Follow Ol’ Man River just south of Memphis, Tenn. into the state of Mississippi to find Tunica County and the town of Tunica, the third-largest gambling resort area in the country. One of the nation’s poorest counties in 1986, Tunica is now home to a prosperous casino community that has flourished like cotton in the rich Mississippi Delta soil.
Explorer Hernando DeSoto discovered the area in 1541. Nearly 300 years later, the Chickasaw Indians ceded the region to the United States and American settlers began moving in. The town of Tunica has been the county seat since 1888. For years, industry in the small town of about 1,200 people revolved mainly around agriculture.
In 1990, the state of Mississippi legalized casino gambling, and Tunica’s first casino opened its doors in October 1992. Today, Tunica is home to nine casinos with more than 6,300 hotel rooms and 40 restaurants that generate millions in revenue each year. Four-lane highways direct high-rollers and gambling neophytes to the center of all of the action, while tennis courts and golf courses are popping up in a landscape dominated by King Cotton.
Casinos, their restaurants and spas aren’t the only things to hold a tourist’s attention. The Mighty Mississippi River forms the county’s western border. Visitors can gaze across the broad span of the muddy waters toward Arkansas, check out nearby Indian mounds or immerse themselves in the countryside that shaped the lives of many a Blues legend. A short drive south to Tunica’s historic main street gives tourists the chance to stroll quiet streets, shop for antiques or savor good old Southern cooking.
With 15 million visitors a year, the casino and resort area may feel a bit like Vegas, but the town of Tunica retains its strong culture and historical charm. Cotton fields, catfish ponds, a historic downtown and the area’s mild southern climate remind visitors that they’re not placing their bets in the high desert of Nevada. They’re tempting Lady Luck in the South’s casino capital.