Lenore Rutherford, The Union Democrat

After 26 years, Chicken Ranch Casino in Jamestown is in the midst of its first major renovation.

The size of the building will remain the same, but it will have a whole new look, inside and out, Tribal Chairman Lloyd Mathiesen said. The theme will be historic with an Old West flavor.

He said the Chicken Ranch Band of Me-Wuk Indians, which owns the casino, listened to customers in designing the renovation.

A state-of-the-art ventilation system will greatly reduce the smell of smoke, which customers wanted, and a new restaurant will replace the snack bar.

"People can still get a hamburger," General Manager Coco Raymond said, "but now they can get a steak, as well."

The restaurant will feature signature dishes, priced for Tuolumne

County, in a quality dining atmosphere, Mathiesen, 27, said. There will

also be burgers and finger food for those who choose to eat while they


The bingo room, which is closed for remodeling, will open around the first of August with a whole new look.

It will be downsized from 900 to about 500 seats, Mathiesen said.

"It never seemed full before, even when we were really busy," he

said. Some bingo players, many of whom have been playing there for

years, are nervous about the change, he said, but he thinks they will

be happy with the new look, the new smell and the comfortable seating.

The gaming area of the casino remains open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

daily during construction, which is expected to be finished in the fall.

The number of slot machines will rise from 255 to 349, and the atmosphere of the gaming area will be completely changed.

"I think it will be different from anything people have seen around here," Mathiesen said.

A players' club with tracking of customers' gambling is also being added, and there will be new offices in the building.

"We are actually losing square footage for gambling," Mathiesen said.

A sprinkler system is being installed throughout the building for fire protection.

"We are so excited," Tribal Administrator Jan Costa said. "We are very proud of Lloyd."

Mathiesen said he started working on the theme last August. Before

hiring an architect and contractor, he worked with his buddy, Zach

Calbert, to come up with pictures of the stone and wood exterior he

wanted to replace the look of the metal building.

Mathiesen became tribal chairman in January, taking over from his grandfather and namesake, Lloyd Mathiesen.

The Chicken Ranch Band of Me-Wuk opened the Chicken Ranch Casino

with bingo in 1985, soon after American Indian tribes were allowed to

have bingo games on tribal lands in California. Slot machines were

added in 1998, again shortly after the state allowed them.

Raymond said they declined to state the cost of the project.

Contact Lenore Rutherford at lrutherford@union Democrat.com or 588-4585.