BANGKOK (AP) — Add aging Western bridge players to the list of desperadoes in Thailand's seaside resort of Pattaya, a sin city rife with prostitution, corruption and foreign and home-grown gangsters.
The bridge players, mostly British but also from Scandinavia, the Netherlands and elsewhere, were busted by a task force of soldiers, police and local officials as they played cards at eight tables in an apartment above a restaurant, police Col. Sukathat Pumpanmuang, superintendent of the Pattaya Police Station, said Thursday. He said the law enforcement agents were acting on a tip that illegal gambling was taking place there.
Those arrested Wednesday afternoon — including an 84-year-old Dutch woman, according to the Pattaya One news website — were released on bail of 5,000 baht ($140) each in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Sukathat said they would not be charged with gambling, but might be charged under a law limiting individuals to possession of 120 unregistered playing cards.
The officer said police didn't see money changing hands, but seized as evidence computers, decks of cards and a book with results of the bridge games. He said most of the players were in their 60s or older.
The card players' plight was eased after the president of the Contract Bridge League of Thailand, Chodchoy Sophonpanich — a civic activist who is a member of Thailand's most 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.
"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.
The chief of Thailand's junta, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, began a crackdown on gambling, especially at illegal casinos, soon after taking power as part of a broader anti-corruption campaign.