Faro: The Gambling Game That Faded Away

So how did Faro, a well-loved and prevalent casino game, lose its charm and credibility? What caused Faro to fall off the face of the Earth? To find the answers to these questions,  take a look at the following article, where we have discussed the basics of this game and its journey from top to bottom.

Written by

Matthew Gover
Fact checked by Dermot Heathcote
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For centuries, gambling has been a recreational sport enjoyed by generations. Casinos have seen the introduction of hundreds of different games over this period. While some games like roulette and blackjack have managed to stand against the test of time and remain quite popular to this very day. For one reason or another, others lost the gambling community’s favour and faded into history. One such casino game that comes to mind is Faro.

Faro 1

Faro, Pharaoh, or Farobank is a card game that was once the bread and butter of the American and European gambling houses or casinos, especially during the American Wild West and the Gold Rush. It was highly sought after among the masses, but eventually, the game's popularity waned; it began to vanish from casinos and was ultimately forgotten. 

How to Play Faro

Faro is considered one of the simplest games ever devised. It accommodates two or more players and requires a standard deck of 52 cards, an extra set of 13 cards for each rank (ace through the king of spades), betting chips and one penny for each player. The aim of the game is to win the most bets by the end of the game. Consider the following step-by-step guide to get a clear understanding of what transpires during a game of Faro.

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    The Game Setup

    A typical game of Faro, also known as “ faro bank ”, consisted of an oval-shaped table usually covered in green baize. This table would have a cut-out for the dealer, also known as the “banker”. A board was placed on top of the faro table, which consisted of a standardised betting layout of one suite of cards (traditionally spades). 


    These cards made up the “tableau”; they were arranged in numerical order, split into two equal rows, and glued face up to the board. Before the start of the game, a punter had to purchase a set of chips or checks from the banker (or house). In addition to the checks, each player was given a single penny.

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    The Dealing Box

    Each round of Faro began with the banker shuffling a deck of cards and placing it into a dealing box. This box, also known as a shoe, was a mechanical device that prevented drawing manipulations by mixing the deck in between rounds and assured punters that the house or the dealer was not cheating them. A case keep, operated by a case keeper or coffin driver, was an abacus-like device that helped players keep track of denominations that had been played.

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    The Burn Off

    The dealer draws the first card from the shoe and lays it face-up to the side of the tableau. This card is called the “soda” and is burned off since it doesn’t play any other role throughout the game. This step was vital since it prevented card counting.

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    Placing Bets

    Next, the players place betting chips on the top of the card ranks they think would be drawn second. The stake values varied depending on the house, although it was usually set between 50 cents and €10 per person. Players could also bet on a card to lose by placing a hexagonal token (sometimes pennies) called a copper on top of the checks. This was known as coppering, which reversed the intent of the bet.

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    The Outcomes

    Once the bets are in place, the banker removes two cards from the deck. The first card is placed to the right of the dealing box and is called a banker’s card. The second card is the player’s card and is placed to the left of the shoe. Bettors who laid chips on the banker card automatically lose.

    Gamblers who bet the checks on the player’s card win a 1:1 payout. If the bet is placed on the losing card, then the banker takes all. The punter wins half of their bet if both cards are of the same rank. Between rounds, players can move the chips to another, leave them where they stand, or remove them from the board.  

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    Call The Turn

    The banker continues to remove two cards from the Faro box until only three remain (player’s card, banker’s card, hock). When this happens, the banker can call a special bet called “call the turn”. During this bet, punters predict the drawing order of the remaining cards. If they guess the order correctly, they can win four times their bet.

Faro Strategies

Faro is a game of pure luck, and unless a player possesses exceptional card counting skills, they may have to rely completely on luck to land a win in this game Although, there are a few tactics that may help improve their chances of winning. 

Case Bets

When a player bets on a particular rank when only one card of the same denomination is left in the shoe, it is known as a case bet. While these bets have a zero house edge since losing half is impossible, the house may still charge a 5% commission on wins. The odds of a case bet depend on the number of cards, so you can take advantage of these bets when fewer cards remain in the deck. 

The best time to place case bets would be when 21 or fewer cards are left. You can use case bets to your advantage when fewer cards are left in the deck. An excellent time to place case bets would be when 21 or fewer cards remain in the box.Faro 2

Flat Bets

A Faro game played with a full card deck comprises 13 denominations or “flat” bet opportunities — one for each rank in the suit. To increase your odds of winning, place a flat or denomination bet when 23 or more cards remain in the dealing box. 

