Sigma Derby: Vintage Horse Racing Ambrosia

There it sits, in a forgotten corner of the MGM Grand Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. It’s surrounded by a hallucinogenic collection of modern slot machines — Deal or No Deal, Wheel of Fortune and Alien Vs. Predator, exploding in trippy displays of lights and music. And amidst it all, is this humble orange and chrome 1970s-era table, lit from the inside with a few incandescents and the dim digital read-outs of a bygone era. Inside the table, stand five plastic horses, lined up at the starting line of a miniature track decorated with little trees and bushes like a middle school diorama project. And gathered around the table is a collection of rough, tired, hard-on-their-luck gamblers, who are so down and out that all they’ve got left is a plastic cup full of quarters, which they dutifully pump into the table.

But then, something magical happens: the bell rings, the crowd leans in, the gate lifts up — the horses are off!

“Come on #2! Kick it in! Kick it in!”

“That’s what I like to see, #5! Keep it up!”

“Goddammit #3, don’t do this to me! Turn it around!”

The five plastic horses, mounted on a groaning old conveyer belt, jerk forward, fall back and surge ahead, their legs cemented in place despite the dramatic thunder of hooves erupting from the table’s aging speaker. The horses round the corner, and the crowd jumps to their feet, yelling encouragement to their favorites. Suddenly, horse #2 and #4 pull up from behind, jerking forward maniacally down the final stretch, and cross the finish line in a photo finish. Half the table erupts in a cheer, the other half in a groan, and the unmistakable sound of a hail of quarters striking metal fills the room.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is Sigma Derby.

 

The greatest electronic horse racing game the world has ever known.

Sigma Derby is simple in concept. Five horses race around the track, and you bet on the two that you think will come in first and second (apparently, this is called a “quinella” in horse racing lingo, but I don’t speak that language). At the beginning of each race, players are given odds on each of the ten combinations, ranging from 2:1 to 200:1. Bet a quarter on a winning combination, and if it hits, you get a straight odds payout.

The real magic of Sigma Derby isn’t the odds or the payout, though — it’s the fact that there are ten people sitting around a table, watching little horses race. And talk about a race! Sigma Derby makes these races fun: horses fall back, shoot up from behind, and just about every race comes to a dramatic, nail-biting conclusion. Hence all the cheering and excitement. It’s really an experience. And at 25 cents a bet, how could you afford not to make a fool of yourself playing the Derby?

 

Sigma Derby’s Last Stand

Unfortunately, that may all come to an end soon…

Sigma Derby machines used to be a common sight in Las Vegas casinos. Even as of mid-2004, you could find them in the Hilton, Orleans, MGM Grand, New York New York, Caesar’s Palace, Imperial Palace, Riviera, Bally’s, the Excalibur, Luxor and the New Frontier — and each and every one of them was constantly surrounded by fans and newcomers alike. But over the past few years, these machines have started disappearing — mostly because a quarter isn’t worth as much as it used to be, and casinos can make more money with higher-yielding slot machines. It’s a shame, really. As of February, 2008, there is only one Sigma Derby machine remaining in Las Vegas: at the MGM Grand. I, myself, a relative newcomer to Sigma Derby, have only had the opportunity to play on that particular table.

Granted, a quick glance at the tacky vintage table and its 25-cent entry fee turns off many “serious gamblers,” but anyone that’s playing Sigma Derby couldn’t care less: it’s just that much fun. The snickers and wise-cracks roll off our backs the moment those five jumpy mechanical equines hit the tracks (which happens about once every 90 seconds).

Sigma Derby players are rabid. Just do a Google search for “Sigma Derby,” and you’ll find hundreds of discussions about the game, and even a blog completely dedicated to Sigma Derby. In fact, in June 2007, a group of fans organized The Sigma Derby Handicapper’s Challenge at the New Frontier, to determine the best Sigma Derby player in the world. (That title, of course, goes to Bob Black of Minneapolis, Minnesota.) Unfortunately, when the New Frontier closed down shortly after that epic competition, it left only one operating Sigma Derby table remaining in all of Vegas, and the fate of the competition is in turmoil. There’s even an online petition to Save our Sigma Derby Game from Extinction.

My friends and I (also rabid Sigma Derby fans, as you’ll see below) have even looked into buying a table for our own to put in our living rooms. A few months ago, we called up a gaming machine company to ask how much a Sigma Derby machine would cost. $20,000 plus delivery charges…which actually sounds like a good deal to me, and I’m a person who has never had more than a few hundred at one time.

But even better, there was an eBay auction a few weeks ago for the bargain price of $8,257.40:

Maybe not in the next few years, but one of these days, when I am wildly rich and successful – or even if I am destitute and have to sell my body to science to finance the purchase – I will own a Sigma Derby machine. That is my solemn vow.

 

Our latest Sigma Derby trip: It all started with ice cream sandwiches

Monday was Presidents’ Day, and everyone was off work, so I called up my buddy Ram in the late afternoon to see if he wanted to go get some ice cream sandwiches. We live in Los Angeles, and there’s this phenomenal little place called “Diddy Riese” in Westwood, where they sell delicious freshly-made ice cream sandwiches, constructed out of two giant cookies (still warm from the oven), with a generous scoop of ice cream in the middle. And they only cost $1.50. It’s an unbelievable deal, any way you look at it (even from a Sigma Derby perspective, that’s enough quarters to make SIX bets).

Long story short, after we got out ice cream sandwiches, we decided to meet up with some friends down at Playa Del Rey, bringing with us a few bags of fresh Diddy Riese cookies to share. Munching on cookies and burgers, the discussion soon turned to Las Vegas and Sigma Derby (as it often does), and someone suggested, jokingly, that we head to Vegas right then and there.

