Friday, June 21, 2002 | 3:07 a.m.
The Tropicana's "Amazing $10,000 Chicken Challenge" really is amazing.
It's not because Ginger the Chicken plays tic-tac-toe. It's amazing that some people think she -- it -- actually does.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are protesting this game, which also is being played in Aztar Corp. casinos in New Jersey and Indiana. But where are People for the Ethical Treatment of Stupid Humans (PETOSH)? Our IQ-challenged brethren are being humiliated.
The chicken is confined to a glass-faced cubicle that is equipped with a small metal blinder. A computer screen with a video tic-tac-toe board is mounted next to the compartment. The fickle fowl pecks behind the screen, in secret, and a green "O" appears on the game board. The opponent touches a square, and a red "X" appears.
In the middle of Wednesday afternoon, 22 people were lined up waiting to play while a dozen others watched.
With brows furrowed, a woman considered her next move for an astonishingly long period of time, considering the typical outcome.
"You always get beat by the chicken," she said, and walked off in a huff.
Not true. Some people tie.
"The chicken always gets to go first," one astute observer said. "You're supposed to flip for it, if you're going to play fair."
"Play fair?" We didn't stucco an entire valley, or build half a dozen billion-dollar resorts, with games that "play fair."
Every casino game, no matter how high the stakes or how complicated the rules, boils down to playing tic-tac-toe against a chicken.
Players must obtain a Tropicana Winner's Club card to attempt the challenge. It's amazing how many don't seem to realize this is a promotion rather than a free shot at $10,000.
By the time they're two or three turns away, they realize the chicken goes first. They purse their lips in concentration, plotting their strategy.
Ginger wins or Ginger ties. But Ginger rarely loses. Smarting from humiliation, many walked away grumbling about the unfairness of it all.
One guy lost, then stood back to watch. After a couple of rounds he said to his companion, "Oh, it's a computer. The chicken's not really playing tic-tac-toe."
Even a dim bulb flickers in Las Vegas.
"I'm going to get beat by a chicken in front of all these people," a woman with a deep Southern accent said to her two little boys.
It ended in a tie, but it took a while. Ginger pecked the floor of the cubicle and looked off into the corner, thinking deep chicken thoughts.
The chicken dealer-handler snapped his fingers a few times and tapped on the glass with the club card. Maybe a photo of Colonel Sanders would help in such a pinch.
"At least you didn't get beat by the chicken," the dealer-handler said when Southern Mom stepped aside to let her husband try.
Ginger beat him.
"You got beat by the chiiiiicken," his older son chanted.
"Daaad," the younger one said, rolling his eyes.
"Better him than me," Mom said.
Better them than all of us.
Buy PETA some circus tickets. You can bet your nuggets the chicken is winning this one.