When you step foot in Sin City for the first time, the entire experience can be somewhat surreal.
In the summertime, 120-degree heat from the surrounding Mojave Desert leaves the air rippling with sunshine radiating off the concrete and asphalt. At night, the legendary neon lights overhead turn the world into a rainbow-colored wonderland of visual delights.
On one side of Las Vegas Boulevard you can gaze up at the faux Big Apple skyscraper facades of New York New York. Take a few steps northward up the road, however, and suddenly you’re in staring at the Eiffel Tower’s little brother. Keep heading up The Strip and soon you’ll see gondolas leisurely floating down the miniaturized canals of the Venetian. Cross back over to the west side of the road from here and, when the timing is right, you’ll get to view a volcano erupting and spewing glowing red lava at the Mirage.
You can even go back in time to watch knights of the round table on horseback riding headlong at one another carrying jousting swords at the Excalibur.
When you walk inside and hit the gaming floor, the surreal sensation continues anew.
Every game of chance ever devised has been housed under one roof, giving players from all corners of the globe an opportunity to gamble to the heart’s content. Slot spinners are frantically sending the reels in motion while searching for those elusive jackpot scores. Blackjack grinders can be found doubling down in the eternal war against the dealer and the deck.
And if you ever want to watch a dozen strangers throw an impromptu party together, just head over to the craps table to find a scene unlike any other in the world. Dice are flying through the air, stacks of chips are slid to and fro across the table, and no less than four dealer staff supervises the action like conductors leading some sort of chaotic symphony.
All things considered, the fabulous Las Vegas you’ve always heard about lives up to its billing as one of the most unique destinations in all the world.
But for many gamblers making their first sojourn to Sin City, the sheer variety of options on hand leads to an all too common dilemma. With limited funds to work with, and a seemingly unlimited array of table games, machines, and other wagers on offer, most players prefer sticking to the basics.
Games like blackjack and baccarat may be a casino’s bread and butter, but that doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to traditional gambling experiences. The next time you find yourself in the world’s action capital, step off the beaten path and put a few bucks down on these seven weird ways to gamble when you’re in Las Vegas:
1 – Sigma Derby Mechanical Horse Racing at The D Downtown
Long before the first casinos sprung up from the desert sands in Nevada, gamblers who enjoyed risking their hard-earned money for a shot at huge rewards hit the racetrack.
Whether they were wagering on thoroughbred horses or greyhounds, racing enthusiasts made the track to the de facto gambling hotspot in major cities all over the country. The golden age of racetracks may have come to an end over the last few decades, but you can still play the ponies on the last Sigma Derby machine offered anywhere in the country.
Sigma Derby was released in 1985 to rave reviews, as players back in the analog age still loved old-school mechanical action. To play Sigma Derby, gamblers pony up quarters out of an old-fashioned bucket – rather than the impersonal casino voucher slips that have become ubiquitous today – to bet on a five-horse race.
The objective is to correctly guess which of these five horses will finish 1-2 – known as a “quinella” in racing vernacular – following a simulated lap around the track. Pulled by gears underneath the ornately designed racetrack table, these little horses come in various colors and even have miniature jockeys riding astride them. With five horses in play, and a 1-2 finish required to win your wager, Sigma Derby offers 10 possible combinations to bet on.
Each race relies on a random number generator (RNG) to create a slot machine style gameplay experience, as every play produces an outcome based on preassigned probabilities. In other words, you can’t study these horses and their tendencies to figure out how they’ll finish in upcoming races. Everything is randomized to create a pure game of chance, and accordingly, Sigma Derby carries a very steep house edge of nearly 20 percent.
The maximum wager on any given 1-2 combination tops out at 20 quarters, and because of the machine’s large size, up to 10 players can participate in a single race.
Because the horses have their performances randomized ahead of each race, the pay tables are variable, but here’s how the average Sigma Derby game rewards winning players:
Standard Sigma Derby Pay Table
PAYOUT (in quarters)
1 / 2
1 / 3
1 / 4
1 / 5
2 / 3
2 / 4
2 / 5
3 / 4
3 / 5
4 / 5
But a game like Sigma Derby isn’t played with profit in mind, it’s the utterly unique experience that makes every player a winner.
After the Sigma Derby machine was first launched, it became a staple on Sin City casino floors. But just like the live horseracing industry, those glory days are a long way off. After the MGM Grand quietly pulled its Sigma Derby game from the floor in November of last year, only one machine remained in all of the Las Vegas.
You can find the lone survivor at The D casino in Downtown Las Vegas, a venue which was previously known as Fitzgerald’s until 2012. That year, Derek Stevens – chief executive officer and co-owner along with his brother – made a bold investment by buying and renovating the aging property.
In an interview with Todd Prince of the Las Vegas Review Journal, Stevens explained his motivations for purchasing and maintaining the last Sigma Derby machine out there today:
“When we bought this property, we wanted to bring something in that we thought would be a destination game, something iconic and a little bit different.
