Earlier this month, Thai police raided a "gambling den" in a popular beach resort located in Pattaya, Thailand where they found tables seated by elderly expats, apparently members of a bridge club. Pattaya is a town situated on the east Gulf coast of Thailand. It has had for a long time a reputation for being a haven both for expat retirees and foreign criminals.
More than 50 local police officers and military volunteers joined forces and raided the expat bridge club on Wednesday night, February 3. They arrested a total of 32 foreigners, and held them in custody until 3am.
When Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha seized power in 2014, he has sworn to bring down various social ills plaguing the country including criminal networks and corruption, both local and foreign.
To implement this, he has set up a corruption center in which people can inform officials of alleged crimes or abuses. The raid was initiated by a concerned citizen who complained to the junta's anti-corruption center. Aside from bets made in animal fights and the lottery, other forms of gambling are outlawed in Thailand, although underground betting is still widespread.
Even if the bridge club members did not play for money, police stated that the club broke the Thai law Playing Cards Act of 1935 by "illegally possessing more than 120 playing cards at one time". The playing cards they used also were devoid of the official government seal markings. The club says that all the packs were brought to the country in legal means and they had been donated by visitors.
Police described the foreigners they have arrested included 26 men and 6 women, which included 12 British nationals, 3 Norwegians, 2 Australians, 2 Swedes, a Canadian, a Dane, an Irish, a New Zealander and a Dutch national. The nationalities of other foreigners were not publicly announced.
All of the club members were held in custody by the police for 12 hours prior to being released on a bail worth 5,000 baht (equal to £100). Only one of the 32 members was unable to pay.
One of the detained elderly expats was a former British Honorary Consul and MBE recipient Barry Kenyon, who founded the Jomtien and Pattaya Bridge Club over 30 years ago. He told The Telegraph that it was an "ordeal" for their older club members, but luckily a local convenience store had aided them by providing them a shuttle service for food while the police gave them water.
He added, "We had done nothing illegal. We do not play bridge for money, but the district officials insisted they wanted to do ahead with a case whatever. They saw the computer we had to record each players bridge records and must have thought something big was going on. It was all quite absurd."
An expat British national named Jeremy Watson, age 74, was detained for further questioning as he was deemed the organizer of the gambling activities that day.
A police spokesperson stated that the Jomtien and Pattaya Bridge Club, which had been publicly meeting 3 times every week in a room above a restaurant since 1994, had clearly violated the Thai Playing Cards Act of 1935. The law states that it is illegal to possess more than 120 playing cards at one time, and the card decks have to bear official government seals as well.
Meanwhile, the club's website had been updated to announce the raid. It says, "CLOSED TEMPORARILY whilst we get a new licence to have cards on the premises. All problems have been solved with understanding by the authorities."