Carlo? Tres magnifique. Las Vegas? A hearty ring-a-ding-ding.
Tunica, Mississippi? It
rises not from desert or sea but from the legendary Mississippi Delta, the
heart of the American South, the siege perilous of King Cotton, cradle of
To paraphrase Bob Dylan, you can get your gambling done out on Highway 61.
And there you will be, tootling down the historic Highway 61,
slowing down to hear the crickets and listening to heart-bursting, soaring
gospel on the car radio, and suddenly you wonder, :Where on earth am I
going to eat? Sleep? And then you see the signs. And lights. Whats
going on out here, half an hour south of Memphis, in the
middle of nowhere, are we in Disneyland or whuuut??? And you swing the car
County historian, Ellis Koonce, notes, Hernando DeSoto, the Spanish
explorer, who was our first tourist in 1540, would be amazed at what has
come to this area. The county has progressed from being one of the most
economically depressed areas in America into energetic prosperity that has
lowered our unemployment rate and continues to provide a variety of jobs
for everyone. Yet, we have managed to preserve the culture and history
that has made the Delta the birthplace of the blues while maintaining acre
upon acre of the nation's richest farmland." Tunica was in
incorporated on 3 March 1888, which, we guess, makes it a Pisces.
in an industry (especially this one) seemed like a cant miss idea that
would deliver jobs and add dollars to the citys coffers. When the town
started cashing in its chips, it discovered a few problems demanding
reaction. More interestingly, it went beyond reaction to planning for
future growth, development and local betterment. More about this elsewhere.
the first casino opened its doors on 19 October 1992, town leaders could
not avoid noticing that high, low and wannabe rollers lined up for hours
just to enter this new players palace even though the casino
charged an admission fee!
such fanfares are mighty concerti written.
talk about where to sleep and where to shop and what to do and all that
other stuff that makes a good trip special. But lets start with the
casinos attract 15 million intrepid visitors hoping to repeal the law of
averages, eager to get even with the odds. And if that fails, theres
always getting right with Jesus.
These are full-service,
all-glitz, no waiting casinos. None of your Oh this is really a
riverboat affectation. As you walk through a casino (no doubt, on your
way to the facilitys exercise room), you will hear the music of the
slots that counterpoint of plink, plink, plink, ringing bells and the
cartoon soundtracks of a thousand machines a-whirring. You will pass the
tables, each a universe of bated breaths, instant community, shouts and
(and their significant stats) are:
1,300 Slot Machines, 40 Table Games;
1,400 Slot Machines and Table
Strike Casino Resort (
(888-245-7829), 1,460 Slot Machines, 55 Table Games;
Casino Tunica (800-946-4946),
2,800 Slot Machines, 55 Table Games;
(662-363-7777), 1,357 Slot Machines, 23 Table Games; Hollywood
Casino (800-871-0711), 1,600 Slot Machines, 35 Table Games
Horseshoe Casino & Hotel (800-303-7463), 1,596 Slot Machines, 61
(800-456-0711), 1,336 Slot Machines, 48 Table Games;
Casino & Hotel,
(800-391-3777) 1,300 Slot Machines, 42 Table Games.
Gold Strike, Horseshoe and the Sheraton are grouped together on Casino
Center Boulevard. The others are not too far away.
casinos are also hotel sites. They offer the full array of services and
amenities one might find in good resorts gourmet restaurants, health
spas, golf courses and Jacuzzis. Grand Casino Hotel even sports
the Willows Sporting Clays Center (Dont be too quick to sing Ebb
Tide This is not for pottery. Its for clay pigeons.) Several hotels
also feature RV facilities. The largest hotels are the Grand Casino Tunica
(1,356 rooms), Sam's Town Tunica (1,054 rooms), and the glitzy
marble-floored Gold Strike Casino Resort (1,200 rooms). Where
Travellers USA Notebook stayed.
The most intimate of the casinos is the Sheraton whose 1300 slot
machines are complemented by only 134 rooms.
dont have to stay in a casino to get the full Tunica experience. The
Marie, located in downtown, was
built 85 years ago, and is a convenient meeting spot for whatever passes
for a power breakfast in this part of the world. Its recent $2
million renovation fuses the old charm with modern comfort. There are
suites (most of which have Jacuzzi bathtubs) and single rooms. Altogether,
the Marie has 29 accommodations. Call
800-363-6307. They make their own divine range of glycerine soaps shaped
like trapezoids, which come in a range of extremely unusual and bizarrely
enchanting scents: the best are Kiwi, and a rich glowy unforgettable one
called Briarpatch. Sort of like root beer, and sort of like the forest.
Anyway, were hooked. Hotel Marie will ship to you.
there is a host of other hostelries both independents and chains
and youll easily find one to suit your mood and your budget. For more
information, click here.
wont go hungry in Tunica. Every casino has a range of restaurants,
ranging from haute cuisine to heck cuisine. Of course there are buffets.
