Question of the Day October 13, 2015
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Q:I read that at the recent gaming convention, one or two companies exhibited updated versions of the beloved Sigma Derby machine. Can you provide any further information about who's doing it, what the new machines look like (photos, please!), and whether any casinos are buying?
A:Sigma Derby, for the uninitiated, is a 1985 mechanical horse race-simulation game invented by Sigma Game Inc., in which plastic horses canter bouncily around a miniature oval racetrack. While once it was an almost de rigueur inclusion on any self-respecting Las Vegas casino floor, with Derby games (sometimes even customized to fit the theme of the property) to be found at: Bally's; Caesars Palace (which featured racing chariots), Circus Circus; Excalibur (with jousting knight-type riders); Las Vegas Hilton; Imperial Palace; Luxor (racing camels); MGM Grand; New Frontier; New York-New York; Orleans; The Park (now Main Street Station); Riviera; Sassy Sally's (now Mermaid's), and the Stardust, today only two of these hippodromes can be found in Las Vegas, one at MGM Grand and the other downtown at The D. We’ve been authoritatively told that, next time the MGM one breaks down, as it did back in 2012 resulting in an outbreak of near hysteria among some of our readers, it won’t be replaced or fixed – so play it while you can.
While casinos’ antipathy to Sigma Derby may seem somewhat strange, since the house edge on it is between 10 percent and 20 percent, the fact that it takes up the same amount of space on the gaming floor as would ten slot machines, accepts only quarter-denomination bets (the max bet being a $5 quinella), and plays really slowly (on account of how long it takes the little plastic jockeys to get their diminutive steeds around the clunky track), it just wasn't in the game's destiny to be a contender against the multi-denomination video-reel and electronic-keno monsters that cater to the video-game generation and can suck up your dollars at a rate that would make Derby blush. Also, since Sigma Game Inc. basically went out of business back in 2010 (see QoD 4/4/14), there's no supply of new parts to fix broken machines, meaning that the extant ones that aren't in private hands have been cannibalized to fix the few survivors, like the one at MGM Grand.
Players like it, not only for the fun of the game and the camaraderie it engenders from the same communal set-up you find at a crap table, but also for the exact same reason the casinos aren't sorry to see it go, namely its low lengthy 'time on device': It takes a good long while to burn through a roll of quarters playing Sigma Derby.
However, its ongoing popularity (which verges on the cultish) cannot be denied, hence Derek Stevens' savvy decision to add a Sigma Derby game to the 'old-school' upper level of downtown's The D, where you'll also find coin-in slots, and new versions of the game were indeed introduced at the recent Global Gaming Expo (G2E), although neither emanated from Sigma for the reason referenced above. One, Classic Derby, is of unknown provenance and we've been unable to track down any additional details, aside from its name and a small picture. The other, Royal Derby, is the proud product of a Slovenian company, Alfastreet. The programming of Royal Derby allows for the simulated course length and "weather" conditions to be changed, but – despite much e-mail importuning – Alfastreet has been unresponsive, so we can’t tell you how this is achieved. Alfastreet Derby also uses six horses, compared to Sigma Derby’s five, and in another innovation allows for "Win," Place," "Show," "Exacta," "Quinella," and "3Quinella" wagers.
Covers.com’s Marc Meltzer played both new games at G2E and reported that such 'upgrades' to the classic old-school version actually detracted from its kitsch charm: "The horses ran the tracks smoother and a little quicker than the original game … This wasn't as endearing as watching the old horse plod around the track at a slow pace. I’m not sure I see any Las Vegas casinos buying or leasing these games."
The same evidently was the case for a variant created by Sega in 2001 that was spotted (and played) by this blogger in a casino in Montreux, Switzerland a few years back, and the same goes for original maker Sigma Games Inc's own upgrade, known as Derby Mark VI (we're not sure what happened to generations II through V of the game, if they ever existed...), of which we've had reports of live sightings at Ontario's Windsor Casino and in the maker's homeland of Japan. It never made it onto a gaming floor in Las Vegas, however. In fact, in the course of researching today's answer, we actually spoke with a slot supervisor at Casino Windsor, who fondly recalled the game and how popular it was, but he explained that the casino had to have their own engineers manufacture spare parts for the game, which broke down "about once a week," and eventually, in his words, it was "put out to pasture" several years ago.
Hence, we're sorry to report that it's highly unlikely any new Sigma Derby-esque game will be showing up on a casino floor near you anytime soon, and while diehard fans of the game with an engineering bent could consider attempting to get their hands on the MGM Grand model, which sounds as if it's on its last legs and nearing retirement, so to speak, we have a sneaky suspicion that Derek Stevens may well already have first dibs on it.
Still, there's always the uber-interactive Gold Cup Horse Game that we stumbled upon while researching this QoD, from Brit-based ES Promotions ("The Entertainment Specialists"). This -- how can be best describe it? looks like a Medieval twist on "Sigma Derby-meets-Wii" and is sure to be a big hit at your next house or office party, not least because it also comes in a donkey derby version.
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