CHON BURI – Nearly three dozen foreigners, many of them pensioners, were arrested and fined 5,000 baht each for playing bridge in Pattaya.
Local police, soldiers and Bang Lamung district officials raided a Jomtien & Pattaya Bridge Club meeting above Alto's restaurant off Thappraya Road in the resort city on Wednesday, taking into custody 32 people, mostly European nationals, and holding them until 3am.
Pattaya police chief Sukthat Pumpunmuang told AFP Thursday the raid was sparked by a member of the public complaining to the government's anti-corruption centre. It was initiated by district officials, local media said, not by Pattaya police.
"The chairman of the bridge club is arguing that they were not gambling (for money)," Pol Col Sukthat said.
(Photo by Trinai Jansrichol)
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.
The card players' plight was eased after the president of the Contract Bridge League of Thailand, Chodchoy Sophonpanich - a civic activist and a member of the prominent banking family - went to Pattaya on Thursday morning to advise police that bridge was treated under the law as a sport rather than gambling.
Local media reported that she intended "to educate police" on the rules of bridge.
"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.
While they found no financial evidence of gambling, police charged the group with possessing more than 120 playing cards that were not produced by the Excise Department, in violation of Section 8 of the Playing Cards Act of 1943.
Pol Col Sukthat added that all but one of the 26 men and six women arrested were freed on 5,000 baht bail after 12 hours in custody. One woman remained in jail after she refused to sign a report saying she was caught gambling.
Police said those arrested included 12 British nationals, three Norwegians, three Swedes, two Australians, a German, a Dane, a Canadian, a New Zealander and a Dutch and Irish national. The other nationalities were not made public.
A British embassy spokesman said officials were in contact with local authorities "following the arrest of several British nationals".
The bridge club is a venue popular with elderly foreign players that advertises publicly and meets three times a week above a restaurant. It has been in operation since 1994.
Local media said Thursday afternoon that police have deferred further legal action, pending more investigation.
Video by YouTube user Aiaguay Na Pattaya
(Photo by Trinai Jansrichol)