Casinos Give Needed Boost to Tunica's Economy

The addition of casino gaming has been a boon to this rural outpost, once the poorest county in not only the South, but the entire nation.

"No one ever dreamed that this would work," says Webster Franklin, executive director of the one-and-a-half-year-old

Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In just six years, Tunica has witnessed the development of nine casino resorts that have changed the face of this flat Delta land, whose agricultural economy has centered on cotton, soybeans, rice, corn and catfish.

From 20 rooms (in one motel) in 1992, the county now has 6,000 rooms, welcoming an estimated 14 to 16 million visitors a year. The casinos employ nearly 15,000 in a county whose population is some 9,000. Unemployment has been slashed from 13.6% before gaming was approved in 1992 to 5.3% in 1997, while per capita income, pegged at $10,000 in 1990, is now more than $16,000.

The legendary Highway 61, running south through the

Mississippi Delta, was a two-lane road until the advent of the casinos led to its widening to four lanes. Other developments include two new golf courses and the anticipated construction of an outlet shopping mall and additional road improvements.

What's being called the Tunica Miracle dates to 1992 when Mississippi approved gaming in a form similar to that in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, where there is 24-hour-a-day, no-limit wagering.

The first casino to open was Splash at Mhoon Landing next to the Mississippi, about eight miles south of what is now Casino Strip. It was followed by three others (none of them now operating).

Although the early casinos offered neither "a great product nor hotel rooms," says Franklin, they proved a smashing draw, with long lines of people waiting to get in. Gaming giants like Harrah's, Bally's, Boyd Gaming (of Sam's Town) and the

Binions (of the Horseshoe) took notice and the Tunica Miracle was on its way. n

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