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Bunco is back

Classic dice game is bringing generations together

    As you enter the room you hear laughter and conversation. Then all of a sudden there is a shout, “bunco!” People are moving, changing tables. This is a scene at a bunco league night in Fergus Falls.


Nancy South, of Fergus Falls, rolled a bunco the first roll in a friendly game last month. Bunco has gained popularity throughout the country. It serves as a great ladies night out. Pictured left to right are Jennifer Bieniek, Nancy South, Brenda Kava and June Clark. Photo by Christi Dickey

    Bunco was started in the 18th century as a gambling game. The police squads would raid the illegal bunco games or parlors and were nicknamed the “Bunco Squad.”  During the Civil War it was a parlor game.  During prohibition bunco was very popular at a speakeasies.  Now, in Fergus Falls, it is very popular again as a social activity among friends and future friends.

    Bunco is a game played with three dice and traditionally 12 players. The players are divided into three groups and  switch partners at the end of a specific period of time. Each game has a round, one through six.  The object of the game is to try to roll the number of the die of the round. An example would be rolling 3s on the third round. For each number that matches the round the person rolling the dice gets one point. They get to keep rolling the dice until they do not get any matching numbers. Then the dice are passed to the next person in the group. The object is to get 21 points to end the round.  If someone rolls three dice that match the round number they get a bunco and 21 points.  Rules may vary from one league to another.

    “I joined a bunco league as a girls’ night out with my friends,” stated Jennifer Bieniek, of Fergus Falls. The league she belongs to is very structured. They meet and have a social time, play, eat and then go home. All with a specific start and stop time for the evening. Each participant makes a 12-month commitment and must provide an alternate if they are not able to attend. Each yearly member agrees to host one month and pay a specific amount of money each month to cover snacks and prizes.

    June Clark belongs to two bunco leagues. She is a part of the league that Jennifer is in but is also in a second one that is more relaxed. “We talk as much as we play, and it can take us three hours to play a round!” said June. The second league she belongs to is comprised of people she knows from work. It was organized by Brenda Kava. The members take turns hosting and providing the lunch before the game.  They meet from September through May. “I started playing bunco because Jennifer invited me to be a part of her league, and I just had so much fun,” said June.

    “If you can count and add you can play bunco,” stated Brenda Kava, who started the more casual league with June. Brenda had so much fun playing bunco at Jennifer and June’s league she wanted to start her own. She has used bunco as a mixer for family gatherings. “We were going to play different board games, but people from the same families were sitting together.  Once we played a round of bunco people were sitting at different tables.  Some continued to play bunco and others started different board games.”

    Watching participants play bunco is fun, too.  At first it is quiet as the playing begins.  Then someone gets a good roll of the dice.  There is laughter, grabbing of the dice, shouting, congratulations and good-natured pouting.

    One of the events this year for Frostbite Festival in Fergus Falls was a bunco tournament hosted by Café 116 to benefit Fergus Falls Kinship organization. The maximum number of people who could sign up was 80 with a $15 admission.  Fifty five people signed up, and 40 came. They had  people with age ranges approximately from 20s to70s .  Half of the people who came did not know how to play bunco.  “It was one of the best times I’ve had,” said event coordinator Stephanie Jensen. “People had such a good time they wanted to know when we’d have the next tournament,” she said.   Kinship plans to have a bunco tournament at Café 116 again during the Fergus Falls Summer Fest Celebration in June.

    If you’d like to start your own bunco league and want to learn more about playing bunco, you can get more information at

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