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Tunica is a town in Tunica County, Mississippi, near the Mississippi River. Until the early 1990s the town was one of the most impoverished places in the United States, semi-famous for the particularly deprived neighborhood known as “Sugar Ditch Alley”, named for the open sewer located there. The town now lies on the fringe of a growing gambling resort area, with major casinos attracting visitors from nearby Memphis, Tennessee, West Memphis, Arkansas and all over the Southeast.
The town is the fourth community to serve as county seat of Tunica County, succeeding earlier county seats at Commerce (1839–1842, 1842–1847), Peyton (1842, temporary) and Austin (1847–1888).
The Tunica area is now the third-largest gaming region in the United States, after Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Its effect on the local economy has spurred population growth in unincorporated parts of the county outside Tunica proper. Since 1990, the town’s name has been popularly associated with multiple casinos in proximity to the Mississippi River. However, the current group of casinos actually starts in the community of Tunica Resorts some ten miles north of the town of Tunica, and extends to the DeSoto County line. Tunica Resorts was originally named “Robinsonville”, but the name was changed in 2005 to eliminate confusion over the location of the casinos, which have always used the name “Tunica” in reference to their location. Success of these gaming houses in northern Tunica County came at the expense of the area’s first group of casinos in the early 1990s, located just northwest of Tunica proper, in an area known as Mhoon Landing—much of what comprises the current census-designated place of North Tunica. These casinos were closed or moved as larger resorts opened closer to Memphis.
Unlike the area including casinos along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast region, Tunica was not in the path of Hurricane Katrina. As a result, some of the regular Gulf Coast customer traffic from casinos drifted northward to Tunica County.
Though the casinos lie outside the town limits, the effects of tax revenue generated are felt inside the town. Major improvements to the public school system and downtown district are currently among the most visible aspects; long-term effects include major highway improvements on U.S. Route 61 and a much-discussed potential expansion of Tunica Municipal Airport.
As of 2007, some Tunica Resorts residents are trying to incorporate their community into a separate town government, rather than exist under the jurisdiction of Tunica County or move toward annexation into the town of Tunica. If Tunica Resorts incorporates, the new town government would be a direct beneficiary of casino tax revenue, enabling construction of municipal government offices. Depending on population and revenue growth, fire and police stations, libraries and other public infrastructure could be other likely additions. Potential effects on the existing town of Tunica are unclear.