps one day this will become baccarat’s version of the World Series of Poker.

“We would like it to become that,” Morishita said.

For more information and to sign up, go to http://www.venetian.com/casino/events/grand-dragon-master-baccarat-championship.html#golden-dragon