The Official Site
To become a member of the WBA
Please sign up here:


Bunco in the "burbs"
By Kathie Sutin

Move over, Dad. For years you've had your monthly poker game with the boys.
Now it's Mom's turn, but it's not cards she and her friends are playing. It's an old dice game with a shady past — Bunco. Once, police departments had special squads that raided Bunco parlors in America's cities. Today, the Bunco craze is sweeping the 'burbs.

Debbie Ambrose (center), of Wildwood, Amy Buckley (right, center) of St.Charles,Tonja Hilton (right) of Creve Coeur and Suzie Bruce (left), of O'Fallon, Mo. attend a bunco party, along with other moms getting together in Ballwin recently. (Dawn Majors/P-D)

Every week hundreds of St. Louis women (and a few men) gather in homes, rec centers and clubhouses to play the game that originated in England and requires no skill. Sometimes they play for charity, sometimes they play for prizes, but they always play for the camaraderie and friendship the game fosters.

Amy Buckley, 31, a St. Charles mother of two, didn't even know what the game was when a couple of her friends decided to form a Bunco group about five years ago.

"I had never heard of it," she says. "We figured it was a good way to get a girls' night out. So we started the group and have been doing it ever since."

Most of the players in her group went to high school or college together and live all over the St. Louis area.

"When we started, not many of us had kids," Buckley says. "Now most have at least one child.
"We're so busy with our kid's lives that we don't get to spend as much time together," she says. "Bunco is sort of one guaranteed night a month that we can all catch up and spend time together."

Buckley, like many Bunco players, says socializing more than the game itself keeps her coming back.

"It's really more of an excuse to get together," she says. "It's something we can do that's fun, but it still allows us to talk to one another. It's just rolling dice so it's not really a game of skill or one that involves much thought. The way the game is set up, you're constantly changing partners so you get to talk to different people throughout the night, which is nice."

Buckley, who also subs in a neighborhood game, recently joined a second group after a friend decided to form a new group. "After playing just one time, she got hooked," Buckley said.

Andrea Snowden, 31, of Maryland Heights is another Bunco fan. She plays in two groups including one that formed through an online moms group.

She stumbled on the first group accidentally last year. Her husband, Jeff, was out of town when she dropped something off for a mom who was at a Bunco party. "They were like, 'Stay and play' but I had my kiddo with me," she said.

That didn't matter to members of the group who urged her to stay.

"They passed my son around," she said. "At four months, he didn't really care who was holding him. They just made me feel so welcome and so much a part of the group. They didn't have to ask me to stay but they did."

Snowden's son, Eric, is 20 months old now and she's still playing. Members of her group live in Chesterfield, Ballwin High Ridge, Fenton and St. Ann.

Most groups have a "sub list" of people who can substitute when a regular is missing — or they play with a "ghost" with the partner rolling for the ghost. "We sometimes pretend it's Matthew McConaughey or Johnny Depp," Snowden said with a laugh.

Like Buckley, Snowden loves the camaraderie of Bunco. "You're pretty much able to socialize with everybody in the group because everybody is pretty much constantly moving," she said.

While men have been known to play the game, the opportunity to visit while playing probably contributes to its popularity among women.

Buckley summed up Bunco's appeal. "It doesn't really cost much; it's good food and friends," she says. "I think the social aspect almost outweighs the game."

Want to start a Bunco group?

Snowden offers these tips:

  • Round up 11 other people and a couple that can serve as substitutes if someone can't make it.
  • Pick a day and time that works for everyone.
  • Decide as a group if you will have monthly themes.
  • Set an amount to contribute each month for the prizes and decide what they will be.
  • Round up the equipment — nine dice, a bell for the head table, markers or pencils, score cards and tally sheets.
  • Decide whether the hostess will provide all of the food of it you will go pot luck. An option is to use a rotating list and assign people to bring desserts, appetizers, soda, candy, ice and alcohol. The hostess provides plates, napkins and flatware.
  • Pass out a schedule with the players' names, phone numbers, dates they will host and names and phone numbers of the subs.
  • Print out the rules your group decides on so there are no questions.
  • Store the equipment plus extra plates, cups, etc. in a Bunco bag.
  • At the end of the night, the next hostess takes the Bunco bag.

How to play

Although any number can play, most games are set up for 12 with three tables of four people each. Players sitting across from each other are a team. After each round, losers move to different tables, ensuring new people to converse with.

