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Stones Live embroiled in controversy

By Arnold Warner

Numerous players have raised questions about possible long-term cheating during Stones Live’s streamed cash games at Stones Gambling Hall in Citrus Heights. What started off as an observation on Twitter has since blown up into an internet search for the truth/witch hunt, a mention on ESPN’s SportsCenter, and a $10 million lawsuit.

The controversy began when Veronica Brill, formerly a regular commentator for Stones Live and a frequent player at other times, posted tweets in late September—without naming names—about possible cheating during the games.

Not long after that, Mike Postle, a regular in the Stones Live $1/3 to $5/5 cash games, was “outed” as the possible perpetrator. Joey Ingram, a successful player, advocate, promoter and podcaster in the poker world, reviewed the available video, and found many hands he felt were “suspect.”

Since then, other well-known pros, including Doug Polk, have launched their own investigations by reviewing the streams and offering their opinions. Many of these extensive reviews are posted on You Tube or other venues.

On social media, Postle responded by giving examples of hands he played less than perfectly. Referring to the examples others have brought up, he stated he has “very good instincts” and that those questioning his honesty are “jealous, hating ones who have it out for me.”

A Stones Twitter post on Sept. 29 stated that they, “conducted a full investigation & found no evidence that any cheating occurred.” Stones tournament director Justin Kuraitis wrote, “It is unfortunate that these allegations were made public with absolutely no evidence. The reputation of my team and an exciting/fun player are now being publicly mobbed.”

On Oct. 2, Stones announced they were “suspending all broadcast of poker play, including live streaming, while we expand our multifaceted investigation with outside experts. This investigation will be thorough and detailed. We will report the outcomes when they are available.”

Ryan Feldman, who works with Live at the Bike’s stream, tweeted that same day, calling a specific hand into question. Postle held 8x-6x and the other player 9x-6x where both had missed their straight draws on the river. Postle led out and was raised, then he went all-in, even though his opponent had a very short stack remaining.

Thirty minutes later while the hand was broadcasting (all live stream hands are actually on a 30-minute delay), the commentators were told that the graphics were wrong and that Postle had the 9s-8s, making the nut straight. In his tweet, Feldman said, “Shows are produced live & air on delay, so the booth can never know that someone’s cards are wrong. Unless a player says so later, which would be 15/30 min. later after it airs. How can the graphics person know cards are wrong live?”

The controversy became much more mainstream when it was covered by SportsCenter and Scott Van Pelt on Oct. 3. He concluded his report with the following observation:

“If you’re the equivalent of a guy that shows up to play pick-up basketball, and you never missed a shot for a couple of years, wouldn’t you go play in the NBA? If you’re some sort of poker god who almost never lost, who made the right call or fold virtually every single time…. If you were this good, why would you be playing in games only with a video feed at a $1/3 table at Stones poker room? Why wouldn’t you be in Vegas, winning all the money in the world?”

On Oct. 4, Stones released a four-part tweet stating that they were alarmed by the allegations and committed to the integrity of their games. They added, “Yesterday, we temporarily halted all broadcasts from Stones. We have also, as a result, halted the use of RFID playing cards. We have taken these steps proactively while we conduct a multifaceted and thorough investigation into every element of these games.

“To that end, we are today announcing the creation of an independent investigation team. The team will be led by Michael Lipman, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, and Chief of that office’s fraud unit. He is assembling other members who will be announced in due course. Stones intends to conduct this investigation and share outcomes with transparency. We will provide updates as appropriate.”

Many, however, were not impressed when it was discovered that in the past Lipman has acted as the attorney for Stones’ owner. This included gambling lawyer Maurice VerStandig who tweeted, “Maybe worth sharing the head of the independent investigation team is your former counsel? No doubt a qualified and well-respected man (genuinely and seriously) but not exactly the truly ‘independent’ optic the public might desire here.”

Oct. 4 and 5 Postle appeared on Mike Matusow’s podcast “The Mouthpiece,” during which a sympathetic Matusow said that he wasn’t convinced of any wrongdoing and refers to “fake news” and “the conspiracy people.”

Postle claimed, “All I can say is that this started off with a lot of hatred towards me for I guess the whole making me into some reality star on TV, except it was done in a live stream.” He also said that the numbers being punted around over how much he made are way off. “It’s impossible for me to be doing what they’re claiming. It’s 1,000 percent impossible.”

VerStandig filed a $10 million lawsuit in federal court on behalf of 25 plaintiffs on Oct. 8, naming Postle, Kuraitis, Stones Gambling Hall, “John Doe 1-10” and “Jane Doe 1-10” as defendants. The complaint states, “Jon Does 1-10 and Jane Does 1-10 are persons, natural and/or legal, who (i) conspired with Mr. Postle to cheat at the game of poker through one or more electronic instrumentalities; (ii) aided Mr. Postle in cheating at the game of poker; (iii) worked to conceal Mr. Postle’s cheating from discovery by third parties; (iv) were charged with monitoring Stones’ eponymous card room for cheating activity and failed to do so; (v) suppressed allegations of Mr. Postle’s cheating, leading to the continuation of his tortious conduct; (vi) installed or implemented electronic devices to be utilized by Mr. Postle while cheating at games of poker; (vii) altered broadcast graphics so as to make Mr. Postle’s cheating behavior less evident to viewers and the public at large; and/or (viii) aided Mr. Postle in structuring monetary transactions so as to avoid tax reporting requirements.”

The complaint also claims that Postle recorded wins in over 94 percent of the Stones Live games he participated in after July 2018 and record an average profit of more than 60 big blinds per hour. It states that it is generally accepted that five big blinds per hour is a worthy goal, 10 per hour exceptional, and 25 per hour stratospherically phenomenal. It further claims that this represents “a quality of play multiple degrees higher than that achieved by the best poker players in the world.”

They also state that Postle rarely plays cash games in other forums, even at Stones, and “habitually stopped playing on the Stones Live Poker game as soon as the broadcast ends.”

Stones is charged with “lackadaisical” security, “allowing the room in which concealed information is reviewed in real time (the “Production Room”) to be readily accessibly by numerous people; by not constructing a proper security perimeter around the Production Room; by allowing the use of cellular telephones in the Production Room, during Stones Live Poker streams; and otherwise.”

While Kuraitis is not implicated in any active cheating, the suit does hold him accountable for allaying people’s suspicions of cheating, and “also telling at least one Plaintiff that Stones undertakes a quarterly security audit of its Stones Live Poker system and assuring multiple Plaintiffs that Stones had investigated Mr. Postle’s play and cleared him.”

Counts laid out in the suit against some or all of the defendants include racketeering, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, negligence per se, unjust enrichment, and constructive fraud.

Postle’s attorney, William Portanova, sent a comment to the Sacramento Bee that said, “I guess he wins a lot of hands of poker. 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 Bee also quoted Lipman (the investigator appointed by Stones) as saying, “Stones is very serious about finding out what, if anything, has happened with regard to this situation…. 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…. We have been and will continue to totally cooperate with the Bureau of Gambling Control from day one.”

It’s anyone’s guess how this lawsuit may play out, but at least one prominent lawyer thinks the defense stands a very good chance in a jury trial. Joshua M. Zimmerman practices law in New York and Hong Kong and spent 20 years executing corporate financings throughout Asia. In “The Postle Lawsuit is Not as Clear Cut as It May Seem,” (pokernews.com) he takes a look at all the ways a defense lawyer can turn an issue like this on its ear. It’s recommended reading for those looking for more on the subject.

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