Tunica is a strange place. I can hardly wrap my brain around this little spot on the map.
A few weeks ago, I traveled there to speak at a conference. We ended up taking the long route through Senatobia, winding on a country highway and passing farms and pastureland along the way — a scenic ride. Even after rolling into town, I couldn’t see the bright lights of the casinos for a while, just acre upon acre of cultivated flat land, good Delta land.
The roads through town were newly paved. We passed two brand new schools. Dollar stores dotted the highway. Before long, we made the turn into casino row. Further into the Delta landscape, we came upon the garish lights of a Vegas wannabe. Billboards declared each one the better choice for the avid gambler — looser slots, higher payouts.
Dinner that evening was in the upscale Jack Binion’s Steakhouse. Were we really still in Mississippi? The bill would have shocked my Mississippi relatives. The parking lot was full of Tennessee tags, hill people heading down the flat highway to try their hands at the blackjack tables. Walking across the casino floor, I saw a lot of wheel chairs and oxygen tanks.
I’m delighted to see this little town find its way out of the ditch — Sugar Ditch — and back to some semblance of prosperity. The casinos mean revenue for roads and schools and other improvements. More importantly, they mean jobs. Delta folks from all over travel up Highway 61 to the gambling Mecca for a chance at a better life.
But the vestiges of Sugar Ditch are not totally gone. Shacks still sit amidst shiny, new structures, and I wonder about the longer term effects of a casino driven economy. Tunica won the lottery when the casinos came to town. I’m hoping they are managing their winnings for the day when their luck runs out.
>> Nancy Lottridge Anderson, Ph.D., CFA, is president of New Perspectives Inc. in Ridgeland — (601) 991-3158. She is also an assistant professor of finance at Mississippi College. Her e-mail address is email@example.com, and her website is www.newper.com.