By LENORE RUTHERFORD
No big advertising campaign in advance and no fanfare at noon yesterday announced the first glasses of beer and wine served at Black Oak Casino in Tuolumne.
"We had just got here when they announced they were going to serve beer and wine for the first time," said John Thomas of Turlock about 12:30 p.m. "It's a good thing, because I already lost my money, and now I can sit and have a beer while I watch my buddies play."
About six of the estimated 300 people at the casino were observed drinking beer or wine about 12:45 p.m. yesterday.
One of them, Sally Wright of Modesto, was there after giving her new car a test drive to the foothills.
"This is my first time here," she said, "and I like the idea of being able to have a beer. I went to the Jackson casino once. I couldn't hear coins dropping, I couldn't have a beer, and it was so smoky I couldn't breathe. I never went back."
She said Black Oak Casino suits her better.
"It has coins dropping, beer to drink and a good ventilation system."
Instead of beer or wine, most gamblers yesterday had complimentary soft drinks, water or coffee as they worked the slots or blackjack tables. Those drinks are still free, but state law prohibits the casino from serving free or reduced-price alcohol.
Beer costs $2.50 a glass for domestic varieties and $3.50 a glass for imported brands. Wine is $3.25 a glass.
The casino's liquor license also allows hard liquor, but the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk, which owns the casino, has opted so far to serve only beer and wine.
Also, the liquor license allows alcohol to be served from 9 a.m. to midnight, but the tribe has chosen to limit the hours to between noon and 11:30 p.m.
"We are going to ease into serving beer and wine," said Lester Lingo, president of the tribe's economic development authority. "We live here and have families, too. The tribe can and will stop (serving) if there are problems."
The casino liquor license was approved in April by the state Alcohol Beverage Control Board, despite 190 protest letters. But the tribe waited until yesterday to actually serve alcohol.