Monday, April 16, 2012

The Game of Faro

Faro Card Table c. 1910 - THM Collection
Favored because the odds of winning were greater than any other gambling game, Faro was played in almost every gambling hall in the Old West. Its easy to learn rules, fast action play and gainful odds against the house gave it popularity among the gambling masses. In 1882, a New York Police Gazette study estimated more money was wagered on Faro in the U.S. each year than on all other forms of gambling combined.

Surviving its forbidden play in France during the reign of Louis the XIV, the late 17th century French gambling card game came to the U.S. in the 19th century. It infiltrated the Old West saloons with vigor and this game of chance soon became a dangerous scam.

The game was played with one deck of 52 cards and as many players, "punters", that could fit around the Faro table. Unlike most games in the gambling hall, faro was not owned by the saloon proprietor but instead by the faro dealer. He owned the table, cards, all the faro equipment, and put his own investment down to cover the bets of the game. One of the most famous faro dealers to set up in the west was Wyatt Earp who dealt faro in Tombstone when he first arrived.

To play the game, gamblers placed bets on the thirteen card Faro table layout. Flat bets, split bets, copper bets, high card bets -- all betting on the winning card or the loser. The dealer then draws two cards from the "Faro Box." The first card drawn, the bankers card, was the loser and the second was declared the winning card. So, if you had placed your chip on the Ace, and the Ace was the winning card you received a matching payout.

Faro Case Keep c.1910
THM collection
The Faro Box and Case Keep were employed to ensure gamblers fair play. However, since the equipment was owned by an entrepreneur, it soon became a false sense of  security. The gaffing of a Faro Box was so prevalent that rigged boxes were openly sold by catalog companies.
The final bet, when there are only three cards left in the deck, is known as a “Calling Turn.” It was the most popular and exciting point in the game. Players bet on what card would be dealt as the loosing card, the winning card, and the “Hock,” the last card which is not used. If you hit this bet, it paid four to one.

If you want to take your chance and belly up to the Faro table, follow this link for an online version:

~ Cameo Hoyle
Telluride Historical Museum
Exhibits Manager