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Best of Madeliene Bizub

Gaming Guru

 

Travels and Triumphs in Tunica

24 July 1999

During a vacation in Las Vegas about two years ago, my husband picked up a gambling magazine that had a review of all the casinos in Mississippi. "Did you know they had gambling in Mississippi?" he asked me. I snorted a laugh in response, visions of Boss Hogg as pit boss running through my closed mind. "What kind of gambling?" I asked, stifling a sarcastic remark. "It says here they have 9 casinos in Tunica, some in Natchez, a bunch more along the Gulf Coast, and Steve Wynn is opening a big one in Biloxi soon, too." Steve Wynn? This sounded serious. "Lemme see that," I said and grabbed the magazine away. Thus began my evolution from doubter to devotee of Mississippi ramblin' and gamblin'.

After some time and further investigation, we ventured to Tunica County, about 20 miles south of Memphis, for our first trip to Mississippi casinos. Since we had a week, we traveled by car from our home outside Atlanta, so we could combine some sightseeing with our gambling. If truth be known, I also wanted a means to make a hasty retreat if the casino scene proved disappointing. After all, I had once lived in Las Vegas, still traveled there often, and everything else paled in comparison to the bright light city itself. I harbored doubts that Mississippi could offer me much in the way of excitement. Oh, ye of little faith.

It was a hot summer afternoon when we entered the casino row area of Tunica County, and you could see the shimmering tower of the Gold Strike Hotel rising out of...a beanfield! The casinos seemed to be situated in the middle of a huge farm, which was in the midst of an active growing season. The sight was a bit incongruous, for sure. No bumper to bumper traffic, though, unless you count the time we had to slow down while a tractor crossed the road. Goodness! Who thought of putting casinos here?

We were staying at Fitzgerald's, which was really off the beaten path, but easy to locate by directional signs. It was costing us the huge sum of $29 a night, so I was expecting a Motel 6 type operation, however, I was wrong...again. Our room was divine, with two king-size beds, plenty of room, and a lovely view of the river. The hotel facilities included an indoor swimming pool and hot tub, open 24/7 (which came in handy at 3am--after standing at craps tables all day, you could soak your aching feet), a buffet, a gourmet restaurant, and a small gift shop. After a smooth check-in and settling into our room, we went to the casino for our initiation into "action, Mississippi style".

We spent our first evening just checking out the local casino scene, the rules, minimums and odds, and entertainment offerings. Jumping right into the fray is not our gambling style, but it proved difficult to restrain ourselves as we saw $3 minimum tables, 20X odds at many casinos, though $5 minimum was more the norm. Blackjack with $5 minimum was common too. The slots were dominant, as usual, with heavy play going on at virtually every casino, but there were plenty of table games, and even mini-baccarat. The establishments themselves looked classy and the tables appeared to be staffed by friendly and efficient dealers. Even the pit bosses smiled at us! Not a Boss Hogg in sight. Well, fiddle-dee-dee. We ate dinner at Limerick's, the gourmet restaurant at Fitzgerald's, and planned our strategies over Portabella mushrooms and a superb steak dinner. (Whaddya mean? No country fried steak smothered in gravy?) I had to admit, I was impressed.

The next morning, I couldn't contain myself any longer, so we hit a craps table before breakfast. At 7am on a Monday morning, the action was a little slow, but there were a few diehards at the craps table, so we bought in for $100, intending to stay for a short session before breakfast. It was a $3 minimum table, with 20X odds, buy bets on the 4 & 10, vig collected after a win, and a fun crew on top of everything else. We yucked it up at the table for about 30 minutes, doubling our small stake in that short time. The pit boss came over to give us our playing cards, and finding out we were on our way to breakfast, promptly offered us a buffet comp. Now, I may be a Southern gal, but I'm used to doing the asking when it comes to comps of any kind. Of course, we accepted, and enjoyed an excellent breakfast buffet. Our initial impression proved not to be the exception as we moved around from casino to casino throughout the Tunica area.

I was somewhat disappointed in the blackjack because the dealers hit on soft 17, and no surrender was the rule, with 6-deck shoes the standard, but a few higher minimum one- and two-deck games could be found, with decent penetration and doubling down allowed on anything. There were large and active poker rooms at the Horseshoe and the Grand, but I didn't play poker that trip. It was the craps action that kept drawing my attention.

I've never seen such shooters! Dice setting was the norm, and all manners of dice rolling rituals were tolerated. It seems the favorite local standard for dice rolling included some rubbing of the dice on the felt, in a circular manner, then gently tossing them with a little fingersnap thing when the dice left the shooter's hand. It was entertaining and effective too, much of the time. Decent rolls were the order of the day! Good grief, I must have woken up dead and in heaven that morning and didn't realize it. Dealers were universally good and profuse in their thanks for the most meager of tokes. When we dragged ourselves in to our hotel that night, we knew there would be no precipitous change in our plans to stay the week.

Since we are gamblers of the "guerilla style", taking shots at the casinos in a hit-and-run fashion, we looked for other things to do while in this particular region of casinoland. We enjoyed the Brett Daniels Magic show at the Gold Strike, and while it wasn't the equivalent of some of the Vegas monuments to sight and sound, it was excellent entertainment. After the show, the illusionist himself was in the theater lobby for greeting and signing autographs. There are no free shows on the sidewalks, and shopping is limited to the casino giftshops, so we decided to look for action of a different kind in the countryside around Tunica. A car is almost mandatory for any extended stay in Tunica if you're like us and move around a lot. Though there are some shuttle services, they go only to the casinos and have a fixed route and a schedule to adhere to, and the casinos are very spread out. There is also an excursion that picks you up and takes you to Graceland in Memphis.

Our tastes run to the more obscure adventure, however, so we took a trip to Holly Springs, a delightful old town with antebellum homes, antique shops, wonderful restaurants, and the ubiquitous Southern hospitality. The people in these towns tell the most fascinating stories when they find out you're a tourist. On another day, we went in quest of a little culture infusion and visited the museum to William Faulkner in nearby Oxford, site of "ole Miss" University. Culture wasn't all we got in Oxford, either.

Now what, I ask you, would a vacation in casinoland be without an Elvis sighting or two? Well, try hordes of Elvis lookalikes running around an old Mississippi college town. It seems Oxford has an annual event honoring the contributions of Mississippi's native son, and virtually hundreds of Elvis wannabes were in town performing at local taverns. It was too much fun. I didn't see any tacky wedding chapels, though, so I guess they only had temporary employment.

After a delightful week, when we were leaving Tunica, a little heavier of purse and lighter in spirit, I looked behind me and watched the Gold Strike tower receding in the rearview window. I looked over at my husband, and in the words of that now infamous and ravenous young vampire, I said, "I want some more." He laughed at me, and answered "And you shall have it."

That turned out to be the truth. We now travel regularly to Mississippi and have been to every casino, and many other places besides that. There are festivals which celebrate everything from Tennessee Williams to catfish, beautiful towns with friendly people, flea markets, antique shops and-- Did I mention they have gambling in Mississippi, too? If you are planning a vacation and want plenty of action...well, ya'll come!

Madeliene Bizub
Madeliene Bizub is a craps aficionado and an experienced gambler who is making
quite a name for herself in craps circles. She contributes to many internet
gaming sites and her opinions are well respected.
Madeliene Bizub
Madeliene Bizub is a craps aficionado and an experienced gambler who is making
quite a name for herself in craps circles. She contributes to many internet
gaming sites and her opinions are well respected.