Where does the gambling term "punter" come from?
An interesting article from today's Las Vegas Advisor:
Q: Where does the gambling term "punter" come from?
A: We're glad you specified "gambling term," so we didn't go off on some wild tangent about football, hookers, file-transfer protocols, indentations in the bases of wine bottles, or English-style gondolas. And you're not referring to the Australian socialite and basketball coach Christopher "Punter" Ponton, nor indeed to the Hindi expression for the term "dude," as in, Punter hai re ekdum, meaning, "He's a cool dude," are you? You're talking about the British and Australian term for those who place wagers, as in, "Daring Donkey in the 2.15 at Ascot is definitely worth a punt, mate." Right?
That's unfortunate, since this is the trickiest usage of the word to fully account for, its complete etymology proving somewhat elusive. But here's a stab at it.
The most convincing origin we came across derives from a version of the popular European game of baccarat known as punto banco, in which the players, i.e., those who stake against the bank ("banco"), are known as punters, from the Italian (and Spanish) term punto, meaning "a point," although why exactly, we're not sure. While the origins of baccarat remain obscure, it's certainly an old game, since its introduction to France from Italy has been traced to the 15th century. Other relatives of baccarat include chemin de fer, baccarat banque (or et deux tableaux), and the now virtually obsolete basset or bassette.
So far so good. But how the term came to mean gamblers in general or, as it tends to today in the U.K. and Australia, horse racing bettors in particular, we're not sure. In the financial world, someone who invests money in a chancy game or business (particularly the stock market), in the expectation of making a profit, is also referred to as a punter.
While in both countries a "punt" can mean a bet, in Australia "punting" is also used to mean gambling, while in England punting generally means "boating in a punt." These days in England, the term "punter" is used to refer to any customer of a business, as in, "Let's see if the punters like this new Swedish beer before we cancel our order for Bud."