Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

With a blessing, the click of cameras and a snip of some scissors, the new hotel at Black Oak Casino Resort formally opened Wednesday.

Members of the public and Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians gathered for a special ribbon cutting ceremony for the hotel, which quietly opened earlier this month. Tribal leaders also celebrated the 12th anniversary of the Black Oak Casino, recognizing how far the popular destination has come since opening as a 28,000 square-foot hall with some slot machines and a few table games.

"All we had was a popcorn machine and some sodas in the middle of the floor," casino and resort Manager Ron Patel said.

Now the resort boasts the largest hotel in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, with 148 rooms and 16 suites. The new, five-story building also holds about 6,000 square-feet of space in multiple rooms for meetings, conferences and other public events. An outdoor pool is planned, as well.

During the grand opening ceremony, Patel chronicled the tribe's journey since the casino's first opening in 2001, when they had 160 employees and a warehouse building that has since been replaced with a parking garage. In January 2005, the casino that exists today opened followed by the lower floor for family activities. The Seven Sisters restaurant opened later that year, with the casino expanding in 2009.

Even after seeing delays and cutbacks from the recession, Patel said they now employ about 1,000 people and have "a major effect" on the local economy.

Multiple tribal, local and state officials spoke at the ceremony, which was opened with a ceremonial blessing and followed by a reception for invitees. Construction crews have been working for months on the hotel site, and the hotel saw a limited opening in April when some rooms were available. Tribal officials have also said expansion options are available in the future for the hotel.

Tribal Chair Kevin Day said he doesn't think American Indian tribes were expected to do as well as they did when legislation was first passed to allow tribal gaming operations.

"If you do things right, you work with your community, you can't fail," Day said.

Today the property also includes a 1,000-space parking garage, and construction was completed about a year ago on a gas station and mini-mart with the intention of serving motorists and hotel guests. The 164,000-square-foot casino has 1,200 slot machines, 24 table games, a poker room, four restaurants, a stage for live entertainment, a bowling center and an arcade.