Portuguese arrest Irish tourists for watching bingo
AN Irishman has told how he was among a group of 28 holidaymakers arrested in Portugal simply for watching a game of bingo where the top prize was a tin of biscuits.
Following an anonymous tip-off of alleged illegal gambling, police in the holiday resort of Albufeira swooped on the busy Yorkshire Tavern pub and arrested customers and the bar's owners.
Under Portugal's strict gambling law, even bingo nights require a licence.
An Irish holiday-home owner, who did not wish to be identified, told the Irish Independent he hadn't even been playing bingo and was enjoying a quiet drink when he was arrested.
"I was having a few drinks and just before I was about to depart the bingo started," he said. "Before I had a chance to leave, the first prize of a line by a 76-year-old man called Gerald was declared. Following that, the GNR (Portuguese police) started visiting tables and taking people's names.
"I was approached by a lady police office who I informed I was not participating but I was told I still had to go to the police station. I was shocked, I couldn't believe it," he said.
He said he and the other customers were held at the station for several hours last Friday night before they were told to appear before a local court on Monday.
Because he was not taking part in the bingo, the Irishman was ordered by the judge to make a €150 donation to a charity or face six weeks in prison. Those who had participated were ordered to pay €300 or face a three-month sentence.
"They said, under Portuguese law, those who participate and those who are on the premises are equally guilty. How could anybody, particularly foreigners, when they are entering a bar or restaurant, know that the premises has the appropriate licence?" he asked.
"My immediate thought was to sell up and move out and never return to Portugal," said the retiree, who owns an apartment in the Algarve.
"I hadn't been to the Yorkshire Tavern for a couple of weeks and I was just unfortunate I was there," he said.
Owner of the Yorkshire Tavern, Marianne Pittaway, said another Irish couple from Munster was taking part in the bingo but they were able to return home before the court hearing.
She said she understood a licence was only necessary when cash prizes were offered.
"It is crazy, an absolute joke. We were playing bingo for biscuits, chocolate and some alcoholic drinks. There was no money exchanged apart from paying for the ticket. The money we make pays for prizes," she told the Irish Independent.
The police's decision to arrest a bar full of customers has raised eyebrows even among the Portuguese. "The Portuguese community think it's ridiculous," said Ms Pittaway.
She said they were told in court that if foreigners come to Portugal they ought to learn the laws of the land. However, she said no one expects to break the law simply by playing or watching bingo.