The five of us looked around the room, there was a moment of silence, a second of hesitation, and then we locked eyes and nodded. We were going to Vegas. Immediately. And we were going to make it back before 10AM the next morning, so nobody was late for work. It was the best idea ever.

We all gave ourselves quick Mohawks, chugged some energy drinks, exchanged an obnoxious number of high-fives, and hopped on the highway. Destination: Sin City.

 

The Sigma Derby Enthusiast Club

This wasn’t the first Vegas trip for us, though it was our first impromptu middle-of-the-night trip. I’d made the four-hour drive twice before in the past few months: for a three-day trip over Thanksgiving, and as the first waypoint on a cross-country drive in December.

Both Vegas trips, of course, had ended at the MGM Grand’s Sigma Derby table, with me screaming incoherently at the little mechanical horses, as I played for hours on a single $10 roll of quarters.

And there was always a sense of genuine camaraderie with the other Sigma players, who are always interesting characters, to say the least.

There was the Turban wearing middle-eastern guy, who was terrible at placing the bets themselves, but could call the winning horse combination within five seconds after they’d left the starting gate. “That’s 2-3,” he would say, horses #2 way behind the pack, and #3 in a pathetic third place. Sure enough, within thirty seconds, #2 and #3 would surge to the front and win. (Too bad this guy’s premonitions wouldn’t extend back another ten seconds so that he could place the right bets….)

Then there was the old Asian man, who studiously wrote down every winning horse combination in a little notepad, and kept obsessive details of various statistics. I wanted to tell him that keeping track of the races was pointless, because the stats for the horses were randomly generated by a computer program at the beginning of every round…but there was something about his air that told me that he knew a lot more about Sigma Derby than I did. I pictured him as a yogi, a sensei, who would spend his weekends meditating on mountain tops, reaching a full and complete understanding of Sigma Derby

“Have you ever seen 200:1 hit?” one of us asked, referring to the longshot 200:1 odds that show up every few races.

“Oh yes, many times,” he said as he scrawled another 4-5 winning combination down on his notepad. He did not elaborate, but he spoke with such absolute conviction, that we didn’t argue.

That didn’t mean we didn’t have our doubts. In all of our collective Sigma Derby experiences it had NEVER, EVER hit. “Many times?” We had been pumping quarters into the machine for half a day, and nothing remotely close to 200 had ever come up.

But then again, you can’t argue with a sensei.

 

“You just gotta bet on it”

By far the most interesting player we met was at about 1:00AM after Thanksgiving dinner, a guy named “Willy” who spent Thanksgiving alone playing Sigma Derby. Willy, who had a draping Col. Sanders mustache, a rough voice and wild eyes, looked like he’d just rolled out of a gutter. He was also self-proclaimed Sigma Derby expert. Willy informed us that he’d been at the table all night, and gave us strategy tips.

“When the 200 comes up, you’ve gotta bet on it,” he instructed, nodding his head. “You just gotta bet on it.”

Despite the recommendations from the sensei and Willy, betting on 200:1 still sounded like a terrible idea – those odds were wretched, and the chances of it hitting were slim to nil. Why waste the money?

But Willy, sat across from us the entire night, faithfully putting a quarter down on every 200:1 that showed up, saying every time “You just gotta bet on it.”

Willy was an odd chap to say the least. He was afraid of letting anyone see his quarter count, so he covered up his console with multiple cups, forming a little barrier between himself and the rest of us. And every few minutes, he would reach into his pocket, pull out a little pill crusher, grind up a white tablet and snort it. “Anyone wanna try? This’ll make you feel reeeeeaaal good,” he told us. We turned him down after we got a look at the pill case: it was women’s PMS pain medication, which he informed us he’d bought at a convenience store behind the Paris. (I think by “Real good,” he might have meant “homeless and delirious”…)

But as the night wore on, and we got to know Willy better, something happened. We all realized that he was an absolute crackpot, but his blind faith rubbed off on us. Gradually, when the 200:1 showed up, we started betting on it too, thinking to ourselves “It’s probably not going to hit, but if it does, I don’t want to be the one person at the table that misses out!”

We had all joined the Church of Willy. We sincerely believed.

At least for a few hours.

By 5:30AM, though, our faith in 200:1 — and our supply of quarters — was waning. We sleepily fed our final quarters into the table, and then bid Willy farewell. As one of us shook hands with him on the way out, he accidentally knocked over his drink. But rather than clean up the mess, he stayed put as it dripped all over his legs. Nobody was going to take Willy’s spot or steal his quarters.

As we trudged back to our hotel room, the little bit of faith we had in the 200:1 dwindled. 200:1 was never going to happen in our lifetimes. The church of Willy was a scam.

 

Retribution

As the Vegas lights appeared in the horizon on our impromptu Presidents’ Day trip, the five of us exchanged yet another round of high-fives. The count was now at 252: we had decided to keep a running tally of high fives for the night, and had made it our goal to pass 1000 by the time we got back to LA. Excitement was in the air, and we were all eagerly anticipating all the colors, the sounds, and the little plastic horsies.

But as the Vegas skyline came closer into view, I had to get something off my chest. Something Sigma Derby related. Something absolutely devestating.

I took in a deep breath, and told the guys about my trip to Las Vegas in December, which was quite possibly the darkest moment of my adult life. All thanks to Sigma Derby.