Players at each table roll three dice trying to get three of the same number — or Bunco. The game starts with players trying to roll "ones." One point is assessed for each designated number rolled in the round. Players who roll three of the number yell "Bunco!" to get 21 points. After each Bunco, players play another round trying to get the next highest number.

There are many versions of the rules so groups may play differently from one another. Some groups have a fuzzy die or a small stuffed animal (the Bunco Bunny) that goes to the first person to roll a Bunco and stays with her until someone else rolls a Bunco. Often the holder of the die or Bunco Bunny at the end of the night wins a prize.

Prizes — cash or otherwise — are awarded in any way the group desires. Often the person with the most "Buncos" at the end of the game wins the big prize with lesser prizes going to players with the most points, fewest points, and one whose score card is pulled by random.


A Bunco game wouldn't be a Bunco game without food.

The connection between Bunco and rich and spicy foods is so strong Proctor and Gamble, makers of Prilosec OTC, a leading heartburn medicine, has teamed up with the World Bunco Association to sponsor a national Bunco tournament and other events.

Some groups decide the hostess provides all the food while others go pot luck with everyone bringing a dish of their choice or an assigned course. Courses can alternate with the rounds of the game or the entire meal can be served at once.

Food plays a major role in Amy Buckley's group. The hostess serves appetizers, dinner, dessert and snacks. "It's a little bit of a production, but it's fun," she says.
The group usually has appetizers and dinner before they play and dessert after the last round.

The fare is up to the hostess. Grill foods are popular during the summer while soups and heartier fare often are served in winter months. Sometimes the hostess will theme the food around a particular country, such as Mexico or Italy.

Andrea Snowden's group often plans their food around a theme, too. One member who has a pool, did a luau theme while another staged a Cardinals night with participants coming in their favorite Cardinal gear. Snowden is planning a back-to-school party where the food is "something you'd pack in a lunch box."

Where to play

Curious about Bunco but don't have anyone to play with? Not to worry.

• Try Bunco Night at Eckert's Country Restaurant, 951 South Greenmount Road, Belleville. It's a no-fuss way to play without committing yourself to rounding up a bunch of friends or hosting a party.

• On the second and fourth Monday of each month, Eckert's hosts a Bunco night that's open to the public. The action starts at 6:30 p.m.; $5 per person covers the game, prizes, beverages and snacks. Eat dinner at the restaurant before the game and you play for free. No reservations are required. For more information, call 618-233-0513 Ext. 139.

• If you don't have a group of a dozen of your closest friends to play with, you can try your luck at finding a group in St. Louis through or through After Sept. 25, you'll be able to play Bunco online at

Bunco, bunko, banco. What's up with all the different spellings of the name of the game?
The confusion results from the long history of the game, which originated in England as "8-Dice Cloth" in the 18th century, says Leslie Crouch, founder of the World Bunco Association.

Bunco hopped the ocean to the U.S. in the mid-1800s with the help of a shady gambler who brought it to San Francisco during the Gold Rush, she says. The gambler made some changes and renamed the game "Banco," Crouch said. Later that evolved to "Bunco" or "Bunko." At the same time San Franciscans were playing a Spanish card game called "Banca" and a Mexican variation called "Monte."

Bunco dice and cards melded into a game designed to "separate the players from their money" in what became known as Bunco parlors, Crouch says. Thus, Bunco became a term equated with scams, swindlers and con artists.
Following the Civil War and through the Victorian Era, Bunco grew in popularity as a parlor game.

With Prohibition, gambling parlors were revived in many U.S. cities resulting in the creation of police "Bunco Squads" charged with closing them down.

Interest in Bunco waned from World War II until the early 1980s when suburbanites, perhaps longing for a touchstone and a sense of community, rekindled interest in the game.

In 1996 Crouch, a California entrepreneur who had worked as toy marketer, entered the Bunco fray developing and marketing "Bunco in a Box" and forming the association. She also received trademarks for various "Bunco" products including a cookbook, "Bunco Babe" T-shirts, doormats and beach gear that she sells on her website

Crouch estimates that 21 million American women play the game with three-quarters playing on a regular basis. "And it's growing daily," she says.

Last year she teamed up with Proctor and Gamble to sponsor the first World Bunco Championship Tournament in Las Vegas. Earlier this year regional tournaments were held in cities across the country, including Kansas City.

Crouch also purchased various Internet addresses with the word "Bunco" in them and is looking to bring Bunco online with live play later this month. Next up: Bunco, the video game, which she hopes to have on the market in the months ahead.