It’s a bit of a mystery how Tunica grew, seemingly overnight, from a tiny city with no four-lanes and just one stoplight, to what it is today, the South’s Casino Capital, the largest gaming center between Las Vegas and Atlantic City. As you gaze at Tunica’s dazzling casinos lighting up the night sky like a spectacular constellation, it’s easy to wonder if it’s magic. Or maybe the explanation for this sudden casino cosmos is scientific: Call it the Big Bang Theory, which seems doubly appropriate since the entertainment and luxury amenities in Tunica offer more bang for your buck than anywhere else in the country.
“…the night is young, and those casinos are calling: your fortunes seem bright. Lucky you.”
In any case, as you begin your own investigation into the mystery of Tunica, your first stop must be Gateway to the Blues, the converted 1895 train depot that serves up a warm welcome and loads of information as the city’s inviting visitor center. It’s also the location of the expansive (3800 square feet) blues museum opening in 2013.
Blues? you ask, as the mystery deepens. In fact, both blues and gaming go way back in Tunica, for it was here, in a city sitting smack on historic Highway 61, where Son House tutored Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, and where the much beloved Hardface Clanton nurtured the blues in establishments that also offered bootleg whiskey and games of chance.
Clanton was one of the early pioneers of gaming in Tunica, though places like “The Barn” were considerably less glamorous than today’s luxurious casinos. Still, with talent like B. B. King, Bobby Bland, Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner and Sonny Boy Williamson filling the air with their music, who needed fancy surroundings? When it comes to the blues, the basics are just fine, as Marc Cohn discovered when, on a whim, he pulled off the road at The Hollywood Café, an old-time Tunica eatery where an impromptu jam session inspired Cohn’s hit “Walkin’ in Memphis.” The Hollywood Café is still here, by the way, and so, too, is the historic Blue and White Café, serving travelers hungry for great food and hospitality since 1924.
And speaking of food, after you enjoy a delicious lunch (try some fried dill pickles!), take a leisurely stroll through the 168-acre eco-trail at Tunica’s RiverPark winding through serene and verdant woodland. Also, be sure to check out the RiverPark’s River museum and take a ride on the Tunica Queen paddle wheeler for an altogether immersive experience. At the end of the day, take a moment to stand on the observation deck to watch the sun sink. The lights are starting to shine at the casinos.
Have you solved the mystery of Tunica? Maybe not, but the night is young, and those casinos are calling: your fortunes seem bright. Lucky you.