Photo courtesy Vicksburg CVB
With liberal gambling laws and a growing casino industry, Mississippi has become one of the South’s premier gaming destinations. Although several cities throughout the state have grown into high-profile gaming centers with numerous Vegas-style casinos, natural disasters over the past several years have posed challenges for the gaming and tourism industry.
After hurricanes, floods and other troubles, Mississippi’s gaming destinations have returned and have largely improved their products. Besides opening new casinos and renovating or rebuilding others, cities that specialize in gaming have also expanded their focus, adding arts, sports and other attractions to make a well-rounded visitor experience.
Just south of Memphis, Tennessee, Tunica has long boasted one of the most robust gaming scenes in the Southeast. But last summer’s flooding of the Mississippi River put a damper on some of the action in 2011.
“A lot of people didn’t realize how devastating the flood was,” said Bill Canter, director of sales and marketing at the Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It shut down our casinos for three weeks and completely flooded our Tunica River Park.
“The national media got on camera, came to Tunica and said that the casinos were closed. They never got around to telling people that things are reopened, so we’re still tracking about 9 [percent] to 12 percent behind where we were a year ago.”
Today, all of the city’s nine casinos are open for business. Visitors can play at Horseshoe, Gold Strike, Sam’s Town, Harrah’s, Bally’s and several others.
Tunica’s other tourism products will get facelifts as well. After cleaning up from the summer flood, city planners began redesigning Tunica River Park and creating a new museum concept for the space. Tourism promoters have also begun to focus on other aspects of the region, including its music history.
“We’re going to be the gateway of the Mississippi blues,” Canter said. “We just moved an 1890s’ railroad depot to our site, and it’s going to be our new visitors center.
“We’re building a new 3,500-square-foot blues museum to go with it. You’re going to learn about how blues was formed and where to go in the Delta.”