In addition to private flights and luxury accommodations, Nutton said casinos around Las Vegas attract baccarat play year-round by offering high-roller tournaments with million-dollar prize pools.
One three-day tournament held at the MGM Grand’s mansion casino in early October cost $5,000 to enter and offered the winner $750,000, seven others at least $10,000 each, all participants a brand new tablet computer and a drawing among finalists for a 2012 BMW convertible.
Similar tournaments run several times a year around Sin City, Nutton said, in hopes that entrants will also play on their own and come back to each particular casino again.
Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Las Vegas Sands Corp., which run two casinos each on the Las Vegas Strip, derive the majority of their revenue from Asia, where baccarat is the undisputed king of games.
Caesars Entertainment Corp., which owns or manages 52 casinos in 12 U.S. states and seven countries, reported $6.66 billion in revenue from baccarat during the first 9 months of 2011. Over the same time, Sands _ with four casino-resorts in baccarat-heavy Asia and three in the United States _ beat that with $6.87 billion.
The casinos are fiercely competing for a relatively small number of players who can afford five- or six-figure bets, Nutton said.
“There’s only that select universe,” she said.
Schwartz said that if casinos become more dependent on baccarat’s bottom line, they’re in for less predictable results. From 2004 to 2010, baccarat showed to have the biggest variance among casino games in its hold percentage, the amount of money casinos keep from the amount wagered.
Hold is generally governed by complex math, designed so gamblers slowly lose money and the house always wins overall.
Between 2004 and 2010, the average hold for baccarat was 11.7 percent, but casinos statewide saw monthly hold for the game as high as 19.5 percent or as low as 3.6 percent.
If a player gets lucky one day and quickly wins several million dollars, casinos are reminded of it when they report their quarterly results, Schwartz said.
“A lot of the more business-oriented folks don’t like this kind of volatility in the company,” he said. “It’s lucrative, but it’s also risky.”
Steve Rosen, chief marketing officer at Santo Gaming , which runs the Plaza Las Vegas casino in downtown Las Vegas, said he still expects baccarat to become more popular as more people learn to play, casinos add more tables designed for smaller limits and companies keep pushing to attract Asian customers.
“I think a lot of casinos are trying to, they just don’t understand how yet. You’re going to see more and more baccarat and you’re going to see baccarat become more mainstream,” Rosen said. “You can’t have 91 percent of revenues across the world coming from one game and not have people here paying attention to it.”
Tim Fong, co-director of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program, said several cultural factors among Asians combine to encourage gambling, especially during the holiday.