Question on how the word "BUNCO" came about


Police Magician:
I have learned how we came up with the term "BUNCO SQUAD" from the game played years ago.  My question is;  What does BUNCO mean?  I have checked around and the only thing I came up with is Spanish game known as BANKO.  Anyone with info on this, please post or email me.  Thanks.


Dave Armstrong:
Bunco (also Bunko and Bonko) is a parlour game played in teams with three dice. A winning throw in Bunco is to throw three of a kind of a specified number.

According to the World Bunco Association, Bunco began as a progressive dice game in England, later being imported to the American West as a gambling activity. It was not until after the Civil War that it evolved to a popular parlor game. The Association states that during Prohibition, Bunco as a gambling game was re-popularized and the term "Bunco-Squad" was born, referring to law-enforcement groups that busted up Bunco Gaming. Bunco as a family game saw a resurgence in popularity in the 1980s.
The bunco squad are those policemen who investigate confidence swindles. In use from the 40's through the 60's. Not usual among law enforcement today.

The original "bunco" was a dishonest gambling game. Perhaps a variant of banco, from Spanish banca, which is a card game similar to "monte".

Eventually the word evolved to mean swindling or fraud of any sort.

Bunco dates back to the late 1800's and was played by groups of women, school children, and couples. The old fashioned game of the future is becoming ever more popular at parties, social events, and new groups are popping up across the country.

This progressive dice game, under it's original name of 8 - Dice Cloth was played in England during the 18th century. It was unknown in the United States until 1855, when it was introduced into San Francisco during the Gold Rush by a crooked gambler. This shady character, traveling from the East to West coast had made many stops in route to the California gold fields. He also made various changes to the gambling game he called Banco. After a few years the game and activity was re-christened Bunco or Bunko. During this same period, a Spanish card game, Banca, and it's Mexican derivative, Monte, were also introduced to the population of San Francisco. Bunco Dice and Bunco Cards were combined to form a more efficient method of separating the hard working citizens from their money at numerous gambling locations. These locations were known as Bunco parlors. Hence, the word Bunco came to be a general term that applied to all scams, swindling and confidence games. After the civil war and into the turn of the century, Bunco flourished as the population grew and the economy recovered. Between 1870 & 1880 in virtually every large city in the country, Bunco- Banco games were in operation. Some Bunco locations were furnished elaborately while others resembled professional offices.

During the 1880's and into the mid 1890's, Bunco was played in Texas & Oklahoma, through Kansas & Missouri, in towns and cities along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and from New York to the Great Lake states. Through the Victorian era and prior to WWI, Bunco had achieved permanent placement as a traditional family or parlor game, promoting social interaction. During this period Bunco groups consisting of 8-12 people and as many as 20 people enjoyed an evening of food, drink, conversation, and friendly competition. During prohibition and the roaring 20's, the infamous Bunco gambling parlors resurfaced in various regions of the US. The most notorious speak-easies and Bunco dice parlors were located in and around Chicago, Illinois. The term "Bunco Squad" referred to the detectives who raided these establishments.

After prohibition Bunco group activity declined in the major cities of the country, but spread to the suburbs as housing development and the migratory population expanded nationally. Not much was heard about Bunco activity from 1940-1980. (WW II, Korea, Vietnam.) Since the early 1980's Bunco group activity has increased due to a combination of circumstances; a return to traditional family values, a sense of neighborhood & community and, the desire & need for social interaction. Traditionally most Bunco groups consist of 12 players (usually groups of women & occasionally couples.) Children are even beginning to play at parties & other social events. Playing Bunco is great way to maintain relationships and make new friends. Bunco is a game of dice, luck, & prizes.


The language heritage is [Origin: 1880–85; shortened form of bunkum; cf. -o]

1. insincere speechmaking by a politician intended merely to please local constituents. 
2. insincere talk; claptrap; humbug. 

Also, buncombe.

[Origin: Americanism; after speech in 16th Congress, 1819–21, by F. Walker, who said he was bound to speak for Buncombe (N.C. county in district he represented)]

3. Empty or insincere talk; claptrap.

[After Buncombe, a county of western North Carolina, from a remark made around 1820 by its congressman, who felt obligated to give a dull speech "for Buncombe".]

The word Bunko was used by KoKo the clown in the Betty Boop cartoon Snow White which came out March 31, 1933 as an aside to the audience to describe what was going on in the cartoon.

Bunkum is an alternate spelling of Buncombe, also sometimes shortened to bunk. It is also a term which, by 1828, had come into general use in political Washington to mean speechmaking designed for show or public applause. It is now more usually used to mean nonsense or humbug. The process of disproving and perhaps ridiculing bunkum is called debunking.

In the sixteenth Congress, on February 25, 1820, before the U.S. House of Representatives, Representative Felix Walker from Buncombe County, North Carolina gave a rambling speech upon the Missouri question with little relevance to the concurrent debate. Walker refused to yield the floor, informing his colleagues that his speech was not intended for Congress, but that he was "speaking for Buncombe." It became a widely-retold joke in Washington, and the word was used to refer to any bombastic political posturing or an oratorical display not accompanied by conviction.

The term was later adopted in the United Kingdom.

Best Wishes,

Jeff Smith:
Fantastic history of the word Dave!

I do have one question. You wrote, "The word Bunko was used by KoKo the clown in the Betty Boop cartoon Snow White which came out March 31, 1933 as an aside to the audience to describe what was going on in the cartoon." Was this just trivia or did you find somewhere that this was how the spelling with a "k" came to be? In my newspaper research I note that the spelling of "bunko" was used much more often than "bunco" up to the 1880s when newspapers began using "bunco" exclusively.

Dave Armstrong:
It is just trivia.  I am not sure how the spelling evolved.

Best Wishes,

Police Magician:
Thank you, Dave.  As mentioned in the PM, I was asked this question many years ago while training local, state and federal law enforcement at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia.

One of the retired agents asked me this question again just a few days ago, so I decided it was time to pursue it, once again.

If anyone else has anything on it, other than what Dave has already mentioned, I would greatly appreciate it.  Dave has given me a lot to work with now so I can put this question to rest.  Thanks again, Dave.



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