Tunica Roadhouse Casino in Mississippi To Shut on Jan. 31, 2019

Tunica Roadhouse Casino in Mississippi

On Tuesday, Caesars Entertainment announced that it will halt its gaming operation at the Tunica Roadhouse Casino starting Jan. 31, 2019, although the casino’s 135-room hotel will continue to operate as usual. The casino and hotel company cited a decline in business due to increased competition from neighboring states.

Tunica’s Casino Market

Tunica in Mississippi was one of the most impoverished towns in the United States until its first casino opened in 1992. It subsequently gained popularity as a gambling destination, while gambling tax revenues helped generate much needed funds to aid a variety of different projects, including the public school system, downtown district, and major highway improvements. The town further benefited from lying outside the path of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and so drew a stream of customer traffic from casinos affected along the Gulf Coast.

Waning Fortunes

Increased competition from nearby states has since dented Tunica’s casino market, with The Great Recession and the 2011 Mississippi River floods also heaping additional misfortune on its ailing casino market. In 2014, Caesars was then forced to close its huge Harrah’s Tunica Hotel & Casino operation after more than a decade, with the imminent closure of the Tunica Roadhouse Casino extending the town’s losing streak.

As a result, Tunica County’s casino market will be reduced to just seven operations come the start of 2019. In the meantime, Tunica’s local population has continued to decline steadily over the years, and currently less than 1000 people reside in the town.

Mississippi’s overall casino industry has fared little better, and in 2017 it suffered a 2% revenue decline to $2.08 billion. Nevertheless, the Magnolia State’s two distinct casino markets have been moving in diametrically opposed directions. While its 12 coastal casinos noted a roughly 1% revenue gain to $1.19 billion last year, Mississippi’s 16 river casinos have continued their year-on-year losing streak dating back to 2006, and posted a 5% drop to $885 million. Compared to 2006, that number was also lower by a staggering 47%.

Tunica Roadhouse Casino Closure

Opened in 1994, Tunica Roadhouse Casino was acquired by Caesars Entertainment in 1998. It was the town’s smallest casino in terms of gaming space, and employed 377 casino workers, as well as 36 hotel employees. The casino’s subsequent closure will reduce Caesars Entertainment’s local casino offering to just the Horseshoe Tunica, and as Scott Barber, regional president of Caesars Entertainment’s Mid-South Division, explained in a release:

“After exploring every other viable alternative, we have come to the difficult but necessary conclusion to cease gaming operations at Tunica Roadhouse in an effort to appropriately position our business for the current market opportunity and ensure the long-term viability of our remaining operations in the vicinity.”

Arkansas is likely to add further to Tunica’s woes after the state recently voted to legalize four casinos within its borders, including one at Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis. Closer to home, Mississippi lawmakers approved the setting up of a state lottery this summer, potentially diverting more Mid-South gambling dollars away from Tunica’s casinos.

Future of Tunica’s Gaming Industry

Despite its waning casino market, Charles Finkley Jr., executive VP of the Tunica Chamber of Commerce, says he believes gambling will continue to play an important role in the town’s future.

“I see it always being a part of the economy, even with the casinos they’re building in Arkansas,” explained Finkley. “State legislation is allowing us to be competitive, and we’re going to work to remain competitive in the gaming industry.”

One area of optimism is Mississippi’s nascent sports betting industry which was launched in August. The product is seen as a useful tool in attracting a younger audience to state casinos, including those based in Tunica. Overall, legal sports betting helped Mississippi’s statewide casino revenues jump by 7.5% to $181 million in August compared to the same month a year earlier.