In December, I was in the midst of a cross-country drive back home to New York for the holidays, and the two guys I was traveling with and I decided to stay in Vegas on our first night. Despite my firm belief that 200:1 would never hit, I was incredibly excited to play Sigma Derby again, and gushed profusely about the game to my friends as we walked down the Strip.

The three of us toured the various casinos for a few hours, tried our hand at a bunch of different slots and table games….but before too long, I led my friends to the MGM Grand for a rousing bout of the Derby.

As we rounded the corner, past the MGM’s live lion display, I could see the crowd gathered around that orange table, cheering excitedly. And oh man, did I get excited for some quarter racing.

Within a few races, the 200:1 odds came up. I was about to make a wisecrack about how betting on those odds was like throwing money into a wishing well…but I was aghast at what I saw. Somehow, The Church of Willy was alive and well. Dutifully, everyone at the table pulled out a quarter and bet it on the longshot every time it came up. All around the table, I could hear people repeating Willy’s mantra: “You just gotta bet on it.”

Granted, it would be awesome if 200:1 hit, but the chances against it were astronomical. How could all of these people be so blind? And brainwashed? Willy’s insane strategy wasn’t going to screw me out of my quarters again.

I took my seat at the table, and watched smugly as the horses ran their race, the 200:1 horses falling behind early and staying behind. “Of course, that’s what’s supposed to happen” I thought, as the 2:1 combination roared across the finish line. I pulled out my $10 quarter roll and pumped it into the machine.

And so, dozens and dozens of races went by, and every four or five of them, a 200:1 showed up. I started using a new strategy – a winning strategy – that did not involve “throwing my money away” on longshots. Rather, I would bet on more probable combinations, and when the big odds appeared, I would put my money firmly on the 2:1 or 3:1, and almost always net a profit. Before long, I was up $20, and feeling fantastic.

The fools around me, on the other hand, were all throwing their money away, betting on the 200:1 odds with an almost religious fervor. “You’ve just gotta bet on it,” they’d say. I’d sip my drink and shake my head, as I ran my fingers through my $20 in cold, hard quarters.

Little did I know that within moments, my world would be shattered.

It was a moment I will never forget, a moment that will live in infamy.

200:1 odds showed up, and the masses obediently placed their bets. I, on the other hand, continued with my strategy of betting on the “sure thing.”

The buzzer sounded, the gates opened up, and I could immediately feel that this race was different. I looked around the table, at the collection of hopeful gamblers, cheering for the 200:1 horse combination, each with a gleam in their eye. I looked at the horses, inching their way around the track. Everything happened in slow motion. And as the two last place horses rounded the corner and began their surge, I knew.

It hit.

200 to 1.

The crowd went wild. The sound of hundreds of dollars of quarters paying out filled the casino. Complete strangers exchanged hugs and high fives.

And there I sat, distraught. Dumbfounded. Destroyed.

I buried my head in my hands.

I was defeated.

“And that’s why you’ve gotta bet on 200:1,” I warned my friends as we took the exit to the MGM Grand Casino just short of midnight.

“Wow man, Willy was right,” one of them said.

Understatement of the century.

 

Reconciliation

We piled out of the car as the clock struck twelve, bursting with energy and excitement. The high five count had already surpassed 500 by the time we entered our first casino. We spent about three hours casino hopping, trying different table games, playing some video roulette, pulling a lot of slots – and losing money left and right.

By 3:00AM, we were all having a fantastic time, but we had all lost just about as much as we could stomach. It was that time. The quarters came out, and we made our way to the MGM Grand.

We gathered around Sigma Derby, and carefully took our seats, excited to cheer on some horses, but still weary of the elusive 200:1. I had learned my lesson, that’s for sure. I would never let another 200:1 go by, but I was also absolutely sure that I would never see another one hit. I had forsaken the Church of Willy, and the Sigma Derby gods had, in turn, forsaken me.

The first few races went by, and I hit a lucky streak. Pretty soon I had doubled my $10 in quarters, despite “throwing away” a quarter Willy-style on every 200:1 that appeared. The rest of the guys I was with were doing fairly well too, and like always, we had a great time cheering on the animatronic horses as they duked it out on their simulated raceway. It was so fun that we almost forgot how far in the hole we were from the last three hours’ worth of gambling.

The only other people at the derby that night were an old down-on-their luck European couple. We made some futile attempts at conversation when we first sat down, but it wasn’t until about an hour later that the ice was sufficiently broken (or they were sufficiently liquored up), and the words started flowing. They were as impressed with out spur-of-the-moment Vegas trip as we were with their accents.

We talked for quite some time, but none of us had been able to place the accents. I was pretty sure that they were Irish, but wouldn’t have been surprised if they were from Sweden, or Hungary for that matter (my European accent IQ runs about room temperature).

Finally, Ram asked the burning question: “So, where are you guys from?”

“We’re from Scotland.”

“Of course,” we all responded, nodding and pretending we’d known all along.

“Thank God you didn’t think we were Irish,” the cynical wife added.

“Oh, no, of course not!” I said, in a futile attempt to cover up my ignorance. I added, “We just weren’t sure if you had a Glasgow or Aberdeen accent,” speaking straight out of my ass.

After a few minutes, we had learned why the couple was at Sigma Derby: they were down to their last five dollars, after a very losing two days on the Strip. I was tempted to ask how much the damage was, but their faces said it all.

“Well,” I said, “Regardless of how much money you have left, you *have* to bet on the 200:1.”

The Scottish woman looked at me like I was insane, and her husband had a similar reaction. I was probably an undercover agent working for the casino, they must have figured, or just downright delusional. (I’m sure the Mohawk wasn’t helping.)