We feel a bit subversive for saying this, but even if youre just on a
roadtrip in the area, do yourself a favor and bring your shovel to one of the
buffets. Theyre reasonably priced and offer just about anything you
might want. And yes, you can have seconds. Tunica also offers a few of the
usual fast-food franchises and local thrills.
with the haute cuisine, though, and that means a mandatory meal at a
restaurant called Fairbanks, in the Hollywood Casino. A
grown-up steakhouse grand, luxurious, masculine, romantic, and
welcoming. This is high-end food in the middle of Highway 61, babuh! Youre gonna eat like
a movie star
like Douglas Fairbanks, perhaps.
drink might be a Jacobs Well, 80 proof single barrel Bourbon with a
peppery finish, selected specially for you by the equally fiery Aries
chef, Marc Silverberg, the hotels
Vice President of Food and Beverage. He is a vibrantly
special personality, with a culinary talent to match. He has cooked at
the venerable James Beard House in New York and, after graduating from the
Culinary Institute of America (a/k/a the C.I.A.) in Hyde Park, New York,
became a big shot at Ballys and the Tropicana resort restaurants in
Atlantic City, then jumped to Atlanta for the Crowne Plaza. Eventually, he
was offered every chefs dream, but a strange plum: come to Tunica and
have executive responsibility for gustatory delights in every room and on
every table in the Hollywood Casino.
Sir, I dont know where that is, was his response. But by
then, he already liked the South. And years later, he has built a lakeside
cabin he designed himself, complete with spectacular views and an
And Fairbanks has become the
place for gourmets to go for many miles around: its a roaring success.
Living is easy here, he says. But Silverberg is a stickler
for every culinary detail. He orders his butter specially from Harlysville.
Only the best ingredients. Plugra. Delicious dishes. Daiquiri chicken with
strawberries over saffron rice delights flesh eaters. Vegetarians have
been deliriously happy dining at Fairbanks. The man has a wicked way with
mushrooms, or mush as he likes to call his dishes by restaurant
slang. And maybe having such a winning way with his staff has been an
added ingredient in his recipe for success, because the foods
unbelievably delicious, and not just for Tunica.
So why didnt he do a Lutece, or make his own snooty little place
in New York or Paris or Gstaad?
I like the big hotel excitement, he grins.
And so do we. So will you. .
The famously atmospheric and funky Hollywood Café is one
of the official local thrills. It made the country charts by being
memorialized in popular song Walking in Memphis by Marc Cohen. Go
into the café and see the piano where Cohen wrote the song.
Linger a bit around the old 88 and then do the smart thing. Sit down and
order. Make sure you have a mess of fried pickles
dill pickles, coated with a lush cornmeal batter. Traveler
thinks of them as exotic, tasty pickle pekoras. Theres great cole slaw
and distinctive vegetables prepared in down home fashion. Ill have some fried okra please. As always, Veggievores, do ascertain which of
todays vegetables are meatless and were not prepared with pot likker
then dig in and enjoy.
in the above-mentioned Hotel Marie in downtown Tunica is a little spot
called Cafe Marie. Were told the Café Marie offers
genteel Southern cooking, and we dreamt of warm biscuits, grits and
succulent corn soufflés, but alas, we were there for a special breakfast
where baked goods (muffins and the like) and sliced fruit were served.
Probably worth a return visit, even if just to pick up some of that
gorgeous, crazy Briarpatch soap were still jonesin for. (662)
357-0055, 6195 Fox Island Road
Shopping: Theres Even a
If you thought Tunica does not have the stuff to trigger the wild
shopping gene, youd be almost right and woefully wrong. It harbors the
Casino Factory Shoppes, a reasonably sized outlet mall (over more than 30
stores). Youll find merchants like Carters Childrenswear.
Dress Barn, G. H. Bass, Gail Pittman Pottery, Gap Outlet, IZOD
Outlet, Leggs Hanes Bali Playtex, Nautica, Reebok Factory Direct Store,
Van Heusen and Zales Outlet and several; Casual Corner corners.
if you like antiquing - surprise, surprise - pop downtown to Main Street
where you wont feel like an exile. Some of the shops are Ann-Tiques,
1259 Main Street; Dunn's Jewelry (& Antique Clocks), 1255 Main Street
and Main Street Market Antiques, 1212 Edwards Avenues.
the shopping mood grips you, do check out the Downtown Grocery.
The store, which had a soft opening this past 12 May and an official grand
opening on 26 June, is not a glamorous supermarket. It does have shiny new
top-notch equipment, which makes strolling through easy. It has something
else. Although privately owned, it is assisted by the town in order to
give Tunicians an affordable, comfortable nearby place to shop. The least
we can do is support this noble effort by buying an RC and a Moon Pie.
