Army, Police Raid Foreign Bridge Club in Pattaya (Updated)

Jomtien-Pattaya Bridge Club

For want of real crime on the streets of Pattaya, or so it seems, more than 50 military and police officers busted a group of elderly foreigners for playing bridge Monday night. The raid took place at a rented second-floor room above a restaurant in South Pattaya, which the 32 elderly foreigners regularly use to play the popular card game bridge.
All 32 were arrested and fined 5,000 Baht each after 12 hours in custody. According to the Bangkok Post, “one woman remained in jail after she refused to sign a report saying he [?] was caught gambling.” The oldest suspect is reportedly 84 years old.
Mostly elderly British expats, all members of the the Jomtien & Pattaya Bridge Club, reportedly meet at the venue three times a week to indulge in some harmless card playing. And while they’re all no gamblers and “no money was changing hands” Monday night, police uncovered – and used – an 81-year-old Thai law to clamp down on the regular meetings.
Sounds like a bad joke? Unfortunately it isn’t. Pattaya One report that

over 50 officers stormed the premises and found 8 tables and 32 foreign nationals, consisting of 26 men and 6 women who were playing the popular card game “Bridge”.

No money was changing hands, however the officers scoured the law books and found an offense was being committed and therefore the alleged organizer of the event, Mr. Jeremy Watson, aged 74, from the UK was detained for further questioning.

The offense relates to Section 8 of the Playing Cards Act of 1935 which states that an individual is not allowed to possess more than 120 playing cards at any one time. At the Bridge event, considerably more than 120 playing cards were found by officers.

Computers, decks of cards and a book with results of the Bridge games were seized by officers as evidence.

AFP note that all 32 alleged “gamblers” (sic) were actually detained and fined 5,000 Baht each. These included 12 British nationals, three Norwegians, three Swedes, two Australians, as well as elderly foreign expatriates from Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand. The Bangkok Post:

Finding score books, but no money, police initially speculated that the foreigners were gambling, but transferring cash later between bank accounts. Bridge club officials tried in vain to explain bridge is played only for points.

Pattaya One note that other bridge clubs around Pattaya “who assumed their gatherings were not breaking any of Thailand’s anti-gambling laws,” may also have reason to be concerned now.
Correctly so – is playing harmless card games, even though money isn’t involved and people are playing just for fun and points, really breaking any anti-gambling or other laws? Ridiculous, we think.
As a transient result of the raid though, it appears, the bridge club has been temporarily closed by the organizers “whilst we get a new licence to have cards on the premises.” So wow, there’s a license specially for that?! Oh ain’t it pacifying to know that law enforcement here is fully up to scratch, aggravated crime has been quelled for now, and henceforth we all feel so much safer in Pattaya?

UPDATE – In an update to the original story, Pattaya One quote the president of the Contract Bridge League of Thailand (it’s actually a hi-so Thai woman with quite a bit of clout) as saying that

an amendment to the gambling laws in 1960 allowed for such games, where money was not changing hands, to be played without any form of license or authorization from the police or government.

One of the bridge players reportedly also told Pattaya One that police had given him “verbal confirmation” that the case would “likely be dropped” and the fines returned to the foreign players. If this turns out to be true – that the whole ridiculous brouhaha that has drawn the attention also of the international media was just much ado about nothing – Thai police will obviously have ridiculed only themselves.

UPDATE II – As far as the legal situation is concerned, Khaosod English explain:

In 1943, during the reign of Rama VIII, possession of more than 120 playing cards was criminalized, as was the use of playing cards not certified by authorities.

Bridge was once a prohibited form of gambling under a 1935 law, but became permitted in 1960 so long as no money changed hands (…)

Nonetheless, the Banglamung district chief apparently feels an urge to save his poo yai face and “insisted bridge is only legal if played in a private group at a private residence.”

UPDATE III – Here’s a first-hand background report by one of the arrested players in person. It sheds light on a few important details that the media (including our own report above) initially got slightly wrong:
Confessions of a Bridge Criminal
Definitely worth reading. Most importantly, it seems, the charges have been dropped now.

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