But then my other Mohawked brethren jumped in, and encouraged them further. “You just gotta bet on it.” “How stupid would you feel if it hit and everyone got it except for you?”

At first, they tried to come up with excuses, but after a few minutes of our pestering, they realized that they were coming up empty-handed. They gave in. And soon, all of us at the table were dutifully placing our 200:1 bets every time the opportunity came up, and dutifully cheering on the longshot horses, even if they routinely finished fourth and fifth.

The hours ticked by, and as our quarters diminished, the doctrine of Willy was alive and well, even if it was costing us quarters. Some would say we were paying the “idiot tax” by following that strategy, others would just walk by and snicker that we were playing Sigma Derby in the first place, but to the seven of us at that table, cheering on miniature plastic horses and betting on the slim-to-nil made perfect sense.

But certainly not from a financial perspective. By the time the clock struck 5:00, three of the people in my group had gone bankrupt, there were only two of us, and the Scots left — who had miraculously made their five dollars hold out.

By this point, we’d lost hope that 200:1 hit. We were just betting on it out of some type of peculiar devotion.

One of my friends looked at his watch. “All right guys, we’ve got to get going if we’re going to make it back to LA in time for work.”

We all nodded in agreement. I was down to my last quarter. Tony had 14 left. The Scottish couple had a handful between them. We had all but given up on any prospect of winning money.

“Okay, but let’s wait until the next 200:1 shows up before we head out. I’ve got a good feeling about this one,” I said, half joking.

My antsy employed friends agreed to stick it out for a few more races, so that we could go out in style. It had been an incredible night, and even if all of us lost on Sigma Derby, at least we had a great time doing it.

Then it showed up, the 200:1. Everyone at the table agreed, this was it, the last bet of the night. We all put all of our quarters on the 200:1 and stepped back. This was the big kahuna, the one for all the marbles.

The gate rose, the buzzer rang out, and the horses were off.

And out there somewhere, Willy was smiling down on us.

Through the exhaustion, the buzz of free casino drinks, the haze of cigar smoke, and our unbridled skepticism, we saw it happen. The two last place horses – the horses that never stood a chance – started coming up from behind. And, holy shit, did we cheer. And as those two little horses made their way up the final stretch, we cheered even louder. And as they took the lead, right at the finish line, we exploded.

They won.

200 to 1 had hit. On the last bet of the night.

Everyone jumped to their feet in sheer amazement. The high five count instantaneously passed 1,000.

The Scottish couple ran to the other side of the table and hugged us.

It was a moment of pure elation, pure insanity.

We had netted close to a grand between us. Tony’s 14-quarter bet alone pulled in $700, which was awarded to him in a combination of cash and a bucket of $100 in quarters, straight from the machine.

I won $50 from my 25-cent bet, and the Scots won over $100 as well. From quarter bets. QUARTER BETS.

But it’s not the money that mattered, so much as the fact that we won it on Sigma Derby.

When those little plastic horses run down their track, and the crowd goes wild over something that trivial, over 25-cent bets that are that inconsequential, something magic happens. It’s something that’s beyond words. It’s a collective experience that defies description.

It’s Sigma Derby. The single greatest casino game ever.

203 thoughts on “Sigma Derby: Vintage Horse Racing Ambrosia

    1. Great story. I will be at the Sigma at the D in July. My best Sigma story unfolded at Circus, Circus about 30 years ago. My brother in law and I were playing and we each had several quarters on the 200-1 when it hit. Very shortly thereafter, a young couple from Michigan joined us, they had never played before, and we explained the 200 to 1 had just hit. Sure enough, about 30 minutes later the 200-1 hit again and we made so much noise (it was the middle of the night) that management came by the Derby to ask us to tone it down. In all the years since I have never seen the 200-1 hit twice in such a short time frame. I love the SIGMA DERBY!

        1. I just played it over Labor Day Weekend September 1st, 2014, at the MGM. It is just to the right of their buffet there. So much fun that it has become a tradition to get a drink from Fat Tuesday and then head to the Sigma Derby game!

  1. I think…THINK….there’s one at the Luxor. I was near s-faced on those darn yard margaritas, but I remember watching them go around. I believe this was…2006.

  2. Unfortunately, the one at the Luxor is gone… from what I’ve read, it was one of the last ones left in Vegas, and featured camels instead of horses…but the Luxor did away with it a year or two ago.

    It was probably still around when you visited in ’06 though.

    I’ll be crushed if the the MGM Grand gets rid of their Sigma Derby table…but if I were a casino owner and people keep on winning $700+ on it, I would probably reconsider keeping it around too…

  3. Fantastic – this is the best account of a Sigma Derby experience I have ever read (and trust me I’ve read a few since I got hooked on the game).

    I can only hope the table will be waiting for me the next time I find myself lost in Vegas.

  4. Thanks for this wonderful story. Sigma Derby lovers will be pleased to know that one of our TripAdvisor members recently learned that MGM plans to keep Sigma Derby for the foreseeable future. Their plan apparently is to keep the current machine until it finally breaks down, at which point they will replace it with a newer model.

    I would suggest that the focus of Sigma Derby activism should now turn to lobbying other properties to bring this game back. I think a struggling property like Sahara could really attract some business with a Sigma Derby table, people who might otherwise never have visited their property.

  5. Stratton,

    You beat me to it! I love this article and am a new lover of Sigma Derby. I just played it on Sunday and when an employee went to cash my quarters (an older gentleman named Frank I believe), he did tell me that they plan to replace it with a more technologically advanced version. I was NOT under the impression it would involve any fancy gaming, just a more technologically advanced MECHANICAL version.

