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    These Bunco parties are no con game
    By Philip Haldiman
    Tucson, Arizona | Published: 08.04.2008

    Bunco — a dice game that has been around since the 1800s — has seen its share of ups and downs in popularity, but it's having a resurgence in interest here.

    Bunco is played mostly by women — and a lot of them. More than 17 million women play Bunco worldwide, said Leslie Crouch, founder and CEO of the World Bunco Association, a for-profit organization based in Newport Beach, Calif.

    It's hard to pin down a demographic of Bunco players, but most fall into the 30-to-50 age range, Crouch said.

    Over the last decade or so, a boxed version of the game, fundraisers based on the game and several national competitions have emerged.

    Even social networking Web sites centered around Bunco have appeared.

    Marjie Collins lives in Sabino Springs. She is in two Bunco groups and has been playing for about four years. Collins sees the increased popularity as a result of a desire for community.
    "People work so much, and it's harder to get to know each other. You get home, pull into your garage, and that's all you might see of your neighbor. It's a way to get to know people in your neighborhood," Collins said. "It's not about the game — it's about being social."

    It also is a monthly event: a gathering of women where food is served, gossip is dished and bonds are formed.

    Gidget Goodrich lives in Picture Rocks, and in her group, as in many others, the host serves dinner, and prizes are awarded at the end of the evening.

    "It's a good reason to get out of the house and enjoy your friends," Goodrich said.

    At a recent Bunco party on the Northwest Side, tiki torches welcomed game players as they approached. Inside the house, a dozen women bustled about, chatting about everything from the economy to family to work. Reggae music came from the speakers. Coconut shrimp, Red Stripe and rum punch were served up. Fake dreadlocks were even passed from head to head, all in keeping with the theme: "Jamaican Me Crazy."

    The pace of the game was fierce and hard for the untrained eye to follow, but the rules played a supporting role to the real star: female camaraderie.

    In 2003, sisters Krissy Thysell and Kathy Renteria helped create the group, consisting mainly of postal workers. Each month it's a different theme.

    "This is how we keep from going postal," said group member Wendy Held.

    Many members of the group trekked to Las Vegas for the World Bunco Association Grand Championship in March. Thysell came away the champion and took home $50,000. She sported her "Bunco Champion" sash at the party last month. For Thysell, Renteria and Held, Bunco is an excuse to get together and party. Without the guys.

    "It's a mindless game, without a challenge," Renteria said. "Poker is their game."
    The dressing-up part is fun, too.

    "Besides, men don't like to wear a boa," Thysell said.

    Contact reporter Philip Haldiman at 573-4176 or at