Plaintiff's Lawyer Offers a Reflection on the Stones/Mike Postle Ruling
Maurice "Mac" VerStandig is the managing partner of the VerStandig Law Firm, LLC, and focuses his practice on representing poker players, advantage gamblers, and other industry professionals in all manner of legal situations. He can be reached at 301-444-4600 or [email protected]
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints, and official policies of PokerNews.com.
Huge news arrived June 3 in the high-profile legal case against alleged poker cheat Mike Postle as a California judge dismissed all charges against Postle, Stones Gambling Hall and house tournament director Justin Kuraitis.
Mac VerStandig, attorney for the plaintiffs, authored an op-ed for PokerNews in response to the ruling.
Since 1851, California’s judiciary has disallowed claims derivative of gaming activities within state boundaries. The original rationale for this doctrine sounded on the illegal nature of gambling at the time; the perceptively immoral character of card games and horse races soon served as a secondary basis for courts to turn away all bettors who came. This was quite literally the Old West, and those conned in faro or stud games well understood justice was only available through brutal invocations of “self-help” often undertaken with the crude weaponry of yore.
Part of what makes the recent Stones/Postle ruling so disheartening is the challenge it presents to the worldview of those of us who see the modern poker community in a different light. It is not that the judge misunderstands our claims – he clearly describes the case in his opinion, which is remarkably well-written and well-reasoned in the prism of Golden State precedent. I am actually comforted by his level of attention: our case is going to march forward against Stones, and our judge affording the matter serious attention is genuinely reassuring.
California still adheres to an antebellum doctrine by which gamblers may not seek judicial recourse for their cheated losses.
The discomforting aspect, rather, is that California – a major industrial state with a vibrant economy of legal card rooms up-and-down the Pacific shoreline – still adheres to an antebellum doctrine by which gamblers may not seek judicial recourse for their cheated losses.
We have known about the doctrine throughout the case, and it was well-covered in the briefing on both sides. I am disappointed a licensed and legal casino would rely on this doctrine; the message such sends to the gaming community forming its patron base is suboptimal-at-best. Moreover, it is a doctrine born of an anachronistic era; illegality and immorality are no longer the auras in which gaming is cloaked.
The case does, actually, appear to have made some progress: the court has indicated efforts to sue for the rake collected in tortious poker games may comport with California law, and that is something for which I am enormously appreciative. This seems a little thing (even in a quarantine era when so many poker club operators are discovering how appreciable the rake can be), but it is a marked bit of progress – some viability of a gaming claim is being permitted. It is a step forward, and the first appreciable one in nearly 170 years.
Precedent often changes incrementally; this is one such increment. In hindsight that increment may feel greater; for the time being, the pessimism of those claiming it to be pyrrhic is understandable.
Yet the dismissal of my clients’ claims against Mr. Postle leaves a victim less obvious in nature: Mr. Postle himself. He has, from the outset, insisted his play was pure and simply gifted in nature. His surrogates have plastered poker Twitter, various websites, and the industry’s message boards with protestations of his innocence. He is simply slowrolling us all, the narrative often goes; soon enough he’ll avenge his good name.
He did not secure dismissal of this lawsuit because the plaintiffs could not colorably allege he was cheating or even how he did it.
Mr. Postle is now deprived of that opportunity. He did not secure dismissal of this lawsuit because the plaintiffs could not colorably allege he was cheating or even how he did it. He did not prevail by convincing others of his deep intellectual poker prowess. He was let out because he had the altogether perverse luck of living in a state that has not appreciably changed its views on the justiciability of gaming obligations since the Millard Fillmore administration.
Our suit will go forward against at least Stones Gambling Hall; the court has afforded us leave to amend our complaint, and we will do so.
It has been my longstanding practice to not comment substantively on forward-looking litigation outside of the judicial process, and it is a practice I’d be remiss to cease honoring in this moment. As I draft this, my text messages overflow with friends sending some combination of well wishes and variously-conjugated versions of the word “appeal.” The latter is not something about which any substantive thought has been given, and my disdain for lawyers who so comfortably stand on the courthouse steps decrying “we will appeal!” after every adverse ruling is, at irreducible minimum, palpable.
That the suit is proceeding ought not be lost. This column is not a postmortem; plenty more will be shared on the court’s docket as matters progress.
In the interim, though, I worry about the message California’s peculiarly-outdated doctrine sends the poker community. If the laws of a major state will not give standing to our gaming grievances, my oft-repeated admonishments to avoid underworld brutality will seem quaintly aloof. If the laws of a major state will not permit entertainment of a cheating case on the merits, the next Mr. Postle amongst us – even if someone falsely accused or victimized by happenstance – will be without a traditional forum to clear her or his good name.