Tourists do like its Daily News Deli and Here's-the-Scoop Ice Cream Shop
Southern Nights with the Stars
Right? Show biz, right? Stars and laughter and fun, right? All right!
Sounds like nightlife to Traveler. And Tunica offers more than its share
of crowd-pleasing, pulse-quickening artists. Heres a short list of some
of the recent and up and comings:
Among those who have appeared -- in no particular order of magnitude --
The Imperial Circus of China, Rick
Springfield, Tiffany, Brett
Butler, Ronnie McDowell, Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band," LeAnn Rimes, The Temptations,
David Sanborn and Willie Nelson.
Its not common knowledge . . . but fresh air and worthwhile
experiences await those exotic souls who step beyond a casinos
boundaries. This certainly is true in Tunica.
For those who need to adjust, well start with the Blues &
Legends Hall of Fame. You
wont have to venture far because its located in the Horseshoe
Casino. If you passed it too quickly, you might think its just a Hard
Rock Café display on steroids. Actually its a fine showcase of
memorabilia and artifacts with helpful tutorial information. It
succinctly traces the history of the blues and allows you to gawk at
objects once owned by the likes of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, John Lee
Hooker, B.B. King and Eric Clapton.
Of Museums and Mules
Tunica Museum (opened 30 June 2002) has a strange split personality
quality but certainly is well worth a visit. It provides a history and
insight into the region that spans the days of Native American to Spanish
explorers right up to the present. It includes cotton gins and gin rummy.
The aforementioned split personality aspect comes from an attempt to
deal with racial injustice in a manner that is both honest but with a positive
spin. Cant be done. The most glaring example is the orientation film
visitors can watch before they tour the galleries. The segment that covers
race specifically the conflict between the Federal Government and
Mississippi over the states segregation laws treats racial conflict
as if it were some kind of communications failure (Oops!). Frankly
embarrassing, this portion of the film is eerie and jarring
the other hand the museum takes a frank look at the story of Sugar Ditch,
an African-American neighborhood of ramshackle houses that overlooked open
sewers. The longtime health hazard was finally sorted out right after the
Reverend Jesse Jackson brought national attention to Sugar Ditch.The CBS
television newsmagazine, 60 Minutes, devoted a 1985 segment to
Jackson taking a two-block walk through Sugar Ditch as he explained the
peoples plight. The museum relates the story with candor, although it
cant resist taking a cringe-making, gratuitous slap at Reverend
the fledgling museum will use its unique place in history and geography to
inform us about the story of racial injustice. The story is not just
limited to Mississippi but continues to haunt
all of America. Sugar Ditch is a good start; but lose the film,
fellers. And learn how to spell the Reverend Jesse Jacksons name,
That said, the museum can in spots deliver a colorful,
fascinating look at the region. You can learn a thing or two about the
Chickasaw Indians and the original, lush hardwood forests, parts of which
still survive alongside the river, with its rich, alluvial soil. Cotton
became king, with people working from sun to sun. The kids worked, too.
The Jim Crow character is here, introduced in 1832. After Emancipation the
sharecropping way of life developed. Then the machines came; each one
replaced 80 cotton pickers. Later on, see the farmers sipping coffee at
the Blue and White Café.
the little carnivores, theres Sally the mule, reputed to be only
stuffed mule to be found east of the Rocky Mountains at least in a
museum. Of course theres a small gift shop, with local souvenirs, folk
art, cards and posters. And we found a true gem: a must-have poster print
reproduction of local artist Ronald Raineys masterpiece, Sugar Ditch,
an intense, phantasmagoric painting
The Real Dirt
Tunica Paul Battle, Jr. Arena has both an indoor 48,000-sq. ft.
indoor, climate-controlled arena, an outdoor arena, and an
adjoining150,000-sq. ft. of expo pavilion.
state-of-the-art facility opened in August 2002 and hosts concerts,
livestock shows and other such outdoor extravaganzas. It has a great
supply of all kinds of dirt to satisfy the most discriminating of animals.
For a list of upcoming events, click here.
to the Club
town is making quite a racket about the imminent opening (1 September,
2003) of the Tunica National Golf and Tennis Club. It promises to
offer Americas only indoor clay courts south of the nations capitol.
And the golf course, designed by Mark McCumber, will be affectionately
cursed but rabidly admired for its complexities that bring out the best in
newbies and pros.
