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by Jerry "Stickman"

Jerry "Stickman" is an expert in craps, blackjack, video poker and advantage slot machine play. Frank Scoblete's and Jerry "Stickman's" book "Everything Casino Poker: Get the Edge at Video Poker, Texas Hold'em, Omaha Hi-Lo and Pai Gow Poker" presents dozens of video poker games and strategies for maximum returns. He is a regular contributor to top gaming magazines. You can contact Jerry "Stickman" at

This series of articles contains a look at current casino conditions in Tunica County against the backdrop of the history of casinos in the area. This article covers the early years of Tunica, from the first casino until the peak of activity. Subsequent articles will look at the casinos when things were fairly stable, including the flood of 2011 and its subsequent effects on the Tunica gaming industry. Let's begin.

I moved my family to the Memphis area in 1992. This year was coincidentally also when the first casino opened in Tunica, MS. At the time, Tunica County was the poorest in Mississippi and the promise of an influx of people, and more importantly their money, caused a fair amount of excitement among the residents.

That first casino was called "Splash." It was located at Mhoon Landing west of the town of Tunica. To get there from Memphis required a trip of about 35 miles down a two-lane highway that went through a couple of towns to the center of Tunica, where a right turn and then a few miles of unpaved county roads, would lead to the landing. Because they were literally the only game in town, they required a $10 entrance fee. The fee was simply to get in. It did not include any free play or anything else - just admission. The casino from the inside looked exactly like what it was - a long, narrow enclosure on top of a barge. Housed in this simple structure were all types of Las Vegas style games such as blackjack, craps, and roulette as well as slot and video poker machines. There was also a pretty decent buffet.

The blackjack games were dealt European style with the first dealer card dealt face up and no second card until all the players had finished playing out their hands. This method eliminates the possibility of a player seeing the dealer's hole card as there is no hole card to see. As I recall, the limits when I visited ranged from a minimum of $10 to $25 or $50 with a $500 maximum. The games were hand shuffled and penetration was abysmal. Based on my memory, the rules were pretty standard for casinos at the time - H17, split on any two cards, DAS, and RSA. All naturals paid 3 to 2. Surrender was not allowed. The place seemed to be perpetually packed. It was, indeed, the only game in town.

On weekends, there was a solid line of cars from Memphis to Tunica and on to Mhoon Landing. Having to stop on the highway for several minutes at a time was the norm as there were three hour long waits in line for the privilege of handing over $10 a head to enter the casino. On the plus side, one or two gas stations along the way would have coupons on the back of their receipts that were good for a free breakfast buffet. We always made a point to stop at one of these stations for some gas on our way to Splash. The steak buffet was quite good except for the fact that you could only have one steak.

Total Tunica Casinos: 1

In September, 1993 a second casino - Lady Luck - opened just up the river from Splash. It also had a $10 admission fee to enter. Even with two casinos charging $10 to enter, the waiting lines to get in were long. Lady Luck had a similar layout to Splash (though it was a bit larger) with similar games and rules. They did offer something new, however - a free hot dog! The blackjack games, while having similar rules to Splash, used the standard Las Vegas method of dealing. The dealer took two cards keeping one hidden until all the players had finished their hands. While this opened up the possibility of a player catching a glimpse of the dealer's hole card, it now matched the way the game is played virtually everywhere else in the United States.

Total Tunica Casinos: 2

On November 25, 1993 Harrah's opens its first casino in Tunica. Harrah's is actually headquartered in Memphis at this time. The casino is located in North Tunica County completely separated from the two existing casino and much closer to Memphis. With the roads as overcrowded as they were, these few miles can make a big difference in travel time. Blackjack games are nothing to get too excited about, but are marginally playable. This is before the introduction of the abysmal 6:5 blackjack pays, so all games were 3:2.

Total Tunica Casinos: 3

On December 6, 1993 at 6 AM Bally's casino opens just upriver from Lady Luck. It appears that competition between the casinos is beginning as Bally's eliminates the entry fee. This is a highly popular move and the other casinos quickly follow suit. Bally's is considerably larger than Splash, about twice as wide and longer. The blackjack games have the same rules as the other casinos and penetration was about 50 percent on double-deckers and 75 percent on six-deckers.

Total Tunica Casinos: 4

On same day at 10 AM, President Casino opens just up river of Bally's. This casino is unique to Tunica. It was a real three-deck paddlewheel boat with games scattered throughout the three decks. It had a great feel to it - something like it might have been back in the days of the mythical Maverick. The blackjack games had similar rules but a bit better penetration than the other casinos in operation in the Tunica area at that time.

Total Tunica Casinos: 5

In 1994 Tunica goes through a real growth spurt when it comes to casinos when Southern Belle opens on February 19... This is a great looking casino that was reminiscent of a southern mansion. There were two floors of gaming. Again, the blackjack games had similar rules and penetration was also similar to other casinos.

Total Tunica Casinos: 6

On May 10, Treasure Bay casino opened. The casino was configured as a huge pirate ship with the theme carried throughout the casino. Treasure Bay blackjack games, while having similar rules to other casinos, offered better penetration than the others making this a great place for the advantage blackjack player.

Total Tunica Casinos: 7

In May, Lady Luck casino closes due to insufficient traffic; the casino barge is floated downriver to Coahoma County, MS.