For me, there was never really a choice. Sigma Derby created the energy that you could get out of a hot craps game, and I thought it was a terrific way to build camaraderie and fun.
As long as we can keep it up and running, we are going to be in good shape.”
Stevens readily admits that the game is a loser for his casino’s bottom line, but he holds a special affinity for Sigma Derby that makes the tiresome maintenance and tiny returns worthwhile. As a young man yet to turn 21, Stevens played Sigma Derby on his first trip to Vegas, falling in love with the quaint alternative to loud and in your face video slots that define the modern era.
And while the player base is small and dwindling, folks who remain faithful to Sigma Derby are as passionate as they come. Hardcore fans make annual pilgrimages to The D to try their hand, knowing this year could be the last.
In his article, Prince interviewed a twenty-something player named Zach who came to The D specifically for the Sigma Derby action. As he sweats the result of a $0.75 wager, Zach told the newspaper what makes the game so much fun:
“All the other machines here are the same as in other casinos.
(Sigma Derby) is low stakes and very engaging.
It is fun to watch them run around and root for your horse.”
2 – Giant Slot Machine at the Golden Nugget on Fremont Street
The original Golden Nugget located on Fremont Street in Downtown Las Vegas was once famous for housing the largest gold nugget ever excavated.
That massive chunk of precious metal has since moved on to a museum setting, but the Golden Nugget is still home to a behemoth capable of breaking the bank. Colloquially known as “Big Bertha,” the enormous slot machine you see being spun in this clip is one of the most sizable gambling devices ever built.
Gold plated and gaudy, this giant slot game greets gamblers as they walk through the main entrance to the Golden Nugget – one of Las Vegas’ original hotspots during the “Rat Pack” days.
For all of its imposing size, however, the big gold slot offers standard gameplay, with four reels spinning gold bar symbols. A single payline stretches the several feet needed to span the reels, and for $1 per spin, players are hoping to line up matching gold bars to trigger a payout.
Fittingly enough for a slot of this stature, the four-reel alignment and 20 symbol spaces per reel combine to create a “Mount Everest” situation in terms of the odds.
There’s probably no need to play this one more than a few times, but there’s definitely no excuse for failing to put in at least one spin on the Las Vegas icon.
3 – Three Dice Football at O’Sheas on The Strip
Two of the most exciting scenes in all of casino gambling are a hot dice roll at the craps table, and a crowded sportsbook during an intense football game.
So it only made sense for game inventor Jamie Abrahamson to fuse the two together, creating Three Dice Football in the process.
The innovative table game – which appears exclusively at the old-school gambling den O’Sheas casino on The Strip – combines craps gameplay with a full-fledged football field.
Here’s how Abrahamson described his inspiration for inventing Three Dice Football in a post for the Caesars Blog, where you can find photos of the table layout and a full set of rules:
“I’ve always felt there should be a football-themed game in the casino.
I think football partners itself perfectly with dice. 3 Dice Football a simple game to learn, so it’s accessible. Players can identify with the football theme, and in Vegas, football is a huge draw.
People like to throw dice but are sometimes intimidated by craps.”
Three Dice Football rolls begin with a basic bet on Touchdown or No Touchdown, which mimic the Pass Line and Don’t Pass Line in craps. From there, the roller tosses three dice – two green dice that total positive yardage and one red die for negative yards – to determine how far the football moves down the field.
And just like in any good dice game, players can also wager on exotic longshot bets offering juicy odds, like the “Trips TD” which pays 33 to 1 if all three dice land on the same number, or 5 to 1 on the “No Gain” if the dice produce exactly zero yards gained.
Abrahamson told the Caesars Blog that half the fun of inventing Three Dice Football was sorting through the math inherent to both craps and football:
“There’s quite a bit of math involved in developing a game like this.
I wanted to create a format that wouldn’t take too many rolls for an outcome. The average expected rolls per ‘game’ [before a result] is just under four, much like the downs in football.
I also wanted to make sure the main bets come up as close to 50% as possible.
We’re thrilled to see people are enjoying it so much. They’re really getting into it. As the inventor, it’s everything I could have hoped for.”
4 – Casino War Table Game at Various Casinos
If you’ve ever seen the Chevy Chase flick “Vegas Vacation” before, you already know about Casino War.
But just in case, here’s a clip from the movie for a quick refresher course on the easiest and fastest table game of them all.
Casino War is simply the classic game of high-card we all played as kids on a rainy day. The dealer gets one card, and so do you, with the highest rank taking hand. And in the event of a tie, you’ll “go to war” with a second bet and a second high-card contest.
That’s it and that’s all for Casino War, which provides the perfect entry point for casino rookies who haven’t played table games whatsoever.
5 – Bet on “eSports” Video Game Tournaments at the Downtown Grand
Everybody enjoys a quick trip to the sportsbook when visiting Sin City, betting on hometown teams or the big game of the night.
