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How A 1950s Quiz Show Law Might Factor Into Poker Cheating Allegations At Stones

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As has been widely reported, poker pro Mike Postle stands accused of cheating in a series of live-streamed games at Stones Gambling Hall in California.

Poker commentator Joey Ingram began building a series of videos on his YouTube channel exploring these allegations last week, driving a thorough — but unofficial — investigation of Postle.

On October 2, Ingram posted a graph on his Twitter account detailing Postle’s superhuman win rate, which outpaced even the UltimateBet superuser account POTRIPPER.

Ingram further reports that Postle won 62 of 69 broadcast sessions and earned more than $250,000 in under 300 hours of play.

How did this allegedly happen?

One of the suspected enablers of the possible cheating scandal is the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chipped cards.

RFID cards are tagged so that they transmit encrypted information to a computer when the card passes over a scanner in the table. The technology is widespread throughout the world and is used in virtually every grocery store and department store for tracking inventory.

The security surrounding transmissions of card tags has been questioned by some for a while. Of special note is the transmission of information over open WiFi networks, which may allow the information to be maliciously intercepted.

Stones’ responses

In response to the allegations against Postle, Stones shut down all live broadcasts and began an internal investigation into the allegations conducted by outside investigators. Stones has also purportedly committed to making the results of the investigation public after its completion.

The move to outside investigators comes after it was revealed that Stones had received information of possible cheating earlier in 2019 and found no wrongdoing.

Stones hired former US Attorney Michael Lipman to head up the new investigation. Lipman has experience investigating such matters as the head of the fraud unit at the Southern California US Attorneys Office. He’s currently an attorney with Duane Morris LLP.

While Lipman is handling the investigation for the property, attorney Mac VerStandig has filed a civil lawsuit against Postle, Stones, and others.

The Stones civil suit

The civil lawsuit filed October 8, 2019 in the Eastern District of California alleges nine separate causes of action:

  1. Violation of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act
  2. Fraud
  3. Negligent misrepresentation
  4. Negligence per se
  5. Unjust enrichment
  6. Negligence
  7. Constructive fraud
  8. Fraud
  9. Libel

VerStandig’s complaint states: “This case concerns Mr. Postle’s systematic use of one or more electronic devices, for purposes of cheating, while playing in broadcast games of poker, to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from fellow players.”

The complaint argues that Stones took a “more lackadaisical” approach to security than other producers of streamed poker content. The plaintiffs seek more than $10 million in damages from both Postle and Stones Gambling Hall.

While the civil suit is one potential thorn to Postle and Stones, the allegations also raise potential questions about criminal charges if there was wrongdoing.

Fraud claims

In addition to garden-variety fraud claims that may be leveled against a cheater, California has a few potentially relevant statutory provisions that specifically criminalize cheating in gaming activities under the CA Penal Code.

Section 332 of Title 10

Section 332 of the California Penal Code addresses fraudulently obtaining money or property while betting. The punishment for violation of section 332 is a fine of up to $5,000 for a first offense (the defendant would also likely be disgorged of ill-gotten gains).

Section 334 of Title 10

California has another prohibition that begins:

“Every person who owns or operates any concession, and who fraudulently obtains money from another by means of any hidden mechanical device or obstruction with intent to diminish the chance of any patron to win a prize….”

Concession in this case may include a poker game or a facility like a gaming hall.

Obviously, it remains to be determined whether any wrongdoing took place and by whom. Should there be a determination that Stones was involved, a violation of section 334 may be found. The Penal Code instructs that violations of this section should be treated like cases of theft.

In addition to state-level criminal charges, however, some of the allegations circulating may implicate an obscure federal law if true.

Quiz show scandals

In the 1950s, television viewers were shocked to learn that some of their favorite television programs featuring contests of intellect were actually fixed. They were not true competitions; they were scripted entertainment.

In response to the Quiz Show scandals, Congress passed a law titled “Prohibited practices in contests of knowledge, skill, or chance.”

Simply stated, the law prohibits the supplying of a contestant in a contest of “intellectual knowledge or intellectual skill” any type of special assistance resulting in a partially or wholly predetermined outcome. The statute similarly bans various means of dissuading contestants from exercising their knowledge in contests (e.g. no sandbagging).

The statute also states producing or participating “in the production for broadcasting of, to broadcast or participate in the broadcasting of, to offer to a licensee for broadcasting, or to sponsor, any radio program, knowing or having reasonable ground for believing that, in connection with a purportedly bona fide contest of intellectual knowledge, intellectual skill, or chance constituting any part of such program,” in association with scripting a predetermined outcome violates the statute and carries a penalty of a fine of up to $10,000 and one year imprisonment.

Violations of the statute are principally handled by the Federal Communications Commission. Despite a few dozen Enforcement Actions listed over the last two decades, it is unclear if the statute has ever been implicated in the case of an internet broadcast stream.

While the Quiz Show statute is obscure, it may be relevant if there is veracity to some of the allegations circulating.

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What to make of the allegations

Cheating in intellectual contests is not new.

Just this summer, chess was rocked by a scandal involving a player accessing a phone in a bathroom during the middle of a match. This followed a blind Norwegian chess player who received a lifetime ban after getting caught using an earpiece to cheat in a match against a nine-year-old.

There are obviously a lot of facts still to come out, and while there is mounting evidence being compiled in the poker community, Postle has not been found by any court to have cheated.

If that changes in the civil arena, criminal prosecutors might take interest in the case given the substantial sums of money involved.

Read the complaint

DE 001 – Complaint and Demand for Trial By Jury

- John Holden J.D. / Ph.D. is an academic. His research focuses on policy issues surrounding sports corruption.
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