Let your quarters ride on Sigma Derby before it's gone for good

Dec 16, 2020 |
By: Marc Meltzer

Sigma Derby Is Legend

Sigma Derby is probably the most mystical game you’ll find in a casino. Finding Sigma Derby is almost like finding a giant panda. The game really does exist but it's not easy to find.

There are only 10 Sigma Derby games in casinos across America. The two remaining games in Las Vegas can be found at MGM Grand and The D (as part of their second floor vintage slot area). It’s probably not a coincidence that both games are located close to the respective race & sportsbooks at these casinos.

Sigma Derby isn’t a popular game to most people. If it were mainstream popular you would find the game in more than two Vegas casinos. Having said that, Sigma Derby has cultivated a maniacal cult fan base since it first hit casinos almost 30 years ago. Sigma Derby ranks up there with classic cult movies such as “Night Of The Living Dead” and “Starship Troopers”.

If you’re not familiar with Sigma Derby, it’s a coin operated electro-mechanical horse race game. Simply put Sigma Derby is a horse race game where you have to pick the first two horses to win each race. If you pick the winning combination you'll win the game. Each machine has seats for 10 players. Since the games are coin operated you’ll need to come prepared with a pocketful of change, visit the cashier or find a change machine for quarters.

There are five horses that run around the enclosed race track that’s surrounded by the bettors. Players can buy in with quarters and place bets on one of 10 horse combinations. Each combination is for the first two horses to go around the track. The winning horse combination is paid based on the odds posted around the track.

The player’s station is credited with quarters with each win. Unlike most casino game machines Sigma Derby hasn’t been upgraded to take dollars or pay out tickets. Since the game is played with quarters you’re paid in quarters when you cash out. The casinos usually have old school money buckets to carry your winnings to the cashier.

It should be noted that if a horse pays out more than 500 quarters you’ll receive a hand pay from the casino. If you’re betting a long shot at 200/1 or greater you might want to risk two or three quarters, so you can get paid in cash if you win. If you like the vintage feel of all those filthy quarters keep your wager to a quarter.

Each Sigma Derby race offers different odds for each combination so you may never see the same odds for combinations in back-to-back races. The casino has a huge 10-20 percent house advantage on this game. This makes Sigma Derby one of the worst bets for the player in the casino.

That being said, you’re not playing Sigma Derby because it’s a money maker. You’re playing it because you want to play a vintage casino game and yell at the horses while they make their way around the track.

There is one note of caution when you play Sigma Derby. Races go off about once every minute. When you combine the large house advantage for the casino, the fun of the game and the 30 seconds in between races it’s easy to lose money quickly. Especially if you’re enjoying a few too many complimentary drinks and you get crazy with your wagers.

The low cost to play Sigma Derby often means that the games are packed with people (who are almost always pounding drinks). It’s not rare to see people standing two or three deep waiting to play or just watch the game on busy nights at MGM Grand or The D.

Here’s the fun of Sigma Derby: I hate the game, yet I love it.

The fandom around Sigma Derby is infectious. Every time I’ve introduced someone to the game they’ve wanted to go back to the casino to play it again. I'll always play the game because it's a hokey good time and it won't be around forever.

Might as well grab a drink or five and watch the giant panda show before it's gone.

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