Popular Faro Variants

During Faro’s reign in Europe and the USA, players invented numerous alternatives to the game. Some of the most popular ones include:

  • Jewish Faro: In Jewish Faro, also referred to as Stuss, the banker dealt the cards by hand instead of the shoe. As opposed to traditional Faro, the house in Stuss wins all the money when two cards of the same rank are drawn. This increases the edge that the house has over the players.
  • German Faro: Also known as Deutsches Pharao or Süßmilch, German Faro was a simplified version of the original game with 32 German-suited cards.
  • Ladies’ Faro: This variant was specifically created for women

History Of Faro

The Origins

The game of faro was derived from a British card game called “ basset ”, which was quite popular among the members of the high society. Despite being considered a polite game, King Louis XIV outlawed the basset in 1691. 

The earliest reference to Faro can be tracked down to the late 17th century Southwestern France under the name of Pharaon. It was named after one of the French-made court cards adorned with a picture of an Egyptian pharaoh. Since gambling was still frowned upon during this time, the game soon followed the same fate as its predecessor and was outlawed in France. 

England

Despite being banned by the French, Faro gained massive popularity in England all through the 18th century. It was also highly coveted in other parts of Europe, mainly because of its easy rules, quick pace, and, when played honestly, the winning odds for a gambler were the best of all casino games. During this time, the English changed the game’s name from Pharoah to Pharo

Faro Takes The US By Storm

Around 1717, John Law - a Scottish outlaw who was forced to flee England - brought Faro to the States through the port city of New Orleans. By the 19th century, Pharo had become the most widespread and favoured game in the US. It was everywhere, from the Old West towns to Washington DC and could be found at every bar, pub, and saloon across the country, where Americans started referring to it as Faro.

Due to early card designs that featured a Bengal tiger as card-backs, both “ twisting the tiger’s tail ” and “ bucking the tiger ” had become common euphemisms for playing Faro. At one point, the Faro-induced fever in the US became so intense that towns, alleys, districts, and establishments where the game was popular were often referred to as “ tiger town ” or “ tiger alley ”. Many gambling houses and casinos also tended to hang a tiger picture on their windows to let players know that Faro was available at that venue. 

The Fall Of Faro

After having had a very successful run, the golden age of Faro soon came to an end after World War II broke out. It eventually lost its appeal and started vanishing from gambling venues. You could still find a Faro game in major casino destinations like Las Vegas and Reno, but that, too was discontinued by 1985.

What Caused Faro’s Disappearing Act?

Cheating 

The major issue that led to Faro’s demise was cheating. Gambling houses started using crooked dealing boxes that would favour the house. Other forms of cheating by the dealers included rigged or stacked decks of cards and sleight of hand. When players caught on to what was transpiring, it usually resulted in a brawl or fatal gunplay. The rampant cheating, deception, and violence surrounding Faro ultimately led to its fall from grace and destroyed any chance of a renaissance.null

Advent Of Bigger Casinos And Other Games

Even though they sullied Faro’s reputation, the emergence of bigger and more established casinos was the last nail in the coffin. These venues favoured games with a higher house advantage. In the early 1900s, Faro became virtually extinct as poker surpassed its popularity and availability, taking its place as the most favoured card game among bettors. 

Verdict

Faro ruled over the gambling industry for well over a century. Even after being discovered to be a cheater’s paradise, the game still managed to survive for a great deal of time until it finally faded away for good. What was once the most dominant casino game in Europe and America has now become a long-forgotten chapter in gambling history. 

Nonetheless, Faro is still available at a few selected gaming establishments around the world. If you are interested in a fast-paced, easy-to-learn game with favourable odds, then you can give Faro a try. To do so, you can either seek out Faro’s online version or gather your community of friends and hash out a strategy for gameplay using this page for guidance.

Faro FAQs

Faro is a card game which comprises "punters" and a "banker". The objective of the game is to predict the rank of the punter's card drawn by the banker from a betting box loaded with a standard pack of cards.

Faro is a derivative of the famous English game basset. It originated in southwestern France in the 17th century during the reign of King Louis XIV.

Faro can admit any number of players. There can be two or multiple bettors but only one dealer/banker.

Since Faro was invented in France, the first people to play the game were the French, followed by the English.

The bet values for Faro varied from casino to casino. However, it usually ranges from 50 cents to €10 per person.

Matthew gover

Matthew GoverVerified

iGaming & Sports Specialist

IGaming, sports and cryptocurrency content writer - Matthew is a jack of all trades! He's been doing it all for the past 5 years.

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