    Sigma Derby is awesome!

    Exquizite

  6. Great artical. After my recent vacation to vegas it wasnt till our last night there when we found the durby. We played for 6 + hours, got waisted and acctually won a little money. The other people at the table were so fun to sit with. I fell out of my chair, spilled a couple of captin and cokes on the machine, and broke a beer bottle. Great game, are there any sigma durbys besides at the Mgm, other parts of the country?

  7. Great article for all Sigma Derby lovers. I was in Vegas last week and I woke up early every morning while the family was still sleeping so I can sneak away and play the Sigma Derby. One morning I turned 10 dollars into 80 dollars. It was so early they had to call someone to cash in my quarters because the change booths weren’t opened yet. The woman who cashed in my quarters couldn’t believe I won it all on the Sigma Derby. It’s so much fun to play that I don’t even care if I win. They have these games in some of the arcades on the New Jersey shore boardwalks. You win tokens for prizes, not cash but it’s still just as fun. I think these machines were from Atlantic City casinos. The AC casinos haven’t had these games in quite some time. I hope the MGM still has this when I visit Vegas again. I had to go in the morning because it was always too crowded at night. The newer versions of these machines are more detailed. You can find video on Youtube under Japanese Horse Racing Game. You can also find a table top home version of one of these games at a British Company website called “I want one of those”. Search the website under games and you will find it. They will not ship it to the United States though.

  8. Thank you for letting me share in your experience. My friend Rocky and I absolutely love Sigma Derby and make it a point to stop by every time on our trips to Vegas. We’re married with kids now so the spontaneous trip just isn’t in the cards, but dammit, the spirit of the Sigma will never die!

  9. Wow, I have great memories of sigma in A/C years ago. I sometimes would hit those machines for $500 plus!! My play was covering one horse with all each race. eg: 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5 for multiple quarters. A great machine if you are looking to make some profit. I am going to Harrahs in vegas mid October 2008. Does the MGM still have one? I will make a special trip to the MGM in October if so. Great blog!!

    Thanks,

    Scott

  10. yall need to come up to south lake tahoe, the horizon casino in stateline has sigma derby, last night 200:1 odds hit too. f’ng best game evar!!!

  11. Wow, what a well written article about the Sigma Derby! I’ve read it a few times already. I enjoyed the game just last May while in Vegas. We made a special trip to visit the MGM because of this machine. It’s so easy to spend a lot of time in the casino playing it. Unfortunately, a couple player slots were out at the time but magically came back into service after a couple hours. May this game continue to entertain others as much as it has entertained us.

  12. My dad always referred to it as the “horsey machine”. He always played the 4-5 combination at 79:1 and it came in quite often. One night we both hit the 200:1 combination (2 quarters each) at the Frontier. It happened again at the MGM a few years later. A special memory for both of us. Thanks for the great article.

  13. Hey, all! I just Googled Sigma Derby because I was curious…and found this site as well as others…

    Just wanted to let everyone know, there is a Sigma Derby game at Royal River Casino in Flandreau, South Dakota! (I know, it’s the middle of nowhere). I love that game so much and I play it faithfully every time I am there…

  14. does anyone know if there are any $1 machines?? instead of quarters???
    also, any closer to n.j.??? maybe canada i heard…….hope they still have that one at mgm .

  15. Wow, that brings back memories! They had a Sigma Derby at the Horizon in South Lake Tahoe where I lived for 8 years. They got rid of it several years ago, but it was such a great time! Great postings, man!

  16. Just returned home from a four day trip to the MGM. Discoved Sigma Derby first day but too many people around during the day to play. Ended up playing at midnight. Got to know the others playing so we all agreed to meet each night at mightnight and play. We played until 5 AM on two nights and 6 am on another. We had a blast.

    Talked to many old timers who have been playing Sigma Derby for years. Lots of love for this game.

    Also talked to the guys who keep the machine at the MGM running. MGM plans to keep her going and has another maching which they are using for spare parts.

  17. Not only does the Horizon Casino at Stateline, Nev. still have its Sigma Derby (I’m happy to report), now that they’ve eliminated all dealers and live table games (I’m sad to report) the game has taken center stage in the casino! I was there Memorial Day weekend (Tuesday at 1:30 a.m.) and having a great time with a merry group. The loudest, drunkest guy gave horse #2 a name – Gary Deucey – and lamented how he missed betting the 200-1 when he had been betting it all night, and one woman at the table hit it. I hit a 37-1 during my session, finished down $10, but felt like a winner for getting to play it again! Only 6 of the 10 spots were working. Actually, there were only 8 spots, as 2 consoles had been completely removed. Ah, good times!

  18. The Sigma Derby is by far my girlfriends game to play. Last time we stayed 3 nights. We played the Derby 2 of 3 and she was upset she didnt get to play the last night.

    MGM, Please leave the machine and let us play.

  19. Just got back from vegas. It was my third time out but my first time to find this game. My favorite game out there. I won 100 dollars the first night lost 10 the second but had a blast both nights with most of the same people. My wife would go play the slots and said she would hear the roar of the small crowd and even people around her would say what is that and she would say it’s the 25 cent horse race. I’m a KY native and love to go to the race tracks at home. I’ve been to the Derby at Churchill, Keeneland, but I WILL BE BACK TO BET THE HORSES AT THE MGM!!!!!!

  20. I was at Horizon in South Lake Tahoe earlier this month and did not see the derby. I believe it has been removed, unless it is tucked away somewhere. What a bummer!

