Holy craps batman! You have to go to tunica, ms if you’ve never been before. This is probably one of the best-kept secrets in the country. This is the las vegas of the south. You have Hollywood, resorts, Sams Town, The Grand, Bally’s, Horseshoe, Gold Strike, Sheraton, Fitzgeralds…that’s nine full hotel/casinos at your disposal with all of the amenities you would expect from one of your favorite Las Vegas properties. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me give you the rundown.
We flew into the Memphis, TN airport which happens to be the primary hub for northwest airlines as well as the world headquarters for FedEx. I’ve never seen so many FedEx airplanes in one place in my life! What a sight. We rented a car and got directions to the tunica, ms casino area which is only a 40-minute drive from the Memphis airport.
What we learned is that even though the casino area is referred to as a tunica, you never actually go into the tunica area. The casinos are actually in Robinsonville, ms. I still haven’t learned why they picked up the tunica name. It’s probably just a marketing thing. Nevertheless, the drive is quite nice and one could easily become distracted from the “casino mission” if you’re not careful.
The first distraction is downtown Memphis and the infamous Beale street area where ‘the blues” is alive and well. This is a smaller version of new Orleans bourbon street and the home of B.B. King’s restaurant. All kinds of music (mostly the blues) go on nightly in restaurants, clubs, and on the street. The street is closed off to traffic so there is always a party going on somewhere.
Next along Elvis Presley Boulevard is the Presley mansion and museums with tours going on daily. Whether you are an Elvis fan or not, you should not miss the opportunity to visit here while you are in the area. It is more than just a shrine to the king. It is a monument to an era with a genuine sense of southern hospitality, humility, and a piece of Americana that can not be duplicated anywhere else.
Next, as you cross the border from Tennessee into Mississippi, there is a sudden change in the landscape. The trees, homes, businesses, and all of the other suburban images of the Memphis area quickly disappear into acres and rows of cotton and sorghum fields for as far as the eye can see. Depending upon the time of year, the plants will be in different stages and the landscape takes on a whole new feel.
Now you need to start watching closely because it won’t be long before you are in the casino area. Pay close attention to the billboards which promote the current specials for each of the casinos. Point multipliers, tournaments, mega-jackpots, and world-class entertainment. I hope you have your wingman riding shotgun to take notes!
Your first stop is The Grand which is now a Harrah’s property and home of the Paula dean buffet y’all (-; with some of the best southern-style cooking you’ll find anywhere. There is plenty of available parking out in the open. Just be careful of the crazy traffic scheme they have in the parking area.
The design engineer for that parking area was smoking something when he came up with that idea! If you are a golfer, this is your place. They have their own private golf course and the groundskeeper looks like he knows what he is doing. Now on to the important part…the casino.
When you walk from the parking lot to the casino, you go over a pedestrian bridge that spans a little inlet from the mighty Mississippi River. You are entering the gaming area in the center of the layout where the table games are located.
To the far left are mostly penny video slots, and to the right are the higher denomination machines as well as the video poker area. I like the layout because all of your gaming is conveniently located on the main floor, and all of the dining and shopping is located on the 2nd floor.
As far as the gambling is concerned, this is a typical Harrah’s property, meaning that the payout percentages on the machines are a bit less than at other properties, and the table game rules are a little too tight for my liking, particularly on the craps table where 3x, 4x, 5x odds are in effect, but the Harrah’s loyalty program more than makes up for the difference. If you are playing at Harrah’s property and you are not using a Harrah’s loyalty card to track your play, you are shooting yourself in the foot.
Next on the agenda, we are going to drive down to the far end of the strip to visit Sams Town. There’s plenty of parking out front and an rv area off to the side, if you are fortunate to come at the right time the Sams Town parking lot hosts a multitude of vintage car shows throughout the year. There is also a free covered parking garage and valet parking available.
Entering the casino through the main entrance, you have the buffet to your immediate right and the escalators to the 2nd floor straight ahead. To your left is a 24-hr snack bar and a wing to the hotel check-in area. Behind the escalator to the left is the player’s club booth and the entrance to the main casino.
Sams Town is a Boyd gaming property that also owns the main street station, the Californian, and the Freemont in downtown las vegas not to mention others around the country. They all operate on the b-connected card and just within the last year these systems are all linked, so now they can truly begin to compete with Harrah’s when it comes to the loyalty program.
As you enter the main casino the table games are straight ahead, mechanical slots are to the left, and penny video slots are to the right. To the far right is a bar/nightclub area with video poker at the bar. Live entertainment takes place here in the evenings with a lively local crowd taking full advantage of the dance floor. Upstairs is a 1/2 floor casino area with video poker and penny slots.
There is another bar on the 2nd floor which is a lot quieter if you want that, also with built-in video poker. The 2nd floor also hosts live poker and live keno. Also, right outside of the gaming area on the 2nd floor is smokey joe’s cafe. I highly recommend the rubbed ribs. They will make you jump back & kiss you yo mama.
Sams Town is the place to be if you like tournaments and live promotions (FYI, if you like live dealer promos, look it here for USA players). They have regularly scheduled hold’em, 3-card poker, blackjack, and other tournaments. They also get very creative with their live promotions.
We were there for the big dice promotion where player cards inserted into machines were selected randomly throughout the day and then at 8 pm the winners gathered at the top of the escalator so they could roll the big dice down the step to min-multiple of the number they rolled. It was a pretty cute gimmick that generated a lot of excitement.
Overall, the gaming here is quite enjoyable and you get a lot of play for the dollar. I hit a jackpot on one of the penny slots which caused them to break out the dreaded 1099-g form. Be warned…Mississippi withholds state tax from your winnings and it is not recoverable on your tax returns, even if you live out of state!