But did you know Vegas is also home to “eSports” betting too?
Competitive video game tournaments are all the rage with the youngsters lately, and even a few old folks as well. Fighting games, shoot ‘em ups, war simulations, and racers combine to give bettors a full slate of action.
A few years back, the William Hill operated sportsbook within the Downtown Grand casino on Fremont Street became the first in Nevada to offer eSports wagering.
At the time, then Governor Brian Sandoval celebrated the gambling milestone by issuing a glowing press release:
“This announcement is a major step toward ensuring Nevada becomes the e-sports capital of the world.
By embracing this unique opportunity and incorporating innovation and technology into our gaming industry, we’re expanding the potential of one of our oldest industries.
Representatives from William Hill and Downtown Grand have been active partners with the Gaming Policy Committee as we examined e-sports wagering in the State of Nevada. I would like to congratulate them on this approval and commend both companies for their swift work and determination.”
In an interview with Todd Quinones of KTNV Las Vegas News, Jenifer Roberts – who serves as associate director of The Center of Gaming Regulation at UNLV – confirmed that Nevada is the only place where bettors can indulge their eSports fix:
“As far as I’m aware Nevada is the only place that is accepting legalized wagering on esports tournaments.”
And the director of research at UNLV’s game institute, Brett Abarbanel, explained how wagering on video game tournaments has quickly become a top vertical for sportsbook operators:
“Betting on people playing video games may be more popular than you think.
Pinnacle, which is a large sports book in Curacao, announced Esports had overtaken golf and rugby in terms of popularity on their site.
They are looking at 100% growth numbers year over year.”
If you’ve ever watched your kid frantically racing around the map trying to dodge enemies in Fortnite battle royale, just imagine how fun it would be to bet on whether they make it out alive.
6 – Get Hitched at the Wedding Chapel Inside the Plaza on Fremont Street
These last two entries are a bit of a lark, but what could beat the ultimate gamble of tying the knot in holy matrimony?
The concept of the classic Vegas wedding chapel has been done to death on TV and in the movies, so many visitors may think the whole thing is just put-on. But in reality, the city is home to dozens of chapels where the young and in love can indulge their impulsive natures together.
Most of these establishments fit the stereotypes, with zany costumed characters and quickie vows that produce legally binding marriages in less than a minute. Long before she became a headline act through her residency at the Planet Hollywood, pop superstar Britney Spears was once married for 55 hours after getting hitched on a whim at A Little White Wedding Chapel.
Ill-advised adventures like that are what most people think of when they hear the phrase “Vegas Wedding,” but you’d be surprised to see how serious the Plaza Hotel and Casino in Downtown takes its officiating responsibilities. Within a wedding chapel located right in the casino, a dedicated and devoted staff strives to make marriage dreams come true just like any traditional church or resort would.
In a recent review of the experience posted to TripAdvisor, new bride Bobbie R. of Happy Valley, California described her Plaza wedding in glowing terms:
“I just have to say, the Plaza hotel/wedding chapel, was 100% the most fun and best experience my new husband and I could have had. Marina and Greg, our hosts, were the BEST!!!
Marina and Greg we’re available for all questions we asked and we’re there for us from beginning to end.
Our guests were welcomed, our music was played, the ceremony was done with love and taste.”
Choosing a person to spend the rest of your live with is obviously a serious affair, but considering the divorce rate in America historically hovers around 50 percent, putting a ring on it in Vegas is akin to the old Red or Black bet on a roulette table.
7 – Take the Plunge by Bungee Jumping Off the Stratosphere on The Strip
Last up on this list of weird gambles is the leap of a lifetime – bungee jumping 829 feet from the Stratosphere casino tower along The Strip.
Technically speaking, the Stratosphere SkyJump isn’t a true gamble of course, as the $119.99 “wager” doesn’t produce any sort of monetary payout. Instead, you’ll be risking life and limb as you plummet through the air on a “ride” that earned Guinness Book of Records honors as the highest commercial decelerator descent in the world.
You can get an up close and personal glimpse into what a Sky Jump journey really looks and feels like here with this point of view tour provided by the Stratosphere.
And just in case you’re worried about “gambling” with your life, don’t waste a minute worrying about that sort of loss. The SkyJump Las Vegas has hosted thousands upon thousands of jumpers since opening in 2010, and not a single participant has ever been killed – or even injured – thanks to strict safety precautions and a crack staff of specialists.
The famous “Viva Las Vegas” era was born on the back of blackjack and baccarat, video slots defined the ‘80s and ‘90s, and the 21st century produced the poker boom. But while these staple casino games make up the bulk of a gambler’s bankroll production, you can still find obscure oddities on which wagering takes on a different dimension. The next time you touch down in Sin City, be sure to explore as many of these seven weird ways to gamble as you can.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
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