Elderly card players busted in bizarre Pattaya raid

A bridge club is an unlikely focus for the Pattaya authorities. Source: Wikimedia

Around 32 foreign bridge players have been detained on Thailand’s gulf coast during a gambling crackdown.

More than 50 Thai police officers and army volunteers reportedly raided the expat gathering in a rented apartment above a bar in Pattaya.

The group had only been playing for points rather than money but 32 foreigners were still arrested for gambling, announced Pattaya police superintendent Colonel Suthat Pumphanmuang.

An 84-year-old Dutch woman was among those detained.

The officer said police did not see money changing hands but computers, cards and a book of bridge results were seized as evidence. He said most of the players were in their 60s or older.

The president of the Contract Bridge League of Thailand, Chodchoy Sophonpanich, who is a civic activist and a member of Thailand’s most prominent banking family, went to Pattaya on Thursday to advise police that bridge was legally regarded as a sport rather than gambling.

All 12 UK nationals were freed after paying 5,000 baht (US$141) for bail after 12 hours behind bars after being accused of gambling, which is prohibited in Thailand.

Police said those arrested included 12 British nationals, three Norwegians, three Swedes, two Australians, a German, Dane, Canadian, New Zealander and Irish national. The other nationalities were not named.

A British Embassy spokesman said envoys were in contact with the police.

The Pattaya One newspaper reported that the group were arrested under a section of the 1935 Playing Cards Act, which stated that no one was allowed to possess more than 120 playing cards at a time.

The Jomtien and Pattaya Bridge Club announced on its website that it was temporarily closed “whilst we get a licence to have cards on the premises”.

The resort city of Pattaya is a popular destination for global criminals and is notorious for gambling and prostitution.

Since seizing power after a May 2014 coup, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has vowed to reduce corruption and criminal networks, both foreign and domestic.

The public has been encouraged to report to the authorities alleged abuse or crimes.

Thailand’s junta has clearly added elderly western bridge players to the list of sinners.

“Police know that bridge is a sport because a similar case happened before, but this time it was military and district officials who initiated the raid and they probably didn’t know,” said Chaiyut Assanaiyarat, the bridge league’s manager.