Of all the classic casino card games, Faro was certainly one of the most popular. Although you will be hard pressed to find a game of Faro being played today, it dominated underground clubs, bars and illegal casinos for hundreds of years. Originally known as Pharoah or Farobank, this gambling card game first showed up in the 17th century and is most widely associated with the Old West. The game itself is often compared to poker as it has many similarities including being easy to learn and offering good odds.
Faro descended from a French game called Basset. This was a gambling card game reserved for high society members because of the extraordinary amount of money that would be won or lost in each game. While it was considered a polite game, Basset was eventually outlawed in 1691. Faro was first mentioned in the 17th century under the reign of Kind Louis XIV. Under the name Pharaon, the game quickly spread through Southwestern France taking over as the new “Basset”. It became extremely popular until it too was outlawed.
Even though Pharaon was outlawed in France, it was still played in England throughout the 18th Century. The name eventually got changed to Pharaoh and then shortened to Pharo. By the 19th Century, the game of Pharo made its way to the United States where its name changed to the how we know it today as Faro. It soon became one of the most popular gambling games in the country and was especially prevalent in the Old West. By 1882, Faro had become so popular that it eclipsed all other gambling games in the US.
Bucking the Tiger
Back then, most of the playing cards had a design of a Bengal Tiger on the back. As such, the game of Faro was often referred to as “Bucking the Tiger” or Twisting the Tiger’s Tale.” It was common practice for gambling houses to hang a large picture of a tiger in their window to show that they offered Faro at the establishment. The tiger association extended even further with popular gambling towns often referred to as Tiger Town. Faro was played up until the second world war when it fizzled out. Today, Faro has pretty much disappeared although, it was still played in Las Vegas and Reno up until 1985.
Faro was a relatively simple game to play. Each round of Faro was called a “Faro Bank.” This was because one person in each round was the designated banker. The game is played with a single deck of whole cards. Players in the game are called punters who purchases chips (checks) from the banker. The betting values varied but in the Old West, check values ranged between 50 cents and $10. The faro table was oval in shape with a cut out for the banker. A board was set on the table with a suit of cards glued to the front in numerical order. This would represent the betting layout.
Betting in Faro
Punters could place bets in three different ways. The first option was to lay your bet on just one of the 13 cards on the board. The second option would be to bet on several cards at the same time by laying a bet across multiple cards. The third option was to bet on the high card bar which was located at the top of the board. Once the bets were placed, the banker with shuffle the cards and place the cards in a dealing box. The first card called “the soda” would be burned, leaving 51 cards in the deck. Then the banker would draw two cards. The first card would be the banker’s card and placed on the right-hand side of the dealing box. The second card was the player’s card and would be placed on the left of the dealing box.
The banker’s card was nominated as the losing card. Any card on the board that had the same denomination as the banker’s card would lose with the banker collecting the win on each card. The player’s card on the left of the dealing box was nominated as the winning card. Any card on the layout board that had the same denomination as the player card would win a return of 1:1 from the banker. Punters who bet on the high card bar only won if the player’s card was higher than the banker’s card.
In Faro, each punter would get paid after the two cards were drawn in each round. Any bets that were on the layout board that did not win or lose remained on the board. The punters who placed the cards could switch them to a different card if they wanted. If players wanted to reverse the way the bet paid out, they would place a token called a “copper” on the layout table. This type of betting was known as coppering. When there were only three cards left in the deck, punters could place a bet by predicting the order of final draw. A correct bet would pay out 4:1.