Notwithstanding a heap of negative publicity last year, the game of bridge is booming in the resort city of Pattaya. Two registered bridge clubs are operating several afternoons per week and at least one international school is offering bridge as a leisure pursuit. Meanwhile, there is a healthy bridge section at Sattahip’s naval base which also competes in friendly matches against local clubs.
In February 2016, Pattaya Bridge Club (more properly named Jomtien and Pattaya Bridge Club) was raided – not by the police – but by the civilian licensing bureau which had been informed (erroneously) that gambling was taking place at the rented premises. Although 32 members of the club spent many hours in detention, they were all released without charge. Their passports and bail money were returned within a couple of weeks.
Officials at the club decided to register the club under a new authority and is now a formal part of the Chonburi Sports Association. A separate bridge club in the resort is believed to be registered with the Thailand Bridge League, based in Bangkok, which organizes domestic and international bridge fairs and competitions.
The raid on Pattaya Bridge Club received negative international publicity for the resort, largely because of the advanced age of the 32 arrested members who were in their 70s and 80s. All were foreigners on the day of the raid. What was less widely reported was that none of them was ever prosecuted in court or asked to pay a fine. Pattaya police arranged for all bail money and passports to be returned to members within days. The club reopened in October 2016, howbeit with a different registration certificate issued by the Chonburi Sports Association.
Bridge is believed to have been introduced into Thailand around the turn of the twentieth century by His Majesty King Rama V. The game in a club setting was largely restricted to Bangkok until 1994 when the first provincial branch of the Thailand Bridge League was founded in Pattaya. Subsequently, accredited bridge clubs were also set up in Phuket, Chiang Mai and Hua Hin which are still operational today.
Playing bridge or cards is not illegal in Thailand, but gambling is strictly prohibited. Additionally, there are regulations about the need to use playing cards manufactured in Thailand and not overseas. An act passed by the Japanese occupying forces in Bangkok in 1943 restricted the number of packs of cards found in any one location to just two. Presumably, this legislation was never intended to apply to bridge club events as they require dozens of packs in use at the same time.
Barry Kenyon, who founded Pattaya Bridge Club in 1994 and is still a regular attender, said “It has taken many months to sort out the knock-on effects of the unfortunate raid in February 2016. Initial fears that bridge would become unlawful in Thailand have proved to be unfounded. The raid has led to much clearer communication with the local authorities who, I believe, are now fully briefed that we never play for money or reward in a registered Thai club.”
He added that bridge, which is being considered for inclusion in some future Olympic events, is an important niche market for Thailand’s campaign to attract good quality tourism. “If you want to be less dependent on beer halls and night clubs in Pattaya, then bridge can be a good recruiting sergeant.”