- Associated Press - Sunday, October 15, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The ringing of a bell three times signaled the start of Bunco, a game of dice played in rounds, at the home of Betty Flynn on Winch Road.

Marlene Morris, who also lives on Winch Road, was at Bunco’s head table the afternoon of Sept. 12, ringing the bell. Three pings were followed by the exclamation, “OK. Let it roll. Roll the dice.”

“The only thing that counts are sixes,” said Donna Brown, Morris’ sister who lives in Diamondhead, Mississippi, and was among the women at the head table. “This is all sixes, but at home, where I come from, we play for ones first, then twos, then threes, fours …”

During the game, players at each table took turns rolling three dice to try to score points.

When the head table hit Bunco — throwing three sixes at once for 23 points — the bell rang again, and play at all three tables of four women each stopped for a round.

For at least 70 years, the local group of friends has been playing Bunco, which has been called a game of dice, luck and prizes.

But for the local group, it’s also a game of relationships.

Karen Little, who serves as coordinator of the group, said her late mother, June Winch Metzroth, participated in the Bunco group.

“The Winch women were very strong in participating, and I’m not sure even if they may have founded it,” said Little, 70.

“We know it goes back at least 70 years because (Marlene Morris’) stepmother, Ruth Morris, was in it, and my great aunt Martha Winch was in it. They’re all gone now. We don’t really have any written records other than the ones I have from back in the ‘90s.”

About 12 to 14 members belong to the local Bunco group that typically meets the second Tuesday of the month (except for December), in members’ homes. The game is played from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., after which there’s fellowship around dessert.

“It’s a tradition. It’s just a bunch of women who are friends with each other that get together and just have fun. It’s just ladies who had families together that lived up and down Winch Road,” said Little, whose cousins Garnette Winch, 91, and her daughter, Carol Griffith, are members. Many of the participants are descendants of the Winch family, for which Winch Road is named.

But Betty Flynn, who hosted Tuesday’s game in her home on Winch Road, isn’t related to the Winches.

“She is from the Flynn family who grew up across the road from my home, which is right up the road from where we played,” Little said. “The Flynn family and the Winch family have been friends for years.”

Juanita Lanham has been playing with the local group about 20 years.

“My two aunts played, and I was taking care of them, and I brought them, and so I started playing,” Lanham said.

Little began taking her mother to Bunco in 2007 as her health declined.

“They all knew me to begin with because not only had I participated throughout my life, but so have her grandchildren, my sons, and my grandchildren,” Little said. “I’ve gotten attached to the ladies when I was taking mom, and when she passed away (in 2011), the ladies asked me if I would please stay and play with them.”

Bunco dates back to the late 1800s.

The progressive dice game, under its original name of 8-Dice Cloth, was played in England during the 18th century, according to the World Bunco Association. It was unknown in the United States until 1855, when it was introduced into San Francisco during the Gold Rush by a crooked gambler.

But the prizes winners in the local Bunco group receive are all for fun.

Each member in the local group pays $1 at each game to support the prizes: $1 for overall winner; $1 for the most Buncos (throwing three sixes all at once); 75 cents for second place; 50 cents for third, and 10 cents for the booby prize for the least number of wins. Two more names drawn out of a paper bag each get a quarter.

Bunco is a social dice game, traditionally played with 12 players who are divided into three tables with four players at each table.

For the local Bunco group, on game days at 1:30 p.m., the head table rings the bell as a signal to begin throwing the dice.

“If there are four people at a table, you’re partners with the person across from you,” Little said. “The first partners to get 23 points wins at the head table, and that’s when you ding the bell, so all the other people stop playing then. Whatever partners has the highest score is the winner at that table.”

After four rounds of throwing the dice, winning partners get up to move clockwise to the next table.

“When we’re playing partners, one of us keeps score. … Garnette Winch, who is going to be 92, she never lets her partner keep score. She does it. She is so sharp,” Little said.

At the end of the year, the group has a little money left over from the $1 playing fee, so they use that to go out to lunch at a local restaurant for Christmas. Christmas gifts and cards are exchanged. A list presenting the open dates for the coming year’s Bunco is available for women to sign up to host Bunco at their homes.

“We laugh a lot. We talk a lot. We catch up on what each other’s families are up to. We pass around pictures of our grandchildren,” Little said. “Some of the ladies get together from time to time and play Pinochle, a card game, but that’s not part of our club. We’re just all friends.”


Source: The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, https://bit.ly/2jKWnRS


Information from: The State Journal-Register, https://www.sj-r.com

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