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The whispers on Harrah's were wrong

28 March 2014

By Rudi Schiffer
For several months now rumors have been floating around Tunica on a possible sale of the FITZ CASINO and the sale of HARRAH’S. The rumor on Fitz turned out to be real when FULL HOUSE acquired it. But two days later, the whispers on Harrah’s were wrong…the CAESARS ENTERTAINMENT’S huge property is shutting down June 2.

One has to surmise that Harrah’s had sought a buyer but in a declining market who wants 2,200 acres encompassing a large casino, three hotels, a golf course and a sporting clay range. The company’s two other casinos here, HORSESHOE and ROADHOUSE, are in a cluster of three casinos at the end of Casino Center Drive and have lower overhead than the massive Harrah’s complex. Since the two casinos are next to one another, a casino shuttle won’t be necessary to take customers from one casino to the other. Harrah’s stood alone, further north than the rest of the Tunica casinos. The bad part is that the demise of Harrah’s will leave some 1,200 employees without jobs and create a serious economic decline in the region. Few of them will be absorbed as competitive casinos here are not exactly in the hiring mode these days.

But there is an upside to this surprising development. FITZ’S new owners can expect to pick up some of the customers who did play at Harrah’s. The seven other casinos still in the game will also see Harrah’s customers. And maybe the Mississippi legislature will reconsider its position on casino online gaming for the future.

YOU have to love the name FULL HOUSE RESORTS for a gaming company and it is a welcome addition to the competitive Tunic Jurisdiction. With its acquisition of Fitz Tunica a new player will bring new energy to a flagging market. What does FULL HOUSE bring to the Delta table?

For one, the company did its homework and the buy fits in perfectly with its strategy. As ANDRE M. HILLIOU, chairman and chief executive officer, said… “The transaction is consistent with our long-stated growth strategy… the property (Fitz) has historically been well run and maintained under the current management team.” Nice comment, but of course new owners want to put their own stamp on a property.

As Hilliou said… “We believe that we can leverage our knowledge and proven track record of managing properties catering to local customers in competitive environments to further improve the profitability of the Fitz Casino.”

The new owners have a strong base to start from, which is a major reason that they bought Fitz…like $10.1 million in generated unaudited adjusted EBITDA for the fiscal year 2013. Who made that happen? — CHUCK MILLER, the GM, and his focused staff, that’s who. The transition appears to be seamless and we hope so.

I’ve always been a fan of FITZ since the bagpipers opened it…it’s a local place…small and friendly. FULL HOUSE has put its chips on the table for a casino that has catered to locals against strong competition and did well against the bigger competitors. Guess I will need a new players card soon.

Congratulations to TROY KEEPING, President AND GM for SOUTHLAND PARK GAMING & RACING on being named a Memphis Business Quarterly’s CEO of the Year (200-1,000 employees). When Keeping took over Southland seven years ago, he inherited an out-of-date facility perceived as a run-down dog track. Within an aggressive game plan, Southland turned things around. In 2013, Southland had an economic impact of $104 million. In 2012, the park underwent an $11 million expansion. This January, Keeping announced even more growth, with a $37.4 million expansion that will add 41,000 square feet, 500 new gaming machines, and a restaurant.

March Madness is done for another year and that’s fine by me. There were some entertaining games, the ones where the dog whipped a higher seed, like HARVARD, DAYTON, MERCER, STEVEN AUSTIN, and so on. But when just about all the sport talk is about basketball, ad nauseam, I yearn for the opening of Major League Baseball or the Stanley Cup playoffs. That puts me in a distinct minority in Memphis and since the sports pages (few as they are) in the THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL cater to the masses, I have to live with it. That is why I also subscribe to USA TODAY, which knows how to balance sports coverage, even if it gives too much space to homicidal mixed martial arts mayhem. Name just two fighters in this bloody gladiatorial conflict. Are you going to raise your kid to be in this game? Doubt it; kiddie football is bad enough.

Hope I raise someone’s ire with these totally one-sided comments, tired of feeding you puff. Another thing that galls me is the phony advertising pictures of tuxedo and evening-gown-clad “players” posing around a table game and laughing. How could they be having such a good time when they are dressed totally inappropriately? You might see that in Monaco’s casinos but not in Mississippi. Do casino ad agency folks really think these clowns are believable? Guess I got out of the wrong side of bed when I wrote this column, but so be it. It was long overdue.

Here are some real things, fun things coming up where players dress like we all do — casual and sometimes grungy. You can go in such garb to the FITZ’ CRAWFISH, CORVETTES & CAMAROS FESTIVAL on Saturday, April 1, from noon to 6 p.m., when the car show will be accompanied by crawfish and food booths, an outdoor concert and arts and crafts vendors. This is a real event and even better because it’s free.

And you can wear the same clothes for the 2nd DELTA COUNTRY JAM FESTIVAL May 23-25. It’s outside, so it will be down and dirty at Casino Center Drive near BALLY’S, GOLD STRIKE, HORSESHOE and ROADHOUSE casinos. You can even camp there for three days for $139. A three-day early bird pass is only $99, which is a good value to see headliner KEITH URBAN and other top stars. The ticket prices should make this is well attended. Visit

Attention blackjack players: Gold Strike host the Playing with Fire $60,000 Blackjack Tournament on Sundays in April. Pull up a seat in this hot blackjack competition in Tunica and get fired up to win a share of $60,000 in Cash and TablePlay. Tournaments will take place April 6, 13, 20, and 27. There is a $25 buy-in and $25 rebuy with registration from 3 to 7 p.m. in the Smoke-Free Second Floor Casino at Gold Strike. Tournament Play begins at 4 p.m. in the Smoke-Free Second Floor Casino. Some $15,000 in cash and TablePlay will be awarded each day. First place prize paid in half cash/half TablePlay All other prizes paid in TablePlay.

The RIVERGATE FESTIVAL returns to Tunica, April 25-26. On Friday, April 25, its starts with 4 p.m. a horseshoe tournament, petting zoo and pony rides for kids. A circus is at 6:30 p.m., a VIP reception at 6:30 p.m. and live music at 8 p.m. On Saturday, April 26, the petting zoo and pony rides are all day. A 5K run/walk is at 7:30 a.m. and bike ride is at 8 a.m., along with the opening of arts and crafts booths. Enjoy great food, live music, a circus and lots of activities throughout the day.


The Goodtimes Radio Show, now on KWAM 990 AM Memphis, has expanded and added another hour of gaming programming. The show is from 11 AM to noon. Listen on or get the free app on your phone.

Heard it on the River is published courtesy of Jackpot Magazine, the South's leading gaming newspaper.


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Rudi Schiffer
Rudi Schiffer is a long time columnist and contributing writer for Jackpot Magazine, the South’s leading gaming publication, and for, the world’s leading casino industry internet news distributor. He is also owner and co-host of the 20-year-old Goodtimes Radio Show, now simulcast on Fridays from 3-6 PM Central Time from Country Classic 1180 AM, Memphis networked with KMIS 1050 AM, and 103.9 KGLU FM from Kennet, MO covering parts of Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. His radio show is also archived at A Boston University Journalism graduate, he resides in Memphis, TN. Known as the "Voice of Tunica" for his support the gaming jurisdiction for two decades, he was also recently named to Memphis Business Quarterly Magazine’s 3rd annual “The Power Players, Who’s Who” of Memphis.He is also a contributing writer for Southern Gaming & Entertainment and Mississippi Gaming.

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