Time Is Running Out for a Beloved Mechanical Horse-Race Game in Vegas

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End of an Era

Sigma Game Inc.’s Derby machines started appearing on casino floors in 1985. The rules were simple enough for anyone who had already enjoyed a number of complimentary drinks to follow, and the display compelling enough to hook even the soberest of minds: A series of odds ranging from 2-1 to a maximum of 200-1 are displayed before each race. You have 30 seconds to insert your quarters and place your bets on one of 10 possible quinella combinations—which two horses will place first and second—at one of the 10 stations surrounding the toy track. Then you cheer on your chosen ponies as an elaborate series of gears hurtles them around the track for 60 seconds. If your chosen horses come in first and second, you win the corresponding odds.

(For example, if you bet on the combination with 2-1 odds, you’ll get two quarters for every one that you bet. If you have money on the 200-1 and it happens to come in, you’ll win 200 quarters per quarter bet, and the infectious communal joy of winning the big one with your fellow players.)

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 15-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He cashed on the NHC Tour for 2018 with a 19th overall finish. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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