  21. I was staying at the MGM in early July when I first even discovered this game existed… I spent most of my last night in Vegas at the table, starting with a roll of quarters and ending up with $100 worth of quarters. 🙂

    I then went to the craps table for an hour or so, came back to Sigma Derby to finish off my night, and within a 15 minute span around 3-4 in the morning I saw a 150:1 and a 137:1 hit.

    It is my new favorite game in all of las vegas and hope MGM keeps it running as long as possible.

    I’ll be going back mid-September and will report as to whether the machine is still up and running.

  22. According to Wikipedia, it’s now across the street at MontBleu, a strange location for it. I’m going up this weekend, and will check its status.

  23. Just got back from MGM. I’m very happy to say that the Sigma Derby is alive and well!!!

    Near the sports book & right next to the “win a BMW” slots.
    My last trip to Vegas was very disappointing because I could not find the derby in any of the locations that I played it on many trips before. Camels at the Luxor, Knights on Arabian horses at the Excaliber, Bally’s, Circus Circus, the torn down Star Dust, etc.
    Yes, I’ve played it for a long time! I remember when the Trump casinos in AC had them, they were $1 there. And also played in Tahoe, I think at the old Cesars. I missed it at the Mont Bleu when I was in Tahoe last March but am really glad I checked this site and found out about the machine at the MGM – Thanks guys!!!!!!

    Any one know of any other locations? There used to be so many of these. I know a few are down the Jersey shore, used for tickets or tokens in some of the arcades, like Skee Ball. Wonder where the rest went.

    BTW, I did hit a 200-1 today. I was there for about 4 hours and there were a fair amount of long shots. 2 guys at the table actually had 10 coins on the 200-1.

    I’ve also played the video derby in the Casino Montreal. That was a great game to play also – lots of fun. It was about 4 years ago. Anyone know of others, or if that one is still there?

  24. Sorry, I forgot to send an update. MontBleu did have Sigma Derby in September, in what used to be the poker room – enter from the Bill’s side and turn left into a bar area. People were generally happy, as they were in close proximity to the cocktail waitress’ rounds, and they got what they were there for. For the Sigma Derby players, still the usual 8 consoles, but I think they were all working. Hoping it’s still there, 2 months later!

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  26. There is also a Sigma Derby at our Casino in South Dakota. Royal River Casino in Flandreau South Dakota so if any of you are close to that spend a mini vacation there playing.

  27. I googled sigma derby because I played it over the weekend and had never seen anything like it. You guys sat next to me at the seat that wasn’t working! Awesome article!

  28. Just discovered Sigma Derby, had so much fun. Can you provide me with info on how/ who I can purchase this machine from.

  29. Sigma Derby is still at MontBleu in South Lake Tahoe as of the June 4 weekend. It’s been moved again, this time to, appropriately, behind the sports and race book.

    Area casino update: Bill’s Casino next door is shut down. Horizon Casino still has slots and video poker but continues to look sad.

  30. My wife and I always played the Derby at the Imperial Palace. That’s is why we would stay there. I am very sorry to hear it was removed. I also played the one at Caesars. I’ve seen the 200-1 hit many times and was lucky enough to do it twice myself. I hope someday to own one, too, but that’s a much longer shot than any on this great game. I’m glad to see so many other enthusiasts.
    Whenever I played it, all the other plays felt a certain excitement and superiority for discovering such a fun game for such a reasonable cost. It was like a little secret that we all shared. Very cool.

  31. Just got back from a 3 day stay at MGM Grand (there on business).

    Very happy to report that the Sigma Derby is still there, alive and very well!!
    All seats were working! Didn’t have too much time, but played a little and it was always busy as usual.

    there were that came in at over 100-1 while I was there. My biggest hit this time was 43-1. Can’t beat this game and the fun of people playing it together.

  32. Loved your Sigma Derby Chronicles! I just played it at Montblu in Tahoe tonight. I had 5 bucks in my pocket and made it last 2 hours….after that I’m officially hooked! I hope to land a 200-1 someday 🙂

  33. My favorite Sigma Derby was the one in Caesar’s. That machine raced chariots! The one I played the most was upstairs at the IP. You would take the escalator from the street and it was just to the left when you reached the top.

    The Excalibur had a good version too. The game featured jousting horses.

    Long live Sigma Derby. I will go to the MGM just to play it. I thought they were all gone!

  34. I finally visited the Sigma Derby at the MGM Grand on Feb. 5-6, 2011. It was going, and the people playing it were happy (of course).

    When I got a couple rolls of quarters at the casino cage, the cashier remarked “gonna play the ponies?” I chatted with him a bit and he claimed they have enough parts to keep it running for seven more years. I don’t know the veracity of this information, but that’s the tidbit he put out there.

    For what it’s worth, he had thought it was the only one in Nevada, and I informed him there’s also one in Stateline.

    There were no 200-1 winners when I was there, nor any chatter of a recent hit. I’ll keep playing. One day… Could the day be during Spring Break in April, when I’ll be back at MontBleu? Another report after then!

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  36. We were debating, does anyone know all of the possible odds?
    It doesn’t seem to be just random numbers between 2-200, because 200 comes up way to much, so instead we were thinking it is a random selection of few select numbers.
    Some of the number I have seen are:
    2 3 5 6 7 8 10 14 15 24 39 48 99 200
    (but obviously there are more)

  37. Oh. My. God. Or should I say “gold?”

    This game literally changed my life. After a hard night of binge drinking, under-sleeping and over-eating at the MGM Grand buffet, I found myself sitting at “the ponies table.” When my husband first mentioned that he won money “playing the ponies,” naturally I imagined that he had done this with some REAL horses. Not so.

