Thailand’s slide to a North Korea-like state continues with a huge police, Department of Provincial Administration (DOPA) (กรมการปกครอง) and Thai Army raid on an expatriates’ bridge club in the eastern seaboard city of Pattaya, with 32 elderly foreign nationals carted off to jail in a fleet of songthaews.
Pattaya One reported that more than 50 police and soldiers ‘stormed’ Jomtien & Pattaya Bridge Club, a second-floor rented apartment in South Pattaya, on Monday (February 1) following a ‘tip-off from an informant of a regular gathering of foreign nationals in a rented room above the Alto’s Restaurant & Bar’ off Thappraya Road.
But instead of busting a den of people addicted to yaba (‘crazy drug’, pills containing a combination of methamphetamine and caffeine), the long arm of the junta’s social-evil crackdown task force found 26 foreign males and six foreign females mid-rubber.
Alas, not a single satang or baht was in sight, so in order to save face it was decided, after in-depth research, that the defendants had broken the 1935 Playing Cards Act, which prohibits individuals from possessing more than 120 playing cards.
Established 22 years ago, the bridge club, one of several in the city, has been a popular venue with the large number of retirees who have chosen to spend their golden years in the Thailand seaside city, having held some 3,000 gatherings since its foundation.
Seizing computers, decks of cards and other bridge club paraphernalia, Thai police then summoned a fleet of songthaews – a common form of public transport comprising a modified pick-up truck with row seats and a high roof. They then transported the alleged criminals to the local lock-up, where, after 12 hours, all but one were released on bail of Bt5,000 (about US$ 140) each. At time of writing, one woman remains in jail for refusing to sign a confession, according to the Bangkok Post.
One member of the club, who spoke to Pattaya One, said the 12 Britons, three Norwegians, three Swedes, two Australians, a German, a Dane, a Canadian, a New Zealander, and an 84-year-old Dutch woman were charged with gambling offences, and for possession of playing cards that did not possess an official government seal on the card boxes.
Meanwhile, the president of the Contract Bridge League of Thailand is believed to have made the near-300km (186 mile) round-trip from Bangkok to Pattaya, in person, to explain to Thai authorities that bridge is a game played for points, not money.
Pattaya police have yet to decide whether they will refer the matter for prosecution, and are said to be holding ongoing discussions with the local government official who instigated the raid.
Video uploaded to YouTube by เอี้ยก้วย ณ พัทยา
Update #1: This story was updated at 5.30pm on Feb 6, 2015: A report published in Khaosod English today quoted Police Colonel Sukthat Pumpanmuang, commander of the Pattaya Police Station, as saying the 32 foreign nationals will have to defend the matter in court. “The case will still have to follow the legal process”, he is quoted as saying.
The same article notes that the game of bridge was a ‘prohibited form of gambling under a 1935 law, but became permitted in 1960 so long as no money changed hands’.
It also quotes a translation of an interview between Manager Online with Banglamung district chief Chakorn Kanjawattana, who is said to have provided the tip to police that led to the raid, wherein he claims bridge is only legal if played in a private group at a private residence.