Thailand: 32 Bridge Players Likely Won’t Face Gambling Charges

Nontarat Phaicharoen
160205-TH-cards-620 The Jomtien and Pattaya Bridge Club is closed temporarily, according to its website, Feb. 5, 2016.

Calls to deal the cards could resume at the Jomtien and Pattaya Bridge Club in Thailand after police announced Friday that they were considering dropping gambling charges against 32 members, including an 84-year-old Dutch woman, following a raid there on Wednesday.

Still, members of the club frequented by Western retirees may not be in the clear as police consider pursuing a charge of “illegally organized” card games.

All 32 members have been released on bail and police are carrying on with their investigation, Police Col. Suthat Poompanmuang, chief of Pattaya police station, told BenarNews.

“We gave them bailout and we are mulling on which charge we will pursue,” Suthat said in a phone interview. All 32 posted bail, which was set at 5,000 baht ($140) each.

“When we arrested them we found card decks, so the district chief and police charged them with gambling,” he said. “We likely will not go ahead with gambling charge but we will likely proceed with a charge of organizing card-playing without permission,” he said.

Among the busted bridge players were 12 Britons, an Irish national, three Norwegians, three Swedes, a Dane, a German, two Australians, a New Zealander and a Canadian, according to Agence France-Presse.

Following the arrests, Chodchoy Soponpanich, president of the Contract Bridge League of Thailand and a member of one of the nation’s most prominent banking families, went to Pattaya to support those arrested, according to the online newspaper Pattaya One.

According to media reports, Chodchoy said she understood the confusion over the card game, but claimed bridge was allowed under an amendment to the Gambling Law of 1960, if money did not change hands. She said the game could be played without permission from the government.

Additionally, bridge will be one of the competitions in the 2017 Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia and the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.

Police claim arrests were warranted

Col. Suthat disagreed.

“It is the same case as snooker club or association (which needs license). They played sports but they played at a wrong, unlicensed place. The club was not registered. There was no license for them to establish the club at the place,” Suthat argued.

He also said the club allegedly used illegal decks of cards that did not have an excise stamp – meaning the club’s owner did not pay excise tax.

“That count carried a fine of hundreds of thousands baht,” he said.

The 15-year-old club is on the second floor of the Altos Restaurant in South Pattaya, a report town on the Gulf of Thailand coast, and posts results from bridge matches on its website.

The Pattaya Mail newspaper said that more than 50 police and military officers were involved in Wednesday’s raid.

Afterward, the club posted this notice on its website:

“CLOSED TEMPORARLY whilst we get a new license to have cards on the premises – all problems have been solved with understanding by the authorities.”

A U.S. expat who asked not to be named said the police raid was a farce.

“It’s ridiculous. It seemed like the police tried to kill the only part of Thailand’s economy still healthy. This is the worse signal you can send to the world community and tourists,” he told BenarNews.

Suthat claimed neighbors alerted police to the club.

“It was not the junta’s push. We received a tip-off from people who know about the club,” he said.

He was referring to a clamp-down on illicit activity launched by Thailand’s junta.

Since the military seized power in May 2014, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha has vowed to crack down on social ills, including corruption and criminal networks, both foreign and domestic, according to AFP.

The government set up a corruption center where people can inform officials of alleged abuses or crimes, AFP reported.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.