Rollin' With The River
Another experience for Tunica County scheduled to open this
summer is the 168-acre RiverPark, right behind Fitzgeralds
Casino. The park, which celebrates the mighty Mississippi River, will have
a harbor for excursion, river and private boats; a 40,000-square-foot
visitors' center with museum, aquarium, a high-tech interpretive center
and other oh-look-Marthas; a nature trail and the 110-foot, three
deck, 400-passenger Tunica Queen Riverboat. The whole shebang should be
ready by Labor Day. The boat will go on four cruises a day (coffee, lunch,
river lore, and dinner) as of August. Although passengers can enjoy
(depending on the hour) food, cocktails, views and dancing, theres no
gambling on board. The Tunica Queen arrived at Tunica RiverPark June 22;
she used to ply Long Islands Peconic under another name; but has been
refurbished, remodeled, and enhanced.
circuit TV cameras and five plasma screens (three 42-inch and two 50-inch)
are part of the boats new look and looking. Passengers can view a
documentary about riverboat as well as see live views of their journey.
Tunica Queens status as a gaming free zone is significant. The boat and
RiverPark are the anchor in Tunicas bid to attract tourists who are not
necessarily interested in gambling. The Battle Arena and the Tunica
National Golf and Tennis Club also support this vision. Its no wonder
that trade pub Travel Weekly listed Tunica as one of 10 up and
coming destinations. (Others cited by TW In its 10 February
issue are Molokai, Hawaii; Krakow, Poland; Belize City, Belize; and
Queenstown, New Zealand.) Its easy and fine to simply look at Tunica as
one more engrossing chapter in rich and soulful history of the Mississippi
Delta. But this community also has its eye on
the future and its fun to visit.
with every glittery show, there is a backstage to this rural casino towns
beckoning crowd-pleasing bling-bling, wow-and-pow-extravaganza. It would
not surprise Traveler if other communities used Tunica as a model for
planned growth. Apparently, Tunica went for the casino option with what we
might call a what-the-hell attitude. Jobs? Revenues? Sign us up!
the first casino opened on 19 October 1992, town leaders could not avoid
noticing two phenomena. High, low and wannabe rollers lined up for hours
to enter this new players palace even though the casino charged an
admission fee. Complementing this was the second event snarled
two-lane highway leading to the casino was too narrow a pipeline for the
sudden heavy flow. Aside from the likely frayed tempers, missed
appointments, and cold suppers, there also was the sight of ambulances
stuck in traffic. And funny thing about money, it attracts people who want
it fast. Previously, area crime mostly consisted of people who -ahem-
broke the speed limit.
God a mighty, went the best thinking. Weve got something here. Now what
are we going to do? The traffic nightmares, the increased need for
policing, the yes increased revenue and yes yes continuing
poverty called for quick response. Enter reaction.
the roads wider to ease access was a no brainer. But still took some will.
And speaking of vital arteries , gambling enabled the community to build
sewers and bring water to everybody in this, the poorest county in
Mississippi. Before gaming, Sheriffs office had 9 people (including the
sheriffs wife) on staff and an annual budget of 325k. Now there are
over 200 deputies.
than reaction, which is commonplace, is proaction.
real challenge was making this inherently attractive but definitely off
the beaten track site even more come hither.
might be fun for some to think that a gathering of the local shakers and
movers is not unlike a Gomer Pyle episode. The reality is very different.
The thing about being a cotton planter is that youre in the
agribusiness and that makes some of those good ol boys players in the
international commodities markets sharp, complicated, visionary. And
they like where they live.
planner Ken Murphree was hired, as was management consultant McKinsey
& Company. While paving, policing and
piping were being upgraded, blueprints were being assembled.
Emerging from the McKinsey recommendations and the local pow-wows were the
following projects and ideas.
expansion. (Tunica Airport
expansion completes its next two phases in 2003 and then in 2005.)
RiverPark, described as a $23 million ecopark built right on the banks
of the River, will be a recreational, interactive, instructional,
unique, good time.
The Paul Battle
Jr. stadium and expo center
and Fitness Center
the results already are coming in. The exercise center, museum and arena
are open and working for the community and its visitors. The airport
expansion is on schedule and the Tunica RiverPark is due to dock this
results of these activities and, more importantly, this kind of thinking
can make Tunica into a dynamic destination that offers not just regional
but national appeal. Well be watching.
observers say that there could have been more planning for growth before
the first casino opened. In a white paper for Social Science Research
Center of Mississippi State University, James Thomas Snyder wrote, Overall,
Tunicas experiment with gaming has been positive. It has also been
lopsided. It has lifted the extremely poor out of abject poverty. It has
created huge numbers of jobs, attracting workers across the entire region.
He notes however that,
while nobody in the county could have predicted the success they
would have bringing casinos and gamblers to Tunica, some foresight in
planning would have benefited the county more. Preparing schools,
acquiring property for housing under eminent domain, and subsidizing and
encouraging links between the casinos and secondary development could have
spread wealth and avoided the problems of slow expansion in other sectors
of the local economy.
Mr.. Snyders paper was published in 1999. Since that time, some
of Tunicas planning and projects have been put into place. The next
study might reveal much more progress and promise.