Holy Craps Batman! You have to go to Tunica, MS if you’ve never been before. This is probably one of the best kept secrets in the country. This is the LAS VEGAS of the South. You have HOLLYWOOD, RESORTS, SAM’S TOWN, THE GRAND, BALLY’S, HORSESHOE, GOLD STRIKE, SHERATON, FITZGERALDS…that’s NINE full hotel/casinos at your disposal with all of the amenities you would expect from one of your favorite Las Vegas properties. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me give you the rundown.
We flew into the Memphis, TN airport which happens to be the primary hub for NorthWest Airlines as well as the world headquarters for FedEx. I’ve never seen so many FedEx airplanes in one place in my life! What a sight. We rented a car and got directions to the Tunica, MS casino area which is only a 40 minute drive from the Memphis airport. What we learned is that even though the casino area is referred to a TUNICA, you never actually go into the Tunica area. The casinos are actually in Robinsonville, MS. I still haven’t learned why they picked up the Tunica name. It’s probably just a marketing thing. Never the less, the drive is quite nice and one could easily become distracted from the “casino mission” if you’re not careful.
The first distraction is downtown Memphis and the infamous BEALE STREET area where ‘The Blues” is alive and well. This is a smaller version of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street and the home of B.B. Kings restaurant. All kinds of music (mostly THE BLUES) goes on nightly in the restaurants, clubs, and on the street. The street is closed off to traffic so there is always a party going on somewhere.
Next along Elvis Presley Boulevard is the Presley Mansion and museums with tours going on daily. Whether you are an Elvis fan or not, you should not miss the opportunity to visit here while you are in the area. It is more than just a shrine to THE KING. It is a monument to a era with a genuine sense of southern hospitality, humility , and a piece of Americana that can not be duplicated anywhere else.
Next, as you cross the border from Tennesseee into Mississippi, there is a sudden change in the landscape. The trees, homes, buesinesses and all of the other suburban images of the Memphis area quickly disappear into acres and rows of Cotton and Sorghum fields for as far as the eye can see. Depending upon the time of year, the plants will be in different stages and the landscape takes on a whole new feel.
Now you need to start watching closely because it wont be long before you are in the casino area. Pay close attention to the billboards which promote the current specials for each of the casinos. Point multipliers, tournements, mega-jackpots, and world-class entertainment. I hope you have your wing man riding shotgun to take notes!
Your first stop is THE GRAND which is now a Harrah’s property and home of the PAULA DEAN buffet Y’ALL (-; with some of the best southern style cooking you’ll find anywhere. There is plenty of available parking out in the open. Just be careful of the crazy traffic scheme they have in the parking area. The design engineer for that parking area was smoking something when he came up with that idea! If you are a golfer, this is your place. They have their own private golf course and the grounds keeper looks like he knows what he is doing. Now on to the important part…The Casino.
When you walk from the parking lot to the casino, you go over a pedestrian bridge which spans a little inlet from the mighty Mississippi River. You are entering the gaming area in the center of the layout where the table games are located. To the far left are mostly penny video slots, and to the right are the higher denomination machines as well as the video poker area. I like the layout because all of your gaming is conveniently located on the main floor, and all of the dining and shopping is located on the 2nd floor. As far as the gambling is concerned, this is a typical Harrah’s property, meaning that the payout percentages on the machines are a bit less than at other properties, and the table game rules are a little to tight for my liking, particularly on the Craps table where 3x, 4x, 5x odds are in effect, but the Harrah’s loyalty program more than makes up for the difference. If you are playing at a Harrah’s property and you are not using a Harrah’s loyalty card to track your play, you are SHOOTING YOURSELF IN THE FOOT.
Next on the agenda we are going to drive down to the far end of the strip to visit SAM’S TOWN. There’s plenty of parking out front and an RV area off to the side, if your fortunate to come at the right time the SAM’S TOWN parking lot hosts a multitude of VINTAGE CAR shows throughout the year. There is also a free covered parking garage and valet parking available.
Entering the casino through the main entrance, you have the buffet to you immediate right and the escalators to the 2nd floor straight ahead. To your left is a 24-hr snack bar and a wing to the hotel check-in area. Behind the escalator to the left is the Player’s Club booth and the entrance to the main casino. SAM’S TOWN is a Boyd Gaming property which also owns MAIN STREET STATION, THE CALIFORNIAN, and THE FREEMONT in downtown Las Vegas not to mention others around the country. They all opperate on the B-CONNECTED card and just within the last year these systems are all linked, so now they can truly begin to compete with Harrah’s when it comes to the loyalty program.
As you enter the main casino the table games are straight ahead, mechanical slots are to the left, and penny video slot are to the right. To the far right is a bar/night club area with video poker at the bar. Live entertainment takes place here in the evenings with a lively local crowd taking full advantage of the dance floor. Upstairs is a 1/2 floor casino area with video poker and penny slots. There is another bar on the 2nd floor which is a lot quieter if you want that, also with built-in video poker. The 2nd floor also hosts live poker and live Keno. Also, right outside of the gaming are on the 2nd floor is SMOKEY JOE’S cafe. I highly recommend the RUBBED RIBS. They will make you JUMP BACK & KISS YO MAMA.
SAM’S TOWN is the place to be if you like tournaments and live promotions. They have regularly scheduled Hold’em, 3-Card Poker, Blackjack and other tournaments. They also get very creative with their live promotions. We were there for the BIG DICE promotion where player cards inserted into machines were selected a random throughout the day and then at 8pm the winners gathered at the top of the escalator so they could roll the BIG DICE down the step to min a multiple of the number they rolled. It was a pretty cute gimmick that generated a lot of excitement.
