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Second floor of The D Las Vegas casino on Fremont Street, you’re greeted by the tinny, rhythmic thumping of 20 artificial hooves galloping in unison.
It’s more persistent and more infectious than the trademark Wheel of Fortune tones that you hear emanating from branded slots almost everywhere you go in town.
It’s louder than the classic pop hits blaring through the casino speakers.
The only thing that comes close to drowning it out are the crowds of people who gather around its source, trading memories and gossip about the wood-panelled machine, and cheering on their picks in the hopes of winning somewhere between two and 4,000 coins.
The hammering sound belongs to Sigma Derby, a mechanical casino game that allows gamblers to bet quarters on toy horses that race around a bucolic miniature race track.
Over three decades after its debut, the Derby machine has become a beloved cult icon—no easy task in an industry as fickle as gambling, or a place as ever-changing as Las Vegas.
But nothing can last forever, and that’s particularly true of elaborate vintage racing pony contraptions that have long since gone out of production.
As far as Derby fans know, the Sigma Derby at The D recently became the last operating machine of its kind anywhere in the world. 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.