By Bob Highfill
Chicken Ranch Rancheria celebrated a new chapter and reflected on its proud history.
The Chicken Ranch Rancheria of central Sierra Me-Wuk, indigenous people of California, opened its expanded Chicken Ranch Casino and commemorated 34 years on the same property in the historic hamlet of Jamestown in Tuolumne County in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
The casino and event hall is an hour from the Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite National Park below the snow line of Gold Country.
Open since 1985, Chicken Ranch Casino has Bingo, table games, slot machines and dining opportunities. The casino just added 247 slot machines and has more than 600 total slots, including paper bills slots, progressive slots pull games, video poker and video game machines.
The expansion also includes table games. For the first time, Chicken Ranch Casino has table games, nine of them, including four-card and three-card poker, Hold-‘em poker, Spanish 21 and regular Blackjack. Chicken Ranch Casino was built on Bingo. Games are played Sunday through Thursday with 900 seats available.
Table games include four Blackjack tables plus Double Deck Blackjack and Ultimate Texas Hold ‘em. The Casino encompasses 27,000 square feet, and the adjacent event hall is 8,000 square feet. The event hall houses Bingo games four nights a week and can host meetings and entertainment. Recently, an outside promoter brought a mixed martial arts card to the event center.
Also new is the “The Roost” a cafe bistro that offers panini’s, pastries, lattes and other coffee drinks. The casino’s “Ranch House Restaurant” is an eclectic eatery with a variety of selections from burgers and fries to Italian, Asian and Mexican food open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“It’s not just cheeseburgers anymore,” said Lloyd Mathiesen, Tribal Chairman of Chicken Ranch Rancheria. “It’s a chance for everyone to get what they want.”
Chicken Ranch Casino has added complimentary valet parking and hopes to work with Tuolumne County to resurface roads leading to the casino.
The Chicken Ranch Casino is vital to the Chicken Ranch Rancheria tribe of Me-Wuk Native Americans that has been on site since the late 1800s and federally recognized in 1908. The State of California disbanded the tribe in 1953. Chicken Ranch Rancheria initially had 40 acres but has lost more than half over the years due to several disputes with the U.S. and state governments.
“The casino is our business and right now, that is the only thing that we have that funds our government and everything else we do,” said Mathiesen, who said Chicken Ranch Rancheria has about 42 members. “The casino pays for our health care clinic and our infrastructure and everything else we have.”
Mathiesen said the Rancheria wants to purchase their original 40 acres as part of a new economic development and land acquisition plan. He said the schools don’t do a good job teaching about Native Americans and the hardships they’ve experienced.
“They think it was in the 1400s and everything is fine and they have a casino,” he said. “We still try to do everything we can to get our culture back because it was taken from us.”
The last three parcels the Rancheria was able to purchase were not in good shape, Mathiesen said. One had a burned-out house; the second had a dilapidated home that had to be demolished; and the third had a trailer on it that was in bad shape.
“When land comes up for sale,” said Mathiesen, “we have to try and pursue it and not pay an ungodly amount.”
But Mathiesen is optimistic the new casino and event hall will attract more visitors and the new economic development plan will help the Rancheria in the long run.
“I believe we’re heading down the right path,” he said.