My grandmother, may she rest in peace, was a serial mahjong player. Prone to coming home late after an afternoon of playing with “the girls,” she would show up with ruddy cheeks from too much drink and with pockets jingling with quarters. I was never fooled by the sweet grandmotherly facade of that tile game, so it came as no surprise to me when a weekly game of mahjong played by four elderly ladies in Altamonte Springs, Florida, was shut down by local police after word got out that the mahjong miscreants, ages 87 to 95, were (gasp!) gambling.
Mahjong player and grandmother, Zelda King, 87, told the Heritage Florida Jewish News that the snitch who ratted them out to the local police was “a troublemaker and lives in building 11” of the condominium clubhouse where they regularly meet. Outraged by the turn of events–the condo’s management banned mahjong from being played in the clubhouse until further notice, forcing them to play at each other’s homes–King complained, “It is an international game and we are being crucified!” Police continued to check-up on the ladies at the clubhouse during the following days to make sure no tile-betting was happening.
The ladies offered to just play for the fun of it. No deal. The Escondido property manager suggested that they “lay low, until they can try to resolve things legally.”
Turns out the women are getting off scot-free since their games do in fact abide with Florida Gambling Laws, specifically Statute 849.085, which states that the winnings of any player must not not exceed $10 (the ladies had a $4 limit).
And so, the mahjong ring expects to return to its old haunt at the Escondido clubhouse soon enough, whether that informant in building 11 likes it or not.
And besides, the games are good for King’s health. She said that her neurologist actually encouraged her mahjong antics, saying it was a great game for older people to play because it could potentially ward off dementia.
And now that the legal ruckus has subsided, and the games are back on, the ladies, said King, can continue once again to have a good laugh.
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Tess Cutler is an intern at Tablet.