Stateline, Nev. — Dennis Rosser watched in anticipation as a group of race horses lined up under a layer of glass in MontBleu Casino Lake Tahoe during a recent visit.
Seconds later, the bell rings, and the tiny plastic beasts jerk forward, drawn along by magnets.
“Come on, baby,” Rosser cheered as he watched his horse.
Rosser’s enthusiasm is something shared by many for the Sigma Derby betting game.
The game scales horse racing down and allows people to place wagers by the quarter.
It’s also a low-tech rarity in an industry dominated by cutting edge slot machines that brings a classic, almost nostalgic feel to MontBleu’s casino.
Only five are still used by casinos in the U.S. MontBleu has two situated near its sportsbook area. Las Vegas has two — one at the MGM Grand Las Vegas and the other at the D Hotel in Las Vegas, The fifth one is stabled at the Royal River Casino and Hotel in Flandreau, S.D.
They’re also a popular pastime, especially on the weekends, according to Joe Love, MontBleu’s marketing director.
“On the weekends people are packed around them,” Love said.
The game is simple. It seats up to 10 people around a racetrack of five horses and people can bet 1 to 20 quarters. The only way one wins is by betting on a quinella, or the first- and second-place horses.
Payouts can range as low as a 2-to-1 or as high as 200-to-1. Winnings are added to a player’s credit and are paid out in quarters.
House odds range from 10 to 20 percent depending on the casino.
Sigma Game, Inc., a Japanese company, introduced the game in 1985 but stopped producing it when it went out of business.
MontBleu acquired its first one from Horizon Casino Resort Lake Tahoe, now Hard Rock Hotel and Casino five or six years ago. It acquired a second one through a private vendor a few years later.
Technician Greg Fletcher said MontBleu had looked for a third machine, but found many came as high as $60,000 and might not be in complete working order.
“They used to be everywhere,” Fletcher said.
And as popular as the game is, it’s also high maintenance, according to MontBleu technician Greg Fletcher.
“You can’t get parts for them,” Fletcher said.
If one of its games has issues, the casino improvises.
“As pieces and parts die, we scavenge what we can,” Fletcher said. “Luckily we have someone who is good on a mill.”
He joked that “there’s got to be a warehouse full of parts out there.”
Despite the maintenance issues, Fletcher said the two Sigma Derby games have proven popular at the casino, and also has a cult following online.
“You look on Facebook or something and people are always talking about it,” Fletcher said. “It’s fairly cheap entertainment and most people could spend $30 in a night and get a free beer.”
Rosser, the game’s player, agreed.
“This is probably the best game here,” Rosser said. A Modesto resident who visits every once in a while, Rosser said he’s tried the blackjack table and other casino games that proved too expensive.
“I like horse races and this is more fun to play,” Rosser said as he placed another bet.