Just south of Memphis, the cotton fields of Tunica County, MS are producing more than fluffy white bolls of cotton. With nine riverfront casinos and a host of outdoor activities, this sleepy southern suburb of Memphis is a sure bet for a day - or night - of fun.
The irony about Tunica is that it has become one of the richest counties in Mississippi - but was once the poorest county in the poorest state in the nation. Casino gaming changed the fate of the county and its residents, and 20 years down the road, the county now produces 5% of the state of Mississippi's budget.
Tunica is where the famed Highway 61 - known as the Blues Highway - picks up from other points in the Delta; along this road some of the greatest bluesmen and women set out to seek a better life, bringing the blues to Memphis and points north. A Blues Trail through the county starts with a real blues shack, moved here as the gateway of the trail, and takes folks through the county's blues history.
Blues Shack, Tunica County MS — Photo courtesy of Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureay
Nine casinos have opened in Tunica, and offer a range of gaming and entertainment opportunities. Harrah's is perhaps the largest in terms of its overall offerings, with a huge casino floor (140,000 square feet), a hip night club, an incredibly good Paula Deen buffet, and sporting options including a golf course and clay shooting range. Each casino offers a different vibe, from the down-home Sam's Town to the glitzy Hollywood to the refined Horseshoe, and navigating between casinos does take a car, as they are separated from one another. (There's a handy shuttle that runs 24 hours to ease navigability). Fitzgerald's Casino on the River — Photo courtesy of Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureay
The Tunica casinos offer a variety of venues for concerts and special events; Friday night 'Fights at the Fitz' bring together big name boxers under the lights - and the stars - in a series of outdoor boxing matches. Hotel packages are a huge bargain, and usually include perks like meals, attractions or golf on one of three local courses; Harrah's offers spa packages as well.
While gaming is the main draw, the history of the blues and the river are equally intriguing. The Tunica RiverPark is an excellent museum detailing the history of the area, including the influence of cotton and the emergence of the blues. The Tunica Queen Riverboat offers sightseeing and dinner cruises on the Mississippi, which are quite tranquil affairs, given the rural nature of the area.