    After a few minutes of sincere coaching efforts, I was hooked. A 2-quarter win? YES!
    “Bet the favorite!”
    “Okay.”
    “No, times two!”
    “Okay.”

    Hitting that button to apply quarters to 4-5 or 1-2 or 1-3 was like…like graduating college. What an amazing accomplishment! I congratulated myself a lot that day.

    Thank you for this blog. My life is, indeed, forever changed.

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  39. At my last visit to Montbleu, May 11, I walked up to find a couple with buckets of quarters. The woman calmly claimed to have won a 200-1 earlier in the day. From their demeanor and chatter, I had little reason to doubt her.

    They sounded as if they were getting ready to go, but were sticking around a bit longer. The cocktail waitress came by and asked if I cared for a drink. I said I’ll order on the next round, since I needed to get quarters. She offered to get a roll for me on her way to the bar. So I ordered a Bloody Mary.

    Well, as I waited for my coins, I saw an amazing string of double-digit odds winners. There were winners in the 12, 18, 27s… There were an occasional favorite winner (2s 4s, and 5s), but I’d never seen a run of longshots like this. If I recall correctly, there was a least one big one: like between 50-100.

    Of course, by the time I got my quarters (and a $2 tip to the waitress) the favorites were back to winning. My $10 in quarters quickly dwindled. I think I won a 12, but that was all, folks.

  40. Just got back from Lake Tahoe and the derby at MontBleu is alive and racing. Son who is only 18 (shhhh!!!) He bet on the 200:1 that came available within minutes of us being there. He bet 2 quarters on the odds and won! We didn’t even know the Church of Willy fellowship rules!!! We are believers.

  41. There is a Sigma Derby machine in Flandreau, South Dakota at Royal River Casino. C’mon out some time! It’s my fav game. I can’t stand slots, but I usually walk out of the casino money ahead when I play this!! I go every year on my birthday because they have a “Birthday Booth” where you can win free game money.

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  43. Can anyone confirm the current state of the MGM Vegas Sigma Derby? I am visiting in a couple of weeks and hope to enjoy it again. Thanks

    I was there last year and saw the 200-1 come up twice whilst waiting for a space, then it came up whilst playing but I DID NOT BET ON IT (Never again !!!), then it came up whilst I was betting and the machine crashed so would not pay out – there was a a lot of unhappy people.

    A great game – MGM should get another as they have a special draw for customers there. It is so very different and brings people into the casino.

    The excitiment of those little electromechanical horses just has not been captured in the more modern electronic games.

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  46. I have a sigma derby game for sale. It’s the C-2 model. I have a complete manual, but there is no canopy. My dad bought the game in 2001 and it’s been in storage since then. It works, but is going to require some tlc. We are detailing it now and it should be ready within the next two weeks. My dad paid $12k for it, but I’m asking $7500 plus shipping costs. Serious buyers can contact me by email at: randy.tubz@gmail.com

  47. Great read, I just got back from Vegas and can say the game is live and well. Spent close to 8 hours on this game across 3 days for 25 dollars. And while I may not have seen willy there, I can assure you his advice echoes still today. Didn’t hit one but maybe next time…

  48. There are two at MontBleu in Tahoe (just FYI) – 200 hit twice in one hour between the two tables on Friday night.

  49. i went to vegas back in 08 and played sigma
    its amazin….i luv it
    that story you wrote was amazin…actually made me bit emotional
    so good to know theres people out there who luv sigma
    that write up was good

  50. I love these machines! I even learned how they work! It’s really cool. By the way, the video I learned it from is on YouTube. It’s called “Quarter horse derby”.

  51. im bringing my baffert troll-doll down the next time …ive been clocking the 5 horse…but hansen in the 1st post..is the one to beat here….totally fun game..hope it makes a come-back

  52. Just read this article for the first time. I have never laughed so hard when reading about gambling, and I read about gambling A LOT!!! Great Article!!!

  53. Just read about the new Sigma Derby going into The Golden Gate downtown.
    I’ll be in Vegas in 2 weeks so I’ll if its in yet.
    Will be spending some time at the MGM table if I can get a seat!

  54. That game is the absolute bomb! My favorite game to play in Vegas. My wife and I just got back from there and I don’t know how many hours we spent putting quarters into that game. Great fun, I wish more of those would pop up around Vegas.

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  55. You’ll be happy to know there are now TWO places in Vegas to play Sigma Derby. Last month, the D downtown (formerly Fitzgeralds) added a Sigma Derby on the casino’s second floor.

  56. We played at MGM on 12/12/2012. The game was a blast as always, but two of the stations had out of order stickers on them. The other stations would randomly go down and an attendant could fix it by opening it up and hitting some sort of reset switch inside. We came back the next night to play and the game was gone, it was replaced by a bank of 4 modern slot machines. It seams that MGM has finally removed this game.

  57. Back in early 2000, the friends and took a trip to Freeport Bahamas and had a blast on this machine. We played it for hours and 200:1
    Was hitting like crazy. We played for hours and had a crowd gathered around this machine and everyone was trying to get a seat. To this day we talk about how much fun we had. Too bad they shortly took this machine out of the casino we all walked away winners that night.

  58. Montbleu at Stateline, NV as of May 27, 2013 has two—count ’em, two—Sigma Derby machines! One machine had about 6–8 players with some smokers, the other seemed to be working but wasn’t being played on Memorial Day morning. I stopped in to look, but didn’t have time to play. I have already seen the path, and walked the path.