Total Tunica Casinos: 6

On May 25, Sam's Town opened just upriver of the Southern Belle. They share a common access road and were within walking distance of each other. The theme of the casino was very close to that of Sam's Town casino in Henderson, NV. It also boasted a large RV park with reasonable rates to entice the more mobile mature customers. It was by far the largest of any casino in the tunica area at this time offering a large selection of table games and slot machines. As with other casinos before Sam's Town, the blackjack rules were similar with average penetration. The craps tables were the longest in Tunica at 14 feet, but they had good playing characteristics for an advantage craps player. They also offered some of the best video poker returns in Tunica. They had no games that return more than 100 percent (although progressive machines could see the jackpot climb high enough for the total return to exceed 100 percent) because Mississippi gaming regulations prohibited casinos from doing so.

Total Tunica Casinos: 7

Next, on June 6, Fitzgerald's Casino opened and was positioned upriver of Sam's Town, having its own access road. It was totally patterned after Fitzgerald's Casino in Las Vegas, right down to the little "Lucky" troll and Blarney Stone. The casino had two floors filled with mostly slot machines, but there was a decent collection of table games as well. The casino employed a green limo to transport VIP's from and to the airport. The blackjack games were as good as it gets at this time with rules similar to all the other casinos and, depending on the dealer, great penetration. The craps tables were also decent for advantage craps players. Good video poker games were also available throughout both levels.

Total Tunica Casinos: 8

President Casino had difficulty attracting enough business and on July 8 closed its doors at Mhoon Landing. The paddle wheeler headed down the Mississippi river.

Total Tunica Casinos: 7

On August first, Sheraton Casino opened its doors up river from Treasure Bay Casino. This was a moderately sized casino with two floors of gaming. Blackjack games were about average but the craps tables were good for advantage players. Good video poker could also be found here.

Total Tunica Casinos: 8

Hollywood Casino opened downriver of Southern Belle on August 8. This casino carried a Hollywood theme throughout the casino. There were several displays from various epic movies. The steakhouse was named Fairbanks. The bars were named Box Office and Back Stage. Blackjack here was average. Craps was a bit better than average. It was possible to find some decent video poker but you had to look for it. It also had one of the better buffets.

Total Tunica Casinos: 9

On August 28, Circus Circus opened between Treasure Bay and Sheraton. It was a decent casino with two floors of gaming and lots of slots and video poker machines. The blackjack games were average. The craps games were decent. Good video poker games could be found - some of them were even at the bars.

Total Tunica Casinos: 10

On August 31, Southern Belle closed. It simply didn't have what it takes to compete with the big players in the area. However, about this same time, Splash casino welcomes its three millionth visitors.

Total Tunica Casinos: 9

In just under two years (from October 1992 to August 29, 1994) Tunica had gone from one casino to 10. It ended 1994 with a total of nine open casinos. Keep in mind that during this entire time, all those gamblers from Memphis had to travel the crowded two-lane highway to get there. Work had started on an upgrade to a four lane road, but it wouldn't be until October of 1996 when it will open. I guess when people want to gamble, they will do whatever it takes to do so.

In February 1995 Horseshoe Casino opened with Jack Binion (Benny Binion's son) at the helm. It was a large casino with lots of slots and a larger than average share of table games. In true Benny Binion style, Jack ran the place like his father ran the Horseshoe in Las Vegas. It was a great place to play. Blackjack was good. Craps was great for an advantage player. On the main casino floor or in the high- limit room, there never seemed to be any heat. There were just great table games and great dealers. The only downside was video poker. It was very difficult to find decent returns. This was the place to play for me and many of my friends and acquaintances.

Total Tunica Casinos: 10

May, 1995 - Splash Casino closed. Positioned the farthest away from Memphis, there were simply not enough gamblers to make its continued operation viable.

Total Tunica Casinos: 9

June 10, 1995 - Treasure Bay casino closed. They had decent blackjack and craps. The main problem from my vantage point was location. Even though you could see Circus Circus just on the other side of a fence from this casino, you had to drive approximately seven miles to get there. Combine that with three decent casinos within easy walking distance from each other (Circus Circus, Horseshoe, and Sheraton) and you have the recipe for disaster for Treasure Bay.

Total Tunica Casinos: 8

April 8, 1996, Harrah's opened at the site of the former Southern Belle casino, making this the second Harrah's casino in Tunica. This is a typical Harrah's operation. Terrible video poker and average table games. The craps tables were good for an advantage player.

Total Tunica Casinos: 9

June 24, 1996, Grand Casino Tunica opened. This was a monster casino. There were three separate casino sections totaling 340,000 square feet. The casino was positioned on 2,200 acres, which ultimately had three hotels, a golf course, an RV park, and a Kid's Quest. Blackjack games were okay and the craps tables were very good for advantage players. Video poker? Not so great, but two out of three ain't bad.

Total Tunica Casinos: 10

In 1996 Tunica is the third largest gaming destination behind Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Good times are rolling.

On October 22, 1996, the new four-lane highway between Memphis was completed. The trip from Memphis to Tunica County was no longer an excruciating experience. Will this help the Tunica Casinos? We will see ... next time.

All the best in your casino and life endeavors.

Jerry "Stickman"

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