Thai police crack down on elderly bridge players

Raid on card club in resort town of Pattaya leads to arrest of 32 senior-citizen foreigners.

    Since the 2014 coup, Thailand has cracked down on a raft of social ills, including criminal networks [How Hwee Young/EPA]
    Since the 2014 coup, Thailand has cracked down on a raft of social ills, including criminal networks [How Hwee Young/EPA]

    A vow by Thailand's military government to rid the country of foreign criminals has netted an unlikely group of outlaws - elderly bridge players.

    Police and military volunteers raided a bridge club on Wednesday night in Pattaya - a resort town renowned for its go-go bars and links with organised crime - arresting 32 foreigners, most of them British.

    "There were 32 people, all of them foreigners, arrested for gambling," Colonel Suthat Pumphanmuang, Pattaya police superintendent, told the AFP news agency on Thursday.

    Suthat said that the raid was sparked by a member of the public complaining to the country's anti-corruption centre.

    Almost all forms of gambling - apart from the lottery and bets on some animal fighting - is outlawed in Thailand, though underground betting is rampant.

    "The chairman of the bridge club is arguing that they were not gambling [for money]," Suthat said. 

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    He added that all but one of those arrested were freed on a $140 bail after 12 hours in custody. The final person was unable to pay bail and remains in jail.

    Police said that 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 that officials were in contact with local authorities "following the arrest of several British nationals".

    Jomtien and Pattaya Bridge Club, the target of the raid, is a venue popular with elderly foreign players that advertises publicly and meets three times a week above a restaurant.

    Pattaya One, a local English-language newspaper, ran photographs of the raid showing groups of largely elderly foreigners gathered around tables holding playing cards as police looked on.

    The paper said that the club had been operating bridge nights since 1994.

    Since seizing power in 2014, Thailand's leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has vowed to crack down on a raft of social ills, including corruption and criminal networks, both foreign and domestic.

    Despite the coup and crackdown, tourist arrivals were at a record 29.9 million in 2015, according to a forecast by the Thai tourism ministry.

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