Monday, March 16, 2009

2009 Bunco World Championships

For the 2nd year, I had the opportunity to attend the Bunco World Championships in Las Vegas. We had 7 women from our bunco group attend last year and we had a fabulously fun time. This year, I attended with 1 other friend from our bunco group, Lisa, and we took our husbands with us.

We left for Vegas on 6 March 2009 with Lisa and I arriving first on United airlines. We had booked Seth and Tim's flight separately (after ours were booked) and they would arrive about 2 hours after us. We picked up our luggage and our rental car from Alamo then made our way to Bally's hotel and casino where the championships would be held. After a brief detour to the Paris hotel and casino parking line (eg we made a wrong turn, lol), we arrived at Bally's valet line. The line in the lobby to check-in was long and by the time we got to our room, our luggage arrived, and I changed clothes, it was already past 5 pm. We headed down to the ballroom where registration began at 4 pm and were surprised by how many women were crowded in line waiting to register.

As best as we can tell, there were 3 lines but the lines were moving extremely slowly. There must have been several hundred women waiting to register. We waited in line for about 15 minutes but, getting nowhere, we decided to register in the morning and leave to pick up Seth and Tim from the airport. We had to pick them up, grab some dinner at the In & Out burger, then get to the Luxor to pick up our show tickets to see Carrot Top.

The next morning, I went downstairs around 8:15 am to find about 30 people in line by the door to the ballroom. I got in line and waited but the doors didn't open until almost 9 am even though registration was supposed to start at 8:30.

A few people were let in to the ballroom at a time then a volunteer was sent down the line taking players' names. When she reached me, I gave her my name and Lisa's name then told her that Lisa and I had purchased the VIP specialty player packages and suggested that we had paid a lot of money ($225.00 each) to be waiting in line. She told me that she was just a volunteer and would check with someone regarding VIPs. Soon, though, she did come back to me and pulled me out of line to go into the ballroom for immediate registration. Just after I got into the ballroom, Lisa arrived and we found out why the registration process was taking so long. There were hundreds of nametags spread out on multiple tables in no particular order. Volunteers were literally hunting for player's nametags and trying to print out ones that they could not find. Registration was pretty disorganized.

My nametag was found but Lisa's nametag was not and someone gave Lisa a handwritten nametag. We were introduced to Leslie, the president of the World Bunco Association who searched high and low for our welcome baskets that were a part of the package price that we had paid (we were promised a bunco flag, chocolates, a t-shirt, etc). Our baskets were nowhere to be found. Leslie promised to find them for us and invited us to help ourselves to some snacks in their lounge. We helped ourselves to some orange juice and bananas while Leslie looked for our baskets. Still unable to find them, Leslie promised to put something together for us and to check back with her later.

We were both assigned to play in heat 2 which was to start at 2 pm. The first heat was to start at 11 am but even at almost 10 am, players were still being registered. We came back to the ballroom to see players' costumes and hung around until about 11:30 pm but the heat had not yet started. Some of the costumes were so clever - all related to a jungle/safari theme - and I took pictures of many of them.

I also snuck into the game room before players were let in to play to snap some pictures.

We left to get some lunch (Sensi at the Bellagio hotel) then returned to our rooms to change and got back to the ballroom at about 1:30 in our costumes that Lisa had made by hand and accessorized for us both (thanks Lisa!!).

Quite a few people from heat 1 were still hanging around. We checked with Leslie and our gift baskets were still nowhere to be found but she did give us raffle tickets so that we could enter the drawings. There was quite a bit of confusion regarding the raffle tickets. VIP players were given raffle tickets as part of their package. Players who just paid the $45 player's fee had to purchase raffle tickets for $2 each. This didn't make the "regular" players very unhappy and we heard more grumbling about the organization of this year's game. There was also confusion amongst the volunteers who had set up 2 boxes to put tickets in labelling them $1000 and $500 when, in the end, all of the raffle tickets were put into a bag for the drawings. We hoped our raffle tickets made it into that bag but we were never really sure that happened.

We stood around and snapped some more pictures and after an announcement by Leslie regarding when the raffle drawings would take place (after heat 2), we were eventually let into the game room where all of the VIPs were invited to sit at the head table. Here's where it really started to get weird. Lisa and I had each paid $225 to be "VIP specialty players" but some women had bought the top $350 VIP package. The top VIP players were supposed to sit at the head tables but Lisa and I both ended up sitting at the head tables as well. We compared notes with the other VIPs and some of them were upset that they were not receiving truly "VIP" treatment. I can't say that I blame them - we paid over $100 less than they did and were receiving the same "perks", so to speak. We met a group of women from the Cayman Islands, 2 women who were friends - Marie and Jessica (one from Georgia, and the other from Tennessee), as well as a first-time player named Katie and a woman from California whose husband bought her a VIP package for her birthday.

