Michael Postle is really, really good at poker. Or, he’s really, really good at cheating.
These are the allegations drawn from a racketeering and fraud lawsuit filed this week in Sacramento federal court in an alleged scandal that has rocked the world of online gaming.
The suit, which names Postle, Stones Gambling Hall in Citrus Heights and other defendants, seeks an award of at least $30 million for 25 plaintiffs who say they lost money while playing in poker games with Postle since last year, a time frame during which he allegedly collected $250,000 in winnings.
“While playing in Stones Live Poker games, Mr. Postle has won more money than any other participant, in total, and had oftentimes been the winningest player on the show on any given night in which he is a participant,” according to the 34-page lawsuit filed by Maurice “Mac” VerStandig, a Potomac, Maryland, attorney.
“Mr. Postle’s winnings on the Stones Live Poker broadcast, and his correlative play of poker, have been so exceptionally outstanding as to lead the commentator to note his seemingly mystical abilities on numerous occasions, and to lead Stones (Live) Poker to produce various graphics portraying Mr. Postle as a deity-like individual imbued with omniscient powers (with one such graphic conflating an image of Mr. Postle and an image of Jesus Christ).”
Postle has not responded to requests for comment from The Sacramento Bee since last week, but his Sacramento attorney, William Portanova, said Postle denies any wrongdoing.
“I guess he wins a lot of hands of poker,” Portanova said. “I don’t gamble, because that’s how many hands I lose. But we don’t know what the facts are.
“I can just say this: When I play poker I lose almost every hand, so I know such streaks are possible.”
The state Bureau of Gambling Control, under the auspices of Attorney General Xavier Becerra, did not respond to a query about the case.
But last week Stones suspended its online poker stream and hired former federal prosecutor Michael Lipman, a prominent white-collar criminal defense attorney in San Diego, to conduct his own investigation of the allegations.
“Stones is very serious about finding out what, if anything, has happened with regard to this situation,” Lipman said Friday. “We are doing what in my experience is a serious investigation in order to determine what happened.
“We are aware of the comments and analysis that’s been done by the poker community and have taken all of that into consideration as part of our inquiry. Most of what they’ve said is circumstantial evidence as to what may have happened. However, we believe that the definitive evidence will be found by forensically examining the computer systems used to broadcast the stream.”
Lipman said Stones has hired Stroz Friedberg, a computer forensics company that does work for the federal government “and has an impeccable reputation for integrity and competence,” to investigate.
“Stroz has flown employees to Sacramento from the East Coast, we have imaged what we believe to be the relevant computers and components and Stroz had begun their analysis.”
Lipman said that effort is costing Stones “a lot of money” and that he hopes to have preliminary results next week.
“I believe that it will be the computer forensics that will give us the definitive evidence needed to reach the ultimate conclusion,” Lipman said. “We have been and will continue to totally cooperate with the Bureau of Gambling Control from day one.”
But the poker world is not convinced, and the controversy has attracted international attention as poker fans analyze video from the online games and advance their own theories on social media as to whether Postle is cheating and how he may be doing it.
“These allegations rock the poker community because they challenge the core assumptions of integrity that drive the game we all know, love and play for a living,” VerStandig said in an interview last week prior to filing the suit. “It is difficult to conceive of something that would outrage the poker community on a higher level ... This cannot be natural, human play.”
The lawsuit alleges that Postle was aided in cheating in at least 68 games from July 18, 2018, through Sept. 21, 2019, by unnamed co-conspirators during online broadcasts of poker games.
In short, the lawsuit says he was able to divine his opponents’ hole cards using a “communications device” hidden in his baseball cap and a cell phone he clutched in his left hand under the table.
The online games, which are streamed on a 15- to 30-minute delay, use tables and cards equipped with radio frequency identification equipment that transmits each player’s hand to a control room, “where such information can be utilized to produce a broadcast of the subject poker game to the public at large,” the lawsuit says.
In video from one hand, “Mr. Postle can be seen repeatedly looking at his cellular telephone under the table,” the lawsuit says, adding that he won in more than 94 percent of the games he played, a winning streak that “is not known to have been achieved by any other poker player – professional or amateur – over such a significant period of time.”
“Mr. Postle would not have won such money if he was not cheating,” the lawsuit declares.
Stones operated such online games until the week before the lawsuit was filed, the suit says, but prior to that had not taken concrete action after other players complained as far back as March 2019 to Justin Kuraitis, the Stones live poker director who is also named as a defendant.
“Mr. Kuraitis repeatedly told multiple persons Mr. Postle was not cheating but, to the contrary, Mr. Postle’s play is simply ‘on a different level’ or he is ‘just on a heater’ and his play is not something that can be explained,” the lawsuit says.
This story was originally published October 11, 2019 12:01 PM.