As much fun as hitting a Straight Flush twice in Three Card Poker was (40 to 1 payout, thank you very much), the most fun in the casino during last week's trip to Las Vegas was definitely had playing Sigma Derby. This antique horse-racing machine sits about 6 feet by 10 feet in size and features 5 mechanical horses racing around the track. It can be found on the main casino floor of the MGM Grand, near the lion habitat. Prior to each race, a list of odds appear for each 2-horse combination and bettors are given time to place their 25-cent bets on any of the 10 possible 2-horse combinations. You're betting on which horses will finish the race first and second and the odds change every race. You needn't get the order correctly, only the horse numbers.
The catch is that although each bet is only a quarter, you can bet up to 20 quarters per race and, yes, you can cover all 10 combinations if you so choose. Odds ranged from 2:1 to 200:1 and everywhere in between. Some races were loaded with longshot combinations while other races features a much closer grouping.
Playing this game takes a certain amount of self-confidence as more than a few people walked by, looked at the machine, and then made snide remarks about those of us playing it. The game looks like an antique toy and when you factor its appearance in with the 25-cent bets, it looks like something only a novice gambler would bother with. Or a pauper down to their last buck. Fortunately, I am neither.
My strategy was this: place a 2-quarter bet on one of the favored combos, another 2-quarter bet on one ofthe combos with middle odds (17:1 for example) and then another 2-quarter bet on the longshot. At first people were questioning why I would bet on the 200:1 combo, and my response that risking 25 cents to possibly win $50 seemed reasonable only made them snicker.
Until the 200:1 combo came in. Twice in 30 minutes.
After having lost most of my Three Card Poker winnings back on the Craps table, I was happy to report that I turned three dollars in quarters into $180 in about a half hour playing Sigma Derby.
But, aside from the fact that I did win some money playing this, the game was actually fun. Those who appreciated the machine for what it was knew that it had several qualities many of the table games lacked. For starters, it was fun to yell at the horses, despite feeling like a dork in the process. Secondly, you weren't risking much money, which made it a perfect way to wind down a Vegas trip. And lastly, I couldn't think of a better way to while away the time while Kristin was in her conference that would not win only me a little money, but keep the free booze flowing as well. Gran Marnier & black coffee for those curious.
I've tried to find some photos of the Sigma Derby machine that the MGM Grand has, but I can't. All I wind up finding are futuristic versions and photos of Sigma something-or-another fraternity parties. Which, are probably more fun to look at anyway. I did, however, find a very similar looking version at a Tahoe casino but the folks appearing in the photo with the machine are too ugly to post here so I won't. You can thank me later.