The game finally got underway nearly an hour late but despite the chaos of registration, the missing gift baskets, and the overall disorganized state of this year's championships, we still had a fabulously fun time playing. What made this year particularly fun was the group of women that we sat and played with - they were all the friendliest and most fun-loving women we could have hoped to meet. There was not one person in our group who was competitive, didn't cheer someone else on when they were on a roll, or celebrate with someone who rolled a bunco or won a set. Last year, most of us had people in our group that we would have rather not played with. I think that the extra VIP fee that we paid helped to select out for a really nice group of women.

This year's game was not put on by Proctor and Gamble (ie Prilosec) but, rather, by just the World Bunco Association. We had an MC named Daniel who was a talented singer and, instead of "Rocky", had Shawn the "tarzan boy" who turned out to be a family friend of the WBA's president, Leslie. We also learned that the WBA had a sponsor lined up that backed out at the last minute. Lisa and I also joked about the WBA's "security" to keep the players in line.

Neither Lisa nor I were particularly lucky this year. I did score one bunco this year which was exciting but was disappointed to find out that the wrist bands that we received for rolling a bunco had to be returned after the game was over. That just seemed cheap. After the game, Lisa and I went back upstairs to change and get ready for the dinner buffet. Apparently, after we had left, they drew some raffle tickets for the wildcard spots in tomorrow's game and for the $1000 prize. Neither of us were happy when we learned this later in the evening but then, neither of our numbers were drawn.

Dinner was amazing but not in a good way. Lisa had checked with Leslie about dinner and we were told that it would be a Mexican buffet which she stated would be safe for Lisa with her nut allergy. When we arrived, there were, again, no special arrangements made for the VIPs as was originally promised. We ended up pulling up tables and re-arranging chairs so we could sit with the other VIPs. When the food was uncovered, hordes of people immediately lined up and it became apparent that tonight's buffet made by "Bally's Executive Chefs" included beef/chicken tacos, nachos, and some pasta. Later, Leslie revealed to us that Bally's had charged the WBA $38,000 for the food at this year's game! We had even paid the extra $25 each for Seth and Tim to have dinner with us but the food choices were beyond disappointing. We had a little to eat and had some dessert but made plans to go elsewhere for dinner. To top it all off, the VIP drink tickets that the other players had received in their gift baskets were not being honored by the bartenders. After finding out that the drawings had already been held, we left the dinner and went to Hamada's Japanese restaurant down the street for a much nicer dinner.

The following morning, I wanted to go to the fitness center before the semi-finals got started but stopped by the ballroom first to find handwritten lists of people that would be moving on to the next game.

Lisa and I sat through the quarter-finals leaving at just before noon to have lunch with our husbands at Spago's located in Caesar's Palace. On Sunday, the VIPs were given special seating to watch the games and to cheer on teammates.

I wanted to buy some cute handmade bunco wine charms for $21 but Leslie happened to walk by and let us each have one for free. She still hadn't found our gift baskets yet.

We returned to the ballroom after lunch in time for the semi-finals, the finals, and then the final 4 roll-off. It took an enormous amount of time for the games to get underway let alone conclude. During one of the long waits for the next game to start, Lisa and I finally did get our gift baskets from Leslie and were very pleasantly surprised at what a nice bag of goodies we received: bottle of wine, one of the $350 VIP player custom limited t-shirts (I got one in medium but Leslie promised to send Lisa her t-shirt after the game), a bunco flag, some toffee, a necklace, a gift card for Girardelli's, and a gift certificate for See's candies. Leslie also asked us if we would be returning to play next year to which we both said we absolutely would. We thanked Leslie for all of her hard work - we could only imagine how difficult the last couple days had been for her with all the grumbling and complaining going on by other players. Leslie was extremely apologetic but assured us that the WBA had learned from this year's game and that next year's game would be different.

The final roll-off took about 1/2 an hour and we left the game at nearly 6 pm to make our 6:30 pm reservation at Le Cirque located in the Bellagio hotel.

Overall, I think Lisa and I both had a lot of FUN and do plan to go again next year with the hopes that the WBA makes a few changes to make the whole process and game go a little more smoothly. We really encouraged Leslie to offer VIP packages again next year. I think if we had not gone the VIP route, we would have seriously considered not attending next year. Fortunately, the other bunco players that we hung out with made the experience so much better and is what really persuaded us to want to attend again. We were disappointed that we never even had the time to do a little shopping on the strip because the different games and heats took so long and there was an excessive amount of waiting around with little to no entertainment. My husband was a bit put off by the amount of time I spent at the game rather than with him, too. Even with that said, though....a big thanks to Leslie and the WBA for taking on the tough task of putting together such a huge bunco game for everyone to enjoy.