Overall, the gaming here is quite enjoyable and you get a lot of play for the dollar. I hit a jackpot on one of the penny slots which caused them to break out the dreaded 1099-G form. BE WARNED…Mississippi withholds state tax from your winnings and IT IS NOT RECOVERABLE on your tax returns, even if you live out of state!
Just across the highway from Sam’s Town is RESORTS and HOLLYWOOD. There is not a lot of traffic on the highway at all and if you like to walk you could definitely walk across to get there to get your exercise. RESORTS is a pretty neat place. They have a very open layout with high ceilings so that you feel like you can breathe. It is a single floor casino with the buffet and steak house located on the 2nd floor and the hotel area attached off to the far right. Of all of the casinos in the Tunica area, I would say that RESORTS does the best job of keeping their games up-to-date so that their customers always have something ‘fresh’ to keep them entertained. They have a good mix of game types and denominations. On the down side, they have this HIDEOUS raised stage right behind the main bar in the center of the casino and whoever is in charge of hiring the entertainment needs to reconsider their carer objectives. Not only do these bands belt out bad out of tune cover material, but the casino feels that it is necessary to pipe it through their main PA system, so THERE IS NO ESCAPING IT!!!
RESORTS has their own loyalty card which is shared only with BALLYS in Tunica, so this does not provide quite the value that the Harrah’s and B-Connect cards offer. Otherwise, payout of the machines are OK and table rules are pretty standard. If you choose to play here, do it during the day before they kick into the live so-called entertainment.
HOLLYWOOD Casino is right next door to Resorts. It is constantly night time inside of the Hollywood where they want to accent the lighting from the games. I don’t have too many good things to say about Hollywood other than they are the only casino in the Tunica area that has a self-serve soft drink fountain. The atmosphere is dismal, the games are tighter than at other casinos, and the loyalty card program is only good for their location. The bottom line is to go in and check it out just to say you were there, then get out before it’s too late!
Now we need to get in the car and drive over to the other group of three, the SHERATON, GOLD STRIKE, and HORSESHOE. The SHERATON (which was in the process of becoming THE ROADHOUSE) is probably the smallest of all the casinos in the Tunica area. They are a Harrah’s property, so you get all of the benefits that you would expect at any Harrah’s property. Other than that, there is not too much to say about it. I look forward to checking it out again after the conversion is complete.
The HORSESHOE is also a Harrah’s property. The thing that stands out about the Horseshoe is that it feels like they have gone out of their way to make it feel a lot like the Horseshoe in Las Vegas…a timeless gambling joint that is trying not to change as hard as they can despite of themselves. You can tell by looking around at the players that they have a very small but very loyal customer base that they cater to. Unfortunately, this Horseshoe does not have the history and nostalgia that their Vegas counterpart has, so it just doesn’t work for me. NEXT!
The GOLD STRIKE is an MGM GRAND property and is the definition of UPSCALE ELEGANCE. If you are the definitive HIGH ROLLER or someone that wants to be seen in the Tunica, MS area then this is the place to be. It’s a young croud that puts more emphasis on drinking than gambling. Lots and lots of EYE CANDY on weekend evenings! This is where I want to play table games because there is always a lot of action, especially a the CRAPS TABLE where some young ‘BETTY’ that doesn’t have a clue of what she is doing is going to roll a MONSTER HAND and everyone at the table ends up filling up their racks while she is waiting to hit her $5 line bet (-;
Next we need to get in the car to drive to BALLYS. It stands alone by itself which actually adds to the allure of the place. The white wooden railed fence around the parking area and the RED BARN decor of the exterior lets you know that BALLYS is going to be the definition of the OLD TOWN SALOON/GAMBLING HALL. You almost expect to see KENNY ROGERS greeting you at the door. The interior does not disappoint either. It is 100% country. If they could program the machines to say “Y’all Come Back’ after they take your money I’m sure they would.
Once again, BALLYS works on the same loyalty card as RESORTS so you can get 2x the bang for your buck. The surprising part is that the paybacks of the machines are not bad at all, and the dealers are all characters. It’s a good gambling experience and I look forward to coming back. The only thing I would warn against is the food…save you appetite for somewhere else.
Lastly we have FITZGERALDS (or THE FITZ as they like to call themselves now). It also stands alone, but it is a totally different experience than BALLYS. At you are driving down the winding road towards FITZ’s all-covered parking lot, you do under an arch that makes you feel like you are entering Disneyland. When you first catch a glimpse of the hotel/casino, it kind of reminds me more of THE EXCALIBUR than anything else. Entering the main casino, the player card booth is located just to your right. THE FITZ card is a ‘stand-alone’ program, so not a lot of value unless you concentrate all of your play in this one location. This is one of the larger casinos in the area, although in my opinion they go not take good advantage of the space they are afforded. Most of their machines are outdated and the paybacks are moderate at best. There is a 1/2 floor casino upstairs with mostly penny slots and a handful of old COIN-OP Video Poker machines that pay 6/9!!! The most impressive thing about THE FITZ is the view of the Mississippi River from the window as you go up the escalator to the 2nd floor. Only from this vantage poin can you really experience the massiveness of the OLD MAN RIVER in all of its glory. The other high point is the BUFFET. This is the BEST BUFFET is Tunica, hands down (sorry Paula Dean).
There it is. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Tunica is a cool place and I’ll definitely be returning as soon as I can. If you plan on hitting the Tunica area and have any questions about things that I might not have addressed, then feel free to email and I’ll see if I can help out.