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VOL. 128 | NO. 155 | Friday, August 09, 2013

Liftoff

Tunica hosts second annual Balloon Bash this weekend

By Michael Waddell

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Hot-air balloonists will take to the Tunica skies this weekend as the second annual Tunica Balloon Bash is planned at five sponsoring Tunica casinos.

More than 35 hot-air balloons will be welcomed to this year’s Tunica Balloon Bash, held this weekend in an attempt to draw more visitors to the casino resort properties of Tunica County.

(Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Sponsors Fitz Tunica Casino & Hotel, Gold Strike Casino Resort, Hollywood Casino Tunica, Horseshoe Tunica Hotel & Casino, Sam’s Town Hotel & Casino and the Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau will welcome more than 35 balloons to this year’s event, Aug. 9-11, featuring more than $12,000 in competitive prize money.

“One of the things that makes this event so nice is that it is very family-oriented and it’s free,” said event organizer and “Balloon Meister” Mark Bowie, a hot-air balloon pilot who has been involved with ballooning for more than 20 years and has organized many balloon events across the Southeast.

Tunica CVB president and CEO Webster Franklin said the idea for the event came about after a meeting was held with all nine Tunica casino properties following the flood of 2011. With the infrastructure in place to host a great balloon event, Tunica was looking for something that could tie a bunch of different properties together.

“We are always trying to think of events that will draw a different crowd to Tunica and have it become more event-centric,” Franklin said. “The balloon idea was one that allowed each individual casino to participate and have their own mini festival on their property, while at the same time all of the balloons could come together at a destination-wide event like the balloon races.”

Hollywood Casino is sponsoring the event for the second consecutive year.

“Sponsoring the Balloon Bash is an investment in our market, and joint ventures such as this broaden the Tunica market’s appeal and attract new customers,” said Jeff Strang, Hollywood Casino Tunica vice president of marketing. “While Hollywood is a casino, we are also part of the community and participate in events that are appropriate to bring visitors to the area.”

The 2012 Tunica Balloon Bash was held last November and drew approximately 5,000 spectators, but there was one major drawback: the balloons did not fly due to adverse wind and weather conditions.

“We got in on the ground floor and sponsored the event last year. We took weather into consideration for the event this year and moved it up to the summer,” Strang said.

Organizers expect calmer winds this weekend.

“The winds will definitely be a little more favorable this year compared to what we saw last year When the winds get above 10 miles per hour, we really cannot do anything,” Bowie said. “Our flights will be early in the morning and late in the evening because that is typically when there is the least amount of wind.”

This year’s colorful balloons will come from Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana to compete for cash prizes totaling more than $12,000. The competitions will take place on Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

“The competitions will be based on the wind conditions,” said Bowie, who sets up the weekend’s events. He explained that pilots will need to navigate their balloons across a three-mile path to designated markers in order to win. “We will have two competitive flights with two tasks apiece, and the winners will need to come within literally inches of the markers to win.”

Attendees will also get to enjoy free tethered hot-air balloon rides and “balloon glows” that will happen Friday and Saturday beginning at 7 p.m.

Visiting balloonists will fill the Tunica sky again during a hot-air balloon fun flight from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday.

“It’s really a pretty sight to see,” said Franklin, who expects higher attendance numbers at this year’s event. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for everyone to come out and watch.”

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