Police in Altamonte Springs, Florida, "shut down" a senior citizens' clubhouse for illegal gambling. What were the elderly Jewish residents doing? Playing Mah Jongg.
The standing Thursday afternoon Mah Jongg game at the Escondido Condominium clubhouse came to a screeching halt after a male resident complained that gambling was involved. Zelda King, 87, who organized the weekly game, said the daily "loss limit" is $4.
"That's gambling?" she asked incredulously of The Huffington Post.
King's game-mates range in age from 86 to almost 90. She has played for most of the 13 years she's lived in the complex, after moving here from New Jersey. "It wasn't just us they shut down," said King. The condo management put up a notice that suspended all poker, bingo and other Mah Jongg games too until the matter could be resolved.
Turns out there was nothing illegal about any of it. The Heritage Jewish News, which broke the story after King's daughter called them, reported that Altamonte Springs has no prohibition against Mah Jongg gambling. The only relevant reference found by the paper was in the state's gambling laws, which establish that “Certain penny-ante games are not crimes; ‘Penny-ante game’ means a game or series of games of poker, pinochle, bridge, rummy, canasta, hearts, dominoes, or mahjong in which the winnings of any player in a single round, hand, or game do not exceed $10 in value."
Playing Mah Jongg is such a deeply rooted tradition among Jews that word of the problem in Florida even reached Israel. The Times of Israel noted that the game, which comes from China, has been played by Jews since, well, forever.
King described the resident who ratted them out as a "troublemaker" who has complained about multiple condo issues in the past. But in the spirit of the season, she declined to name him.
Meanwhile, her game will resume the Thursday after Thanksgiving.
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