Mississippi’s Tunica Turns to Wind Energy to Propel Economy as Casinos Idle
Posted on: July 19, 2023, 11:06h.
Last updated on: July 20, 2023, 05:23h.
Local officials in Mississippi’s Tunica County are betting on a forthcoming wind energy farm to prop up the region’s economy as casinos there continue to see their business climate change.
Tunica is one of the more impoverished counties, not only in the state, but in the entire country. The county located in the northwestern part of Mississippi continues to see its population decline, with the US Census Bureau estimating that fewer than 10K people now call the riverboat casino town their home.
The federal government reports that more than one in four Tunica residents live in poverty, with the annual median household income at just $41,200. The town would likely be worse off if it weren’t for Tunica welcoming riverboat casinos in the early 1990s.
Tunica’s riverboats once represented one of the largest local gaming industries outside of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. But as commercial gambling has expanded across the US in recent decades, most consequentially in neighboring Arkansas, Tunica’s gaming interests have struggled to retain patrons. As a result, the riverboats have seen gross gaming revenue (GGR) tumble.
Economic Gust Forthcoming
While the local economy has certainly been better, Tunica officials are optimistic about reversing those fortunes by way of a wind farm. Virginia-based energy producer AES is building a utility-scale wind farm in Tunica that will primarily sell energy to Amazon.
Amazon operates fulfillment and sortation centers, a delivery facility, and a Whole Foods Market in northwestern Mississippi. The wind farm will be the first utility-scale wind farm in the state.
The wind farm, Tunica officials say, will deliver the county millions of dollars in annual property taxes. Government leaders say the money will help fund desperately-needed upgrades to the county’s public schools. K-12 test scores in Tunica have been among the lowest in the state for several years.
Construction of the wind farm has also created 300 temporary jobs, but the facility will only require about seven to 10 employees to maintain it once its operational. The wind farm is expected to be ready in early 2024.
“These types of projects will not come in and solve all the problems with our communities, but it’s a start. It’s a start and a step in the right direction,” said Charles Finkley Jr., director of the Tunica County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development.
Critics, however, panned the county’s decision to provide AES with considerable tax incentives.
County officials counter that the wind farm will generate more than $60 million in property taxes over the next 30 years. But if the wind farm hadn’t been lured in with those inducements, the vacant property would have been on the hook for only about $20K in property taxes during the three-decade period.
Tunica’s casino industry consists of seven casinos, including 1st Jackpot, Fitzgerald’s, Gold Strike, Hollywood, Horseshoe, Isle of Capri, and Sam’s Town. The properties are located north of Tunica proper in Tunica Resorts, the resort corridor that was known as Robinsonville until 2005.
Tunica’s annual gaming revenue declined each year from 2012 through 2020. Pent-up demand following the pandemic resulted in the seven casinos winning $696.1 million in 2021, which was a nearly 20% surge from 2019 revenues. Play has since subsided, as GGR last year in Tunica totaled $636.4 million, an almost 9% year-over-year drop.
During the 2000s and 2010s, Tunica casinos averaged around $1 billion a year in GGR.
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