Granted, a quick glance at the tacky vintage table and its 25-cent entry fee turns off many “serious gamblers,” but anyone that’s playing Sigma Derby couldn’t care less: it’s just that much fun. The snickers and wise-cracks roll off our backs the moment those five jumpy mechanical equines hit the tracks (which happens about once every 90 seconds). One thing is for certain however, you just gotta bet the 200:1 shot.It inspired me to write a bit of folderol this morning. The post is buried in a backlog from yesterday so it's not receiving nearly as much love as I had hoped (people seem to be enjoying a two-line fake Twitter conversation between Don Henley and a voice in his head, tho) so I thought I'd post it here, cleaned and edited up just a bit.
You Never Know Where You Stand
I am sitting in the all-night coffeeshop with Flamingo Phil, Bert Baccarat and Respect and we are all watching with great interest four citizens sitting at the table next to us who are visiting from the state of Wisconsin, which is a state that none of us have ever been to, and these citizens are excitedly talking about how much fun and enjoyment they have had putting nickels in the slot machines and watching the fruits spin and twirl. This conversation annoys Flamingo Phil and while Flamingo Phil is most certainly a gentleman of good cheer, he dislikes a lot of things in life and it is well known to one and all that putting nickels in the slot machines is one of them.
"It is a sucker bet," Flamingo Phil says to nobody in particular. "Only a sap will put nickels in the slot machines." One of the citizens overhears Flamingo Phil talking and stands up to inquire as to why Flamingo Phil has indirectly called him a sap, but Flamingo Phil stands up too and the citizen decides to abandon this line of questioning and instead finish his steak and eggs.
"I am of a similar opinion that slot machines are no good," says Bert Baccarat. "And I say this because they are merely machines. When you are playing a table game you know with whom you are up against. People are also good to have conversations with, especially when the seven spot is about to receive the dealer's bust card. You cannot have such a conversation with a machine. No, with a machine, you do not know where you stand."
"With a machine, you never know where you stand," Flamingo Phil concurs. "Also, you cannot meet a machine outside and provide them with additional lessons in the art of the game."
Respect is not speaking this entire time given that he is partial to his Eggs Benedict, but now that he is finished he puts down his fork and speaks quietly as he is wont to do. As it is known up and down the Strip, Respect is so named because of his theory that a respectable man should be able to speak as quietly as he wishes, for those who truly respect him will endeavor to listen as closely as their ears can hear. Those who do not, Respect believes, deserve whatever they get for not listening.
"There is book to be made, mechanically-speaking, if you know where to look," Respect says, and we all lean in close. "They have brought a racetrack to the Silver Dollar." This remark naturally causes slight skepticism among Bert Baccarat, Flamingo Phil and myself.
"I do not wish to call into question your veracity," Bert Baccarat finally says, "As I am not a man to call another man untruthful, but I am under the impression that the Silver Dollar does not have real estate enough to fit a racetrack in. You cannot swing a rabbit's foot in the place without hitting a patron. I may be mistaken, however."
"No," Respect says, "You are quite right. The Silver Dollar could not hold a full-sized racetrack. And that is why I took care to speak mechanically."
"I recall you using that word," Flamingo Phil says.
Respect proposes a visit to the Silver Dollar to see the racetrack and, as we are as curious as a pit boss watching a card counter, we accept his invitation and make our way to the establishment. Inside the Silver Dollar is indeed a racetrack but nothing that we were expecting. It is the size of a pool table and covered in glass. Inside the glass there are miniature toy horses making a run, and outside the glass the room is full of touts and spectators, all yelling and making such a spectacle as I have not seen since Miss Molly Moxie played the Emperor's Palace wearing nothing but a toga. The race is soon over and as the winners rush off to receive their earnings, Flamingo Phil, Bert Baccarat and myself edge our way to the front of the crowd.
"I would not have believed my eyes if I weren't here to see it myself," Flamingo Phil says. "This is called a racetrack?"
"There are horses," says Respect, "And there are races."
"Then it is a racetrack," concludes Bert Baccarat, though being an enthusiast of the playing cards he is not as intrigued by the spectacle as Flamingo Phil, who enjoys most any game of chance except for putting nickels in the slot machines.
"How do the horses run?" Flamingo Phil asks. "And how do they figure out who wins?" Respect moves us away from the crowd before he speaks, as the noise is too loud for even the most respectful man to make out what he says next.
"There is more machinery underneath that table than in Henry Ford's factories. The horses all move on wires and levers, and nobody knows which horse will win when the race begins. But down in the basement there is a man who turns a crank to make the horses go. I have made the acquaintance of this man, and I know he is terrible at poker. He has lost enough money recently that he could use some economic stimulus. So we have worked out a deal. When the man turns the crank, he will pull on the wires to give an advantage to a particular horse. I choose the horse. You can see that this is most beneficial to both of us. I place my bet, kick the table in a surreptitious fashion, and the man pulls on the wires and receives a generous tip afterwards. Would you like to try it now? I am about to place a bet on Miss Fortune. Number three."
We all put a sawbuck on Miss Fortune and Respect makes his way to the table and then, when he is sure nobody is watching, kicks it three times. The horses are released from their starting gate and it is as exciting as Saratoga. Flamingo Phil is cheering just as loud as the marks and when Miss Fortune crosses the line by four lengths, he lets out a whoop and promises us all a round. And although we are newly flush with our own winnings we let him, for it is disrespectful to decline a man who is buying.
Several weeks pass and I do not hear from Flamingo Phil or Respect until one day when I happen to run into Bert Baccarat while looking at the white tigers. Bert Baccarat has bad news for me.
"Flamingo Phil is run out of town," Bert Baccarat says sadly. "And Respect is upstate talking softly to the warden."
As Bert Baccarat tells it, Flamingo Phil is very taken by the horse racing at the Silver Dollar and a week after our visit, decides to take advantage of Respect's system for himself. What Flamingo Phil does not realize is that the Silver Dollar has grown wise to Respect and his friend in the basement and by the time Flamingo Phil visits the racetrack, Respect has gone on his upstate vacation and the man in the basement has been replaced by an electric motor which now turns the crank.
"Of course the electric motor does not know that Flamingo Phil is kicking the table," Bert Baccarat says, "And so he loses. He places another bet and kicks the table, but the electric motor does not listen, and he loses again. Flamingo Phil gets steamed and kicks the table so many times he eventually puts his foot through it, breaks the machinery and causes quite a commotion besides. Now there is no more horse racing at the Silver Dollar and the last anyone hears of Flamingo Phil, he is plying his trade on a riverboat far to the east, which is where he has been politely asked to go and never come back."
We both agree that it is a shame for such events to occur, though Bert Baccarat does not have a surplus of sympathy for Flamingo Phil.
"He listened to Respect closely but he should have listened to himself closer," Bert Baccarat sighs, as we head to the tables. "With a machine, you never know where you stand."