Tsoukernik Claims Partial Victory Against Poker Pro
The World Series of Poker Europe is fast approaching, and King’s Casino is preparing for players to descend upon the poker tables from around the world. And casino owner Leon Tsoukernik can rest easier now that he has claimed a partial victory in a $2 million lawsuit filed by poker pro Matthew Kirk.
While the case has not been dismissed in full, the majority of the charges against Tsoukernik were dismissed, leaving only two remaining. And Kirk is left with little hope of seeing any of the $2 million he claimed he lent to Tsoukernik based on the court ruling that the money is a nonenforceable gaming debt.
Just as when the lawsuit was first filed over the summer during the WSOP in Las Vegas, the pending charges against Tsoukernik will likely not be mentioned at the WSOP Europe series. The King’s Casino will continue to benefit from its WSOP partnership.
— Warren Lush (@warrenlush) September 28, 2017
Original Lawsuit Filed in Summer 2017
News emerged of the lawsuit on a Two Plus Two forum thread. Just days after the WSOP announced King’s Casino as the newest sponsor for the summer games in Las Vegas – even hosting a high-stakes cash game poker lounge – Kirk filed the lawsuit in Clark County, Nevada on June 5. The online forum thread contained screenshots of 11 pages of the court documents, which detailed the case and the events that led to it.
The actions that spurred the case took place in late May, just before the start of the WSOP. Kirk and Tsoukernik were participating in a high-stakes cash game at the ARIA in Las Vegas. According to Kirk, he made four cash loans to Tsoukernik – two loans of $500K each and two of $1 million each – so their heads-up game could progress. Tsoukernik promised to repay the money but then refused within 20 minutes after the last loan was made. Kirk pursued Tsoukernik and finally received $1 million, but he never saw the other $2 million that Tsoukernik refused to pay, as documented by text messages.
Crazy set of text messages entered as evidence in Kirk v. Tsoukernik. Seems Leon thought he could not pay because it was a "gambling debt". pic.twitter.com/42Q3geLAvC
— Lance Bradley (@Lance_Bradley) July 7, 2017
Tsoukernik’s attorney immediately filed for a dismissal of all charges due to the lack of evidence by a “credit instrument.” He called the debts “void and unenforceable.”
Verbal Gambling Debts Deemed Nonenforceable
According to Jeff Walsh of PocketFives, the basis for the dismissal of most of the charges against Tsoukernik was Nevada Revised Statute 463.361, regarding the enforceability and resolution of gaming debts. Since the plaintiff and defendant are both non-licensed entities, it is not legally enforceable. The only two remaining charges in the case are fraudulent inducement and unjust enrichment.
Walsh stated, “Kirk is claiming that Tsoukernik represented that he would pay him back and took the money with no intention to do so because he thought that recovering the debt would be completely unenforceable.” And Tsoukernik’s decision to not repay the $2 million constituted unjust enrichment.
The case remains open in the Clark County court. It remains to be seen how the judge will rule on the final two allegations made by Kirk.
Significant Ramifications for Poker Players
One of the basic tenets of the poker world, especially among high-stakes players, is that verbal agreements are binding. Paramount importance is placed on a person’s word. Money changes hands all the time away from the poker tables, and a verbal agreement to repay those monies has long been virtually as good as a signed contract.
There have been cases in the past several years of players conning other players and not repaying debts. For example, some players have taken money in the form of percentages of their tournament action and then not played those events, rather keeping the money instead. There are occasional players who sell more than 100% of their action, resulting in some backers not seeing their money again. These players tend to be called out within the poker community, however, and rarely have the opportunity to scam anyone again.
For the most part, though, players who loan money take the borrowers at their word that the money will be repaid. From Kirk’s account of what happened at the ARIA, this was another one of those cases. The two were playing high-stakes heads-up, and when Tsoukernik lost, he had to borrow to keep playing. He continually lost and borrowed until he was $3 million in the hole. While he did repay one-third of that money, his text messages to Kirk indicate that Tsoukernik never had the intention of repaying the rest.
It is unclear if Tsoukernik is specifically denying borrowing the money, but it seems that he is simply claiming that the debt is unenforceable, not that he didn’t take it in the first place.
— phil_hellmuth (@phil_hellmuth) October 12, 2017
This goes against a sacred yet unspoken oath in poker. And this will likely make many players rethink loaning large sums of money, no matter how juicy the stakes or soft the action. It may also prompt some players to be hesitant about letting people of unknown trustworthiness into the high-stakes games, which cuts down on the amount of “easy” money in some of those games.
No matter the broken promises or unpaid debts, Tsoukernik has not seemed damaged by the allegations. His casino continues to thrive in the Czech Republic, and his sponsorship agreement with the WSOP appears to be intact. He may not be welcome in the high-stakes games during his next trip to Las Vegas, though.