“But Officer — We’re Just a Group of Ladies Playing Mah Jongg…”

“But Officer — We’re Just a Group of Ladies Playing Mah Jongg…”

Is it true that each time we host a maj game, we turn our home into a den of iniquity?

That might be a bit of an exaggeration, however, throughout history, people have played Mah Jongg at their own risk.

While some do not consider Mah Jongg a “gambling game,” it seems to fall under the widely held definition of gambling: The playing of any game of chance, or a mixture of chance and skill, for money.

While we enjoy our home games in the relative serenity of suburbia, an entire world of underground Mah Jongg parlors exist, largely in Asian communities. If a city has a Chinatown, it will be teeming with Mah Jongg parlors, whose stakes are considerably higher than our own $5.00 pie games.

Decades-old gambling parlors are still bustling in New York’s Chinatown. Whether or not these gambling establishments are raided can depend on many factors, including how high the stakes are, and whether the house is taking a cut. However, the occasional crackdowns on Mah Jongg gambling parlors do little to curb players’ appetite for the game; the Maj games simply resume the following day. (Sounds like most of the Maj players I know – we wouldn’t let a little raid stop us…)

The question of whether Mah Jongg is considered gambling has dogged the game since its inception.
A courtroom battle in 1956 attempted to decide its legality. Seven Mah Jongg Players were irate after being arrested when police broke up their Maj game at an American Legion Post in Chicago’s Chinatown. They sued the police commissioner and 8 policemen for $80,000 in damages for denying them their civil rights, including their right to play their favorite game.

As recently as November of 2015–some of you might have read about it—-a Maj game was raided. I’m not talking about a Mah Jongg Parlor in Singapore or Japan, I’m talking about a raid at a condominium clubhouse in Florida, where the youngest player was 87 years old. The women were told to pack up their tiles and leave the premises. One of the ladies, Zelda King, explained why she not only wants to play Maj, but needs to play—-it involves a medical issue…her neurologist explained how Mah Jongg is good for her health because it can delay and possibly prevent dementia.

Someone had actually snitched on these women, but as it turns out, the women were not in violation of a local statute dealing with penny-ante games. It’s also highly unlikely that the women were forcing one another to pay up on their debts, although I wouldn’t want to anger a 90-year old woman by shorting her 50 cents on a hard-fought Maj game.

While the police reportedly returned to the clubhouse on several occasions to ensure that no illegal activities were going on, in the end, the women were cleared to return to their clubhouse to play their beloved Maj.

In light of these clearly troubling events, should we live in fear of neighborhood snitches and police raids when we get together to play Maj? I say NO! We should proudly click our tiles, kvetch a little, and ultimately yell “Mah Jongg” to our heart’s content. I dare anyone to say otherwise!

I welcome your comments.

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