In September, Veronica Brill, an amateur poker player, decided to bust someone she thought was cheating. While serving as a commentator for poker games live-streamed from Stones Gambling Hall in suburban Sacramento, she had seen a player named Mike Postle go on a winning streak that struck her as all but impossible. She speculated that he was exploiting the technology that allows live-stream viewers to see players' cards while they supposedly remain concealed from others at the table. She complained to Stones officials, but they dismissed her. "I was upholding the integrity of the game," she says. "I was told that I didn't understand this player's poker game, or that I didn't understand poker that well."

After writing a tweetstorm about Postle’s alleged cheating — and facing online vitriol from his defenders — she turned to her friend Maurice “Mac” VerStandig, a 35-year-old lawyer based in Potomac, Md., who travels the world helping rounders in need of legal counsel while playing quite a bit of poker himself. Between hands, he found time in early October to file a federal lawsuit in California on Brill’s behalf against Postle, Stones and the gambling hall’s live poker director.

The suit alleges that Postle, who earned more than $250,000 in the games at Stones, was “systematically, habitually and regularly cheating,” and that Stones sought to silence concerns about him “by playing up Postle as a deity-like figure.” The suit seeks $30 million in damages to be paid to the “Stones Fraud Victims,” which the lawsuit currently defines as people who played Postle in any of at least 68 games in 2018 and 2019. (The plaintiffs’ position is that their share of any judgment should be based on the number of minutes they played against him.) The suit also seeks $1,000 for Brill, who claims Stones libeled her by calling her allegations “completely fabricated” on social media.

Postle, the suit claims, booked victories in more than 94 percent of his Stones sessions — a win percentage “representing a quality of play multiple degrees higher than that achieved by the best poker players in the world.” In addition, despite his “seemingly mystical abilities,” Postle rarely plays in any other poker games outside Stones, the suit says. The complaint asserts that the “case represents the single largest known cheating scandal in the history of broadcast poker.”

Efforts to reach Postle for comment were unsuccessful. Michael Lipman, an attorney for Stones, said, “We do not believe the complaint has merit. It is difficult to share more because of the ongoing litigation. We are prepared to litigate this matter.” He said Stones is mounting its own investigation, and also working with California gaming authorities.

Though cheating at poker is as old as poker, the Stones scandal has captivated a community with ample time to sit around tables gossiping. It has also inspired a spate of YouTube videos that dissect Postle’s every move during various games. Some have racked up hundreds of thousands of views, and the scandal has even made mainstream outlets like CNBC and ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” Perhaps not since 2008, when thousands of players lost more than $20 million to cheating on the gaming site UltimateBet.com, have poker players been so dramatically reminded that their cards might be vulnerable.

Poker writer Matt Matros told me over email that the case is “huge in large part because the veneer of security around the live stream has now been destroyed. So much poker has been played on streams for the past 10 to 15 years, always with delays that seemed to make everyone safe.” That sense of security, he says, is finished.

VerStandig grew up in Bethesda and attended Georgetown Day School, where he was a "chubby kid with not a lot of friends," he says. A sense of alienation turned him into a teenage right-winger, an ideology reflected in his opinion pieces for one of the University of Wisconsin's student newspapers. As an undergraduate, he railed against abortion and gun control in writing that now makes him "blush pretty hard," he says.

He started playing poker seriously in 2006. After getting a law degree at the University of Miami, where he lugged his law books to a local card room and studied during poker sessions, he took up politics. He worked for the campaign of former Maryland attorney general Doug Gansler, who unsuccessfully ran in the state’s Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2014. But he didn’t like it. “I found that to be disingenuous,” VerStandig said of politics. “There’s an integrity to the gaming world. There’s honor among thieves.”

VerStandig figures he spends 100 nights per year in hotels, traveling wherever his clients place bets, and keeps a house in the Las Vegas suburbs. He recalls walking around the Rio casino in Vegas during the World Series of Poker with $300,000 in his backpack, distributing cash (legally) between clients with staking agreements — when an investor gives a player money in exchange for a cut of the proceeds if that player wins.

Maryland poker pro Andrew Brokos, a longtime blogger and host of the podcast “Thinking Poker,” doesn’t know VerStandig but says the presence of a lawyer willing to litigate these kinds of cases is a sign that card rooms across the country are becoming more professionalized. As someone who earns his money from the game, Brokos doesn’t want it “on the fringes,” he says. “If you want poker to be more mainstream ... there has to be more of a civilized nature to it, going through institutions the broader population is more comfortable with.”

As the “Stones Fraud Victims” wait for the gambling hall and the alleged cheater to respond to their lawsuit in court, their ranks seem to be growing. In the weeks after the lawsuit was filed, VerStandig was hired by more than 70 co-plaintiffs.

“I love working with poker players. They are tricky human beings with complicated problems that have real-life consequences,” VerStandig says. “Poker has come a long way from an underground game where justice is meted out by two-by-four.”

Justin Wm. Moyer is a Washington Post staff writer.