By Jan Wesner | Times Staff Writer
The hugs have gone around the room and back again. ¶ The martinis are poured. The artichoke pizza is fresh out of the oven. ¶ The dice are ready. The scorecards are appropriately decorated with little red hearts. ¶ Welcome to the monthly confab of the Bloomingdale neighborhood bunco babes, where 16 ladies are ready to roll. ¶ "You don't have to impress anybody," says Angie Belussi who, at 33, is the youngest in the room. "It's just your neighbors." ¶ The women are part of a growing bunco fad in suburban neighborhoods around the country. ¶ "There's really no intense competition," says Kathi Ciperski, who plays bunco twice a month in Tampa Palms. "You don't need to know anything or be really, really good at anything to play and have a good time." ¶ Bunco is simply a game of chance with four players at each table taking turns rolling dice. The object: Roll three of a kind, equal to the game's current round. For example, rolling three ones in the first round is "a bunco." ¶ The $5 entry fee goes toward prizes for the winners, including the person with the most buncos and the lowest score, etc. ¶ There are a few other twists to the rules, but who cares. ¶ This isn't about the game.
Some 10-million women worldwide play the game at least once a month, according to Leslie Crouch, founder and CEO of the World Bunco Association.
What's the attraction?
"We're all trying to raise our children. We're all trying to survive in this suburban community," says Chris Petracci, hosting this night's gathering in Bloomingdale. "It helps you feel connected with other women going through the same thing.
"Friends help. Bunco helps."
Petracci won't give her age, but she might be the grande dame of the group. She's a young grandmother and former hairdresser. She raised three kids and recently went back to school to become an ultrasound technician.
She's an original member of the Bloomingdale group, which started about eight years ago after a neighborhood block party. Players come and go, but the group's 16-member limit means there's a waiting list to join.
"These women, they're very true to their bunco groups," Crouch said. "They don't want to miss a bunco night."
That's certainly true for Tina Kubik, 40, another of the loyal Bloomingdale babes.
"I think I missed once, when I had a baby," she says.
Kubik has three daughters, ages 3, 2, and 6 months, and works as a claims representative for a local insurance company.
Bunco gives her an excuse for a rare night off.
"It's just fun being with women, talking, just hanging out, being silly," Kubik said. "And drinking."
Luckily, all the Bloomingdale ladies live within walking distance.
• • •
Bunco gambling parlors were popular during Prohibition.
Modern-day suburban moms sometimes call it Drunko.
Maribel Perez, 44, a Web site developer and another founding member of the Bloomingdale group, gets right to the point.
"It's about drinking, eating, socializing, gossiping," she says.
It appears that only two things are not allowed: men and children.
These ladies are here to catch up on each other's lives, offer advice and friendly suggestions, let their hair down.
They talk about their kids' teachers and whose house is for sale and how to find a good electrician.
As the night goes on the giggling gets louder and the comments more off-color.
You start to hear things like:
"Are you really going to get a boob job?"
"Well, I'd like them to be vertical."
"They used to say green M&Ms were an aphrodisiac."
"I'm drinking wine. I've had the whole bottle."
"We shouldn't have beer and social hour and then try to keep score."
"How's your personal trainer? Is he hot?"
"It's a little muggy in here."
"Drink some more alcohol. It'll get better."
Ciperski, who lives in South Tampa and plays in the Tampa Bay Newcomers bunco group, said bunco games back in her old New Jersey neighborhood were a little more tame. Soft drinks were the order of the day.
"Here, it's wine, sangria," she said.
But the basic premise is still the same.
"I know bunco as a great way to get to know people, really get to know people, because pretty soon you're telling people all sorts of things, while you're giggling," Ciperski said.
Back at the Bloomingdale group, things start to wind down at about 9 p.m. Some of the ladies stick around for more bawdy talk.
Others leave, and promise to be back next month.
After all, where else can you get a night of all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink and unconditional friendship for five bucks?
Jan Wesner can be reached at (813) 661-2439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.