Fear and Loathing in Tunica, Mississippi


Once one of the poorest places in the US, Tunica is currently home to six operational casinos. While the economic investment of the gambling industry has transformed the county and town of Tunica over the last thirty years, there have been a series of failures along the way. Many casinos have closed down and been demolished in recent years, largely being blamed on the expansion of casino gaming in Arkansas and other nearby markets.

Harrah’s Casino and Hotel

Unfortunately, there was a security guard parked in between the two main hotels on the abandoned Harrah’s property so we were unable to get very close before they chased us out. Harrah’s Casino Tunica closed on June 2, 2014. It was initially the largest casino between Las Vegas and Atlantic City when it was built and opened in 1996 as the Grand Casino Tunica.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig) The 140,000 sq ft Harrah’s Casino.

Plans were unveiled last year for a massive redevelopment of the Harrah’s property that would convert it into a family oriented water park resort complex. Tunica County is attempting to sell $148 million in urban renewal revenue bonds to investors in minimum denominations of $100,000 in order to fund the project. Bloomberg.

Dale Partners rendering of potential redevelopment

Roadhouse Casino and Hotel

I had no idea that the Roadhouse, which closed on January 2, 2020, was being demolished until we arrived in Tunica. It was originally opened in 1994 as the Sheraton Casino and Hotel Tunica.

The Roadhouse before it was closed.

Isle of Capri Casino and Hotel

Shot on Canon EOS M100 15-45mm by Luke Schlauder

Isle of Capri Casino & Hotel in Tunica Yet to Turn Profit After Two Years of Operations – 2001

David Flaum, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 28, 2001–Isle of Capri Casino & Hotel in Tunica County has yet to turn its first dime of profit although it has been open two years.

“We’re not going to close it — there’s certainly no discussion of that going on,” said Jack Galloway, chief executive officer of Isle of Capri Casinos Inc., based in Biloxi, Miss. Nor are there plans to sell the Tunica property, he said.

Isle bought the former Harrah’s property in Tunica, converted it to its Caribbean theme and opened it in July 1999. A 220-room hotel and twin theaters were added late last year.

Through July 30, Isle lost about $12.4 million in Tunica, based on earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) calculations listed in its financial reports. In the quarter ended July 29, EBITDA losses were $985,000, slightly better than the $1,003,000 in losses recorded in the same quarter last year.

EBITDA is considered a good measure of casino operating profits — or, in this case, losses.

Isle, at first, announced an agreement with Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton to help fill the theaters, but that fell through. The company went ahead with its plan to bring in Branson, Mo.-style entertainment with shows six days a week.

“Although we got a few people in there, it just didn’t work,” Galloway said. Isle dropped the program during the spring and use of the theaters is down to about one or two shows a month, he said.

“Now, we have a mid-sized casino with good food, good service and what we believe are the best hotel rooms in town,” he said. “We’re going to sell to people who like to gamble and build the property up that way.”

The property has 881 slot machines, 15 table games and 576 employees, said Bob Griffin, general manager.

Over time, Isle executives believe they can build the property up to an acceptable profit level, Galloway said. Within the next year, the goal is to break even on operations he said.

Isle of Capri from Google Earth in 2007, before the casino structure was demolished.


Categories: Mississippi

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5 replies »

    • The friend I went to Tunica with sent me this the other day, so cool that he was able to get in! I’m so curious to know if he genuinely found a way in or somehow was granted access by the owners or a real estate company, especially considering that you can tell virtually no one else has been inside from the lack of vandalism and graffiti. Fascinating, can’t wait to revisit Tunica


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