- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2015

SOLDOTNA, Alaska (AP) - Following the crisp ring of a tarnished hand bell, the sporadic clack of rolling dice echoes through Etta Mae Near’s Soldotna home on Friday evening. Another round of ‘Bunco’ has begun.

Twelve players, sitting in groups of four at three tables, take turns counting up their own, their partners and their opponents’ scores. Inevitably, minutes into the round, one of twelve women exclaims, “Bunco!” Victorious.

“You have got to be careful,” said Mary Elliot. “You might get hooked on this game.”

The group of women (no men allowed) have been playing the dice game on the first Friday of each month, September through May, for the past 25 years. Substitutes are called when an original player is unable to attend, and if worse comes to worse a stuffed animal will sit in to replace a warm body.

The rules are easy once you understand them, said event founder Dee Richards.

Six rounds are played for each letter of “Bunco,” or three-of-a-kind. If the round is for the number one, then three ones must be rolled for a player to achieve a “Bunco,” and win the round.

A player’s wins and losses are recorded on a personal score sheet. Rounds are played for each number on the six faces of the die. The round will also end if anyone reaches 21 points before a “Bunco” is rolled.

The winners of a round will move or stay put depending on if they are playing at the winner’s table or loser’s table. Each player has a different partner each round.

Things can get complicated, however, when it comes to house-rules.

Through out the years, the group has incorporated some of their own preferences into the activity, Near said. If three threes are rolled in any round except for threes, then it negates a player’s entire score for that round, she said.

One dice in each set of three has a face with a brown, engraved moose image that counts as “wild,” Near said.

“If it’s your house, you get to make the rules,” Near said. “Dee is the one who brought in the wild moose. That adds another dimension.”

At the beginning of the evening each player contributes $10 for the night, and at the end the winners receive a portion and the player that had the most losses wins a little, Richards said.

Richards, who started the regular event in 1990 has a list of all previous, and current Bunco players.

Jan Stenga has been with the group since nearly the beginning. She has been a part of various local ‘Bunco’ groups since the 1970s.

“You know what I call Bunco night?” Stenga said. “My mental health night.”(backslash)

She said the women that come play for fun. Even when substitutes are sitting in the atmosphere is light hearted.

“We’re not always friends but we are for that night,” Stenga said. “It’s just a matter of getting out and having fun.”

The group will not meet for the rest of the summer, but start up again in September, Richards said.

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Information from: (Kenai, Alaska) Peninsula Clarion, https://www.peninsulaclarion.com

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