If you are like me, you love spending time in Las Vegas but if you live in the Mid-West it’s not always cost-effective to hop a plane to Sin City. Don’t fear, there’s a reasonable substitute just south of Memphis, Tennessee: Tunica, Mississippi.
Now let’s be honest, there’s only one Vegas and it’s impossible to replicate that experience anywhere else but Tunica brings a lot to the table and in some ways, it’s a better gambling experience. Let’s break down what it’s like to visit:
1) THE LAYOUT – There is no main “strip” in Tunica but several casinos are grouped together, in a couple areas, giving you the ability to easily walk between a few casinos at a time. There is not much else to do or many places to eat outside the casinos so it’s not the ideal spot to stay if you are looking for “touristy” things to do. Earlier this year, I spent a couple of nights there with the kids and loved eating in casino buffet (unlike some states, in Mississippi it’s ok for kids to walk across the casino floor to get to the restaurants) and enjoying the pool. That being said, if you bring your kids for more than a day or so you should be prepared to spend some time in Memphis where there are plenty of entertainment destinations for all ages.
2) THE GAMES – With the obvious exception of sports betting, if you can find it Vegas, you can find it in Tunica. Almost every casino has a wide variety of slot and tables and plenty of low limit tables for those of us on a budget. The Tunica Roadhouse offers $5 single deck blackjack and it’s not hard to find $5 craps or roulette. I have had a great experience with the dealers and found them to be extremely friendly. In my last visit, I spent time at four casinos and enjoyed my experience at the tables.
3) THE COMPS – To me, the comps in Tunica blow away any other place I’ve been too and are certainly better than strip casinos in Vegas. In my last visit, I played the tables at Resorts, Hollywood, Sam’s Town and Roadhouse and drink service was excellent at all hours of the day. If you are playing your drinks are totally free (a comp which used to be standard almost anywhere but is dying out in much of the country).
It also doesn’t require you to be a high roller to qualify for food comps. While playing craps at Resorts, my friend and I were offered free lunch and we were at the table playing $10-$15 games for about an hour. I’m not a high roller and in all of my years of playing casino games, I had never had a casino VOLUNTEER to give me free food.
At most places in Tunica if you are playing an hour or so, be sure to ask for a food comp. I have never been turned down. In my last two trips there, I haven’t paid for a meal. My friend gambles in Tunica a few days a year and regularly gets offers in the mail for free rooms. With comps, don’t forget to get a players card and show it when you start playing or put it in the slot machine. It’s the only way the casino knows how to track your play and without it, you likely won’t get comped.
4) THE FOOD – Every casino offers several food options and most have a buffet. All of the buffets that I went to were good but none were spectacular. For the best value, I would go for an early lunch where you still have some good breakfast options like made to order omelets. I didn’t go on my last trip so I’m not sure if it’s changed but Sam’s Town always had a good buffet that offered a variety of barbecue options like ribs and pulled pork. They also offered free beer as a drink choice.
Several of the casinos have a high-end steak house if you are in the mood for something a little more upscale for your night out. If you aren’t in the mood for either, I would recommend the bar at the Roadhouse. It had one of the best cheeseburgers that I’ve ever had and the price was right. I picked up a couple for the kids and they agreed, they still talk about the cheeseburger they ate in Tunica!
5) THE ENTERTAINMENT – Several of the casinos have theaters where they bring in big name talent. It’s not like Las Vegas where there are headliners nightly but most weekends you can find an excellent concert or comedy show. Being in the south, the entertainment tends to be more country oriented but not always. During the week many casinos will have live music in the casino.
6) THE HOTELS – If you want to gamble and especially if you plan to drink, I recommend staying in one of the hotels on the casino property. I have never had a bad experience staying in a hotel in a Tunica casino and I’ve stayed in most of them. I would recommend Hollywood and I’ve stayed there on my last two trips. The rooms are clean and the service is very efficient. Nearly every casino hotel offers cheap rooms during the week so it’s not unusual to pay $50 or less a night and even though they are starting to tack on “resort fees” they are cheap compared to Vegas prices. During the weekends, the rooms can get pricey so you should plan ahead. There are plenty of non-casino hotels nearby which are affordable. If you just want to spend a few hours at the casinos and do things elsewhere, it’s about a 30-minute drive to Memphis and your lodging options there are virtually unlimited.