In the days previous to the Chinese New Year festivity began this week; 6 high rollers sat down at the confidential baccarat tables one day at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and began throwing down wagers of $100,000 to $200,000 a hand. It was a scene hardly out of place these days in Sin City.
Big-time gamblers, primarily from Asia, are flocking to Las Vegas to play baccarat and providing a big lift to the overall bottom line of the city's casinos.
Baccarat has easily surpassed blackjack in terms of casino revenue in Las Vegas and now represents nearly 60 percent of the MGM Grand's table games revenue over the past year. It's especially popular this week with tens of thousands of tourists from Asia in town to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
"For us to make money in gaming today without baccarat is almost impossible," said Debra Nutton, senior vice president of casino operations at the MGM Grand hotel-casino. "We need the big whales to make money."
In Las Vegas parlance, a "whale" is a big-time gambler who easily wagers more in one night at the tables than most American families make in a year. Casinos cater to them with plush, secluded gambling salons inside the top casinos — with baccarat games that often start out at a minimum $10,000 per hand.
The whales typically favor baccarat — a game romanticized in James Bond flicks and highly popular in Macau and Singapore.