  59. 2009 was my first time playing the game. I went with my crew from the Firestation to celebrate a Firefighters Birthday. It was late on e night, early August and me and the Birthday boy find this old game and started playing. Just like everyone else who played we were hooked. Our Captain was playing in a poker tournament close to the lion enclosure. One of the guys at the table said “I wonder what those idiots are screaming about?” It was then the skipper recognized the voices as two of his crew. He said “my first thought was, Im pretty sure those are my diots” Go 2-3 Run! No screw that c’mon 4-5! “yup those are my idiots”. He came over and got hooked too. It became a ritual for my Station crew. My Fiance tonight just told me that its gone. She asked around and was told they didnt have it anymore. Sad F*#king day. Thanks for the blog. I could see my crew doing the same thing yours did. All over some silly plastic horses. The best game Vegas ever had.

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  79. I just played this at The D on Fremont. Best game ever!!!! I had only put in $2 worth when I hit 62:1. Played on the winnings for a while and the only other thing I hit was 112:1!!!! Seriously, the most fun I’ve ever had at the casino.

    The D also has a ton of other awesome vintage machines on the second floor. They call it “vintage vegas”. Way cool.

  80. Just got back from the D in Vegas, two older gentlemam playing on Sigma reported hitting the 200-1 the night before with 3 coins in. So I sat down, played long shots for hours and hours, putting 6-8 coins in on every 200 to 1 shot that came up. One hundred and sixty dollars and many visits from the waitress later, it happened. Eight coins in 200 to one shot, 400 dollars hand pay, plus the entire table bet it! A 4a.m. miracle…it does happen. Made good friends and ood times…I LOVE THIS GAME….

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  82. Great story,….. The Sigma Derby holds a soft spot in our families hearts! My father who grew up in New Jersey moved our family west in the mid 1950’s Southern California!
    Just a stones throw from Sin City, I can remember my dad and older brother going to Las Vegas for the first time in the late 1960’s and many times after.
    My Dads favorite gambling machine was the SIGMA DERBY He could sit there for hours and hours with his bucket of quarters and a “coooffee” and his smokes!
    Most of the time we would sit him down at the Sigma Derby and my brother and I would hit the town, Come back 3-5 hours later and our dad would still be sitting at the horse racing machine in the same chair with the money tray full of shinny quarters along with an ashtray full of have smoldering butts and five or six empty coffee cups!
    …But this story I’m about to tell came about many years later. actually just a few years after his passing in 2002 at age 80.
    My three brothers and I took a 3 day trip into Vegas for a weekend adventure. While cruising the famous strip we decided to drop in the MGM Grand to visit our dads favorite Sigma Derby, which was one of the last few still in operation in Vegas,
    So we sat down at the open seats and put a few quarters in honor of dear old dad! We are there maybe 5 minutes and a few of us noticed there was this chick setting next to us sort of glancing over at us, We didn’t think much of it since we all where kind of used to chicks string at us… (ok that was a lol line) so after a few minutes later her guy friend came over and sat next to her, at that time she leaned over and whispered something to him and the guy turned and said… “Hey uncles whats up” It turned out it was our nephew and his wife! They actually lived in North Vegas and we did plan on visiting them sometime during the weekend, but hadn’t called them yet!
    So you know how big Vegas is and to run into someone is not that easy…..but we accredited it to…THE SIGMA DERBY being the force! 😉

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  110. Wonderful read. I enjoyed this immensely. Really, thanks for writing it and giving me a trip down memory lane.

    MY WIFE and I are Sigma Derby enthusiasts from way back. I could tell you a hundred different fun stories about the game. We have also seen reams of notebook-keeping, although not by your “Sensei” but by a couple of shopworn characters at the Las Vegas Hilton who kept three-ring binders of looseleaf notes. My favorite may have been the machine at Caesar’s, tricked out with little CHARIOTS instead of the normal horsies.

    However, I have to tell you of the 200-1 I saw hit. Long ago, I think at The Flamingo but my memory on locale is hazy, I was playing the game with My Dad and My Aunt. My Aunt was a wonderful lady, a good poker player but who on her first trip ever to Vegas had run into hideous luck at the poker tables. She was down to nothing, we had two days left in town, and My Dad had been kind enough to give her ten bucks to play with. We all sat down at Sigma Derby, just to pass some time having fun, and she decided to try for a big hit.

    My Dad, ever the pragmatic $2 bettor, saw her put two quarters on the 200-1. He scolded her slightly, saying (with a smile), “200-1? No wonder you lost at the poker table. If I knew you were just going to throw my money away, I wouldn’t have given it to you.”

    Long story short, of course it hit. Quarters poured out of the machine. She had made $100 and was back in action. My Dad was dumbfounded. Meanwhile, unknown to either of them, I had also put a quarter on it. When I heard My Dad scolding her, I didn’t say anything. But money poured into my tray, too! $50. My Dad was the only one who hadn’t hit it.

    1. Great story, Jim!

      Glad to see some Sigma Derby reminiscing again, after this blog has long gotten hijacked by gibberish!

      Thanks for sharing the tale!

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  116. I worked for Sigma in the 80’s I loved the Derby machines and they were everywhere. I think i was the end of 1988 or early 1989 we did 2 jousting derby machines for the Excalibur in Las Vegas and later we did a Camel Race derby machine for the Sands in Vegas. These machines played exactly like the Horse Race derby machines but were truly works or art. I haven’t been to Vegas in quite a few years but the last time I was there the Excalibur still had one of the jousting machines hidden away in a corner in the back of the casino, still operational but not quite as beautiful as it once was. I have to say that the building those three derby machines was almost as fun as playing them. Has anyone ever seen any of these specialized machines?

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