Florida police investigated a complaint to authorities about gambling at the condo complex, including penny-ante poker, $5 bingo nights and a gang of grandmas playing mah-jongg.

Share story

ORLANDO, Fla. — Someone was suspicious of Zelda King and her gang of gambling grandmas.

She and her octogenarian gal-pals gathered every Thursday at the clubhouse of the Escondido Condominium retirement community in Altamonte Springs, where they spent hours around a table overlooking the pool, wagering on mah-jongg.

Then the cops came. A snitch had ratted them out, authorities said.

“It’s ridiculous,” King said of the police inquiry into money games at the clubhouse.

The probe was prompted by a complaint to state authorities about gambling at the complex, including penny-ante poker, $5 bingo nights and mah-jongg games with King and her friends, Bernice Diamond, Lee Delnick and Helen Greenspan, a Holocaust survivor.

Mah-jongg, a game of Chinese origin, is commonly played with a set of 144 or more tiles featuring Chinese characters and symbols.

“My neurologist, Dr. Oppenheim, said it’s very good for the brain,” said King, who’s been playing for 70 years.

The gambling gripe was forwarded to Altamonte Springs police, who dispatched a detective to nose around the clubhouse where a leaflet, taped to the door, announced Friday night “horse racing” — a game in which a dice roll decides how fast your pony runs.

The note advised players to bring small bills.

Police provided the condo board with a copy of Florida’s gaming statute, which allows mah-jongg, pinochle, bridge, rummy, canasta, hearts and dominoes — but forbids soliciting participants “by advertising in any form.” That apparently includes leaflets taped to clubhouse doors.

Police ultimately decided the small-stake games were harmless and apologized, said Bob Burnett, president of the condominium association’s governing board.

But the condo board, unnerved by the police visit, closed the clubhouse to all games where money might change hands, including Frank Muscarella’s poker games — “We play for pennies,” he said — and the grandmas’ mah-jongg.

“It was just until we were sure we were doing everything right,” Burnett said.

King said neither she nor any of her friends have ever been arrested for anything, but they suddenly felt like outlaws.

News of the gambling crackdown appeared on a Florida-based Jewish news site called Heritage. The story has since been picked up by the Huffington Post and The Times of Israel.

The women suddenly were famous international gamblers.

As it turns out, the grandmothers’ game was legal and the controversy made them feel young again. “If nothing else, we’ve gotten a big laugh out of it,” King said.