EYES DOWN FOR HARMLESS EXPAT FUN

Many expats move to their new home in the sun without being fully aware of national and local laws, together with the consequences if they fail to abide by them.

When we moved to Spain, we were often told by more experienced expats to be very careful on the roads just before Christmas and not to upset the police. Rumour had it that the police were unnecessarily harsh during such periods, and would take every opportunity to fine wrong doers. This, it was said, was to pay for their bonus and Christmas parties. I doubted that this was true, but I did notice a startling correlation at the time. However, whatever the truth, it is true that many expats take the view of “ignore it and it will go away.” Sadly, ignorance of the law is no defence in any circumstances, and the wise expat needs to be aware of this fact.

Brits are generally very fond of a bit of bingo, particularly if they are expats living in the sun, or are on holiday. Bingo is as British as fish and chips, a pint of “best” and wearing a knotted handkerchief on holiday. I don’t remember playing the game for many years, but I do remember it as a bit of harmless fun, and from which a lot of people get much pleasure. I recall many expat bars in Spain’s Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol, where bingo evenings (and afternoons) are highly popular events, providing a welcome stream of regulars to otherwise empty bars, as well as a providing a valuable source of fund raising revenue for many local charities who would benefit from the proceeds.

It also provided a regular social event and company for those expats who had moved abroad and were anxious to make friends with like-minded people in their neighbourhood.

Did I say harmless fun? This is where the cynic would say that this is the cue for someone to step in and stop it. Well, this is just what happened to the owner of an expat bar in Portugal’s Algarve not so long ago.

It was one of those Friday night events when a well meaning landlady, let us call her Dot, decided to raise a few euros by providing a little entertainment for her regulars. A tin of biscuits, a large bar of chocolate and a few cheap drinks were the prizes on offer – hardly the stuff of the Las Vegas gambling scene, but sufficient to tempt 28 of her regulars into the bar for a few drinks and a game of bingo in good company.

It all seemed to be going well as the regulars settled down for a few games. However, shortly after starting the game, a number of armed police burst into the bar and, having checked out the situation during several earlier Friday evening visits in plain clothes, decided to put an end to all to this decadence and villainy by raiding the bar, and arresting Dot and her punters. Before the enthusiastic bingo players could even call “House”, Dot and her 28 regulars were bundled into three police vans and driven off to the cells, accused of attending an illegal gambling den. Even the prizes, a tin of biscuits, a large bar of chocolate and some drinks, were impounded as “evidence” to be placed before the magistrate.

Later, Dot was charged, appeared before the magistrate and fined 700 euros, as well as receiving a suspended four-month prison sentence. Dot’s regulars were a little more fortunate and were charged with "exploitation of illegal gambling, illegal gambling and witnessing illegal gambling" and fined 150 euros each.

The Portuguese police responded to enquiries from the press by commenting that the raid had been carried out following "information reported by anonymous citizens". Hmm, I may be jumping to conclusions, but by that I assume that a nearby bar owner, jealous of Dot’s successful business strategy, had reported her to his friends at the police station. Portugal it seems has strict controls on such expat fun, and premises have to apply for a gambling licence, which Dot was clearly unaware of.

So what happened to the prizes? I understand that the police returned the tin of biscuits and alcohol to Dot, but I do wonder what happened to the chocolate? As for Dot? Well, she has decided never to play a game of bingo again.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: www.barriemahoney.com and www.thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Twitters from the Atlantic’ (ISBN: 978 1480033986). Available as paperback, Kindle and iBooks. iPhone/iPad Apps: ExpatInfo and CanaryIsle now available from the Apple Store.

© Barrie Mahoney

Barrie Mahoney was a teacher, head teacher and school inspector in the UK, as well as a reporter in Spain, before moving to the Canary Islands as a newspaper editor. He is still enjoying life in the sun as a writer and author.

Filed under: http://www.theleader.info/article/40121/

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