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Faro: A 19th-century gambling craze

Nigel E. Turner, Mark Howard, Warren Spence

Abstract


We examine an extinct game of chance known as faro for clues that might help us understand modern gambling. By all accounts, faro has gone from being the most common game of chance and the most common casino gambling game in the United States during the 19th century to being almost nonexistent and nearly forgotten. It is so much forgotten, in fact, that films about the Old West usually show cowboys or miners playing poker. Only recently have images of faro made their way back into movies. We examine why the game was popular, as well as the role of cheats, who likely contributed to its demise. Through a combination of historical records and computer simulations, we evaluate mistaken beliefs about the profitability of the game and find that if played honestly, faro can yield a profit for the casino comparable to other table games. We also explore what lessons we can draw from this game. Of particular interest are the parallels between faro and our modern experience with electronic gambling machines.


Keywords


history of gambling; problem gambling; faro

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4309/jgi.2006.16.15

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