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Best of Frank Scoblete
Mississippi on Our Minds15 December 2005
The Tunica casinos are some of the best in the country for playing conditions, game selection, odds and payoffs, types of machines, table game rules, rule variations and comps. This is not an exaggeration but a fact. The best overall gambling in America can be found, ladies and gentlemen, right here. The Tunica hotels range from homey to handsome to high end to luxury. Everything is clean. The people are friendly. Things are laid back, relaxed, restrained. There's service with a genuine smile. It's the South, after all, where friendly is a cliché.
But it isn't heaven; no, sir, not by a long shot. We're talking heat and humidity and mosquitoes and snakes and other wildlife all year round. Not in the climate-controlled casinos, obviously, although some critters have snuck in now and again when the human populace was otherwise engaged, possums, squirrels, water moccasins and alligators (okay, okay, not alligators, we're exaggerating for effect). There are thunderous rainstorms, the occasional tornado, the sometimes swollen, muddy Mississippi River, and the red mud to contend with. And then there's the endless nothing.
The very first time we came to Tunica, we were stunned by the endless nothing. That's right. As far as the eye could see were fields of soybeans, cotton, and rice paddies, with the occasional shack or rusted tractor. To us native New Yorkers, who are used to forests of buildings in every direction, the expanse of such fields elicited a "there's nothing around here" comment from each of us. For us, a field where you grow things is a place where there is nothing. Food, for us, is found in the supermarkets, neatly wrapped, packaged and labeled; not out in the endless open.
Since we arrived at night, all was blackness until we hit the casino strip, and then light burst upon us and suddenly we were in the familiar, glittering glow from thousands of watts of electric light from marquees and signs and street lamps. It felt like home, or our home-away-from-home.
It was Gone with the Wind meets Viva Las Vegas. It was the past, hands-in-the dirt, agriculture, grits and Scarlet O'Hara's fist raised in the air saying her famous, "I will never go hungry again," line juxtaposed against the present with Elvis in his sequined glitter suit, gyrating to impress the bubbly Ann Margaret who was herself twisting and twirling to the beat. Certainly, Elvis never went hungry ever again nor do any of the casino patrons lining up for the low-priced or comped buffets at Tunica casinos. Hunger is no longer on the Tunica menus.
Have Tunica's casinos been good for Tunica County? Obviously. Even a cursory study of the economic climate a dozen years ago before the casinos were up and running tells us that what was once one of the lowest socio-economic and depressed areas in the country ("Hey, Rhett, you really gonna eat that last radish?") is now thriving ("Scarlet, you better put that plate down and attend Weight Watchers. A lady wasn't meant to eat at buffets like a hog!")
The past decade has been very good for Tunica, no doubt about it. It's brought jobs, education and opportunities for all sorts of people who might otherwise never have had them.
But like a living organism, areas and economies either grow or start to die. The past, while comforting, is no harbinger of the future - especially if steps aren't taken to assure growth.
So what's next for Tunica? We're looking into our crystal ball and we find that with such incredible games, it would be a natural for gamblers from all over the country to want to play here - if they knew about it. For example, no one has better craps games than Tunica. When Frank held his Sharpshooter Craps Festival in March 2003 at Sam's Town, 118 craps players came to the weekend - fully half of them had never been to Tunica before!
And what was their collective reaction? "We're coming back!" Why? The craps games with 20X odds and $30 buy bets of the 4 and 10, 5 and 9 for a one-dollar vig if they won was what won these dedicated craps players over. In that is the lesson for Tunica's future.
Tunica should definitely market itself to the "traveling population" but it can't do it as Vegas does. Tunica is not a destination, as Vegas is, or as Atlantic City is trying to be. Why? Because, despite Memphis, a city with considerable charm, it is some distance from the casinos, and people from the large metropolitan areas just aren't going to say, "Hey I hear there are lots of sights and great shopping in Memphis!" And while Tunica's amenities are great, no one will hop a jet to enjoy them when the amenities of Vegas call.
But gamblers, who make up about half the Vegas market, might just turn their gaze southwards if given the right motivation - a decent chance to win.
Tunica has one position that can blow Vegas away, and one only - its games. Tunica can market itself as the "gambling capital of America" and it can prove it by merely citing the nature of its games. If marketing were poker, the good games of Tunica are the Tunica casinos' ace in the hole. Of course, not all Tunica casinos have all the best games - so they'd better get them. Then, when everyone is on board, Tunica must launch a campaign to bring in gamblers from other regions. And gamblers, once apprised of the great bang for their buck in this county, will first trickle, then flow, then cascade into town. You can bet on it. And it won't matter what kinds of varmints lurk in the darkness outside the neon glare of the casinos, because no gamblers are interested in truly wild wildlife.
And remember this, Gone with the Wind did very well in Northern cities and so did Viva Las Vegas! There's no reason why Tunica can't be marketed to a whole new generation of astute players looking for the best games in town.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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