Tsoukernik Files Counterclaim Amidst WSOP Europe
The legal war between King’s Casino owner Leon Tsoukernik and poker pro Matt Kirk escalated to a new level this week with the revelation that Tsoukernik filed a countersuit against Kirk. He also added Aria Casino into the mix, claimed victim status due to intoxication, and seeks punitive damages.
All of this is happening with the World Series of Poker in the background. King’s Casino is a primary sponsor of the WSOP, which is hosting its WSOP Europe series at King’s Casino in Rozvadov. The counterclaim was filed as the WSOPE Main Event was in motion, while the largest poker news outlet ignored the entire incident from its beginning in the summer through this week as it covered the tournaments live from Rozvadov. The WSOP has also been silent, having chosen not to release any statements regarding the claims or counterclaims.
If Leon Tsoukernik is going to bring poker headlines like this to mainstream media like Washington Post, @WSOP & others need to rethink relationship w/ @PokerroomKings. #PayThatManHisMoney https://t.co/Kd4d2fWeTi pic.twitter.com/1IShlvZSpM
— Chad Allan Holloway (@ChadAHolloway) November 10, 2017
Recap of Original Lawsuit from Kirk
It happened in Las Vegas just before the start of the summer WSOP games in late May. Kirk and Tsoukernik were playing high-stakes poker at the Aria on the Vegas Strip. Kirk claimed he made several loans to Tsoukernik as heads-up action continued, two loans of $500K each and then two for $1 million each. According to Kirk, Tsoukernik promised to repay the money but, minutes later, texted that he would not pay the money back. Eventually, Tsoukernik did repay $1 million but refused to pay the remainder of the outstanding debt.
Kirk filed a lawsuit on June 5 in Clark County, Nevada, for $2 million, interest, fees, attorney costs, and punitive damages. The WSOP had just gotten underway with King’s Casino signage and a King’s Cash Game Lounge at the Rio that served as the high-stakes cash game center for all WSOP players. Tsoukernik’s casino was also the sponsor of the Player of the Year race and the series leaderboard.
Partial Victory for Tsoukernik
In the middle of October, the court dismissed the majority of the charges against Tsoukernik, leaving Kirk’s case open with only two counts remaining. Essentially, the court ruled that the debt may have seemed verbally binding but was not legally enforceable because the plaintiff and defendant were both non-licensed entities.
It is unclear when the court will rule on the unresolved counts in the original lawsuit – fraudulent inducement and unjust enrichment.
Tsoukernik Files Countersuit Against Kirk
CardPlayer obtained the court documents showing a lawsuit filed this week by Tsoukernik against Kirk and the Aria. He claimed that he was encouraged to drink enough alcohol “sufficient to visibly intoxicate and impair” him and “induce him to play for large sums” of money. Due to his intoxicated state, he was unable to count his own chips or properly read his own cards during the heads-up games. In addition, he suffered from “extreme fatigue” as the games lasted until morning.
The lawsuit also stated, “Tsoukernik acted under duress and, due to outside forces, was left without any ability to avoid any damages alleged.”
I used to get wasted and blow my bankroll at Bellagio. It never dawned on me to go back the next day and say, "Hey guys, I was drunk last night so I want all the money back." Its a lame excuse and shouldn't be rewarded. https://t.co/NKoyKJlxZW
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) November 10, 2017
In summary, Tsoukernik claimed Kirk took advantage of his intoxication and fatigue. He also introduced information that Kirk was not financially able to play at the high limits or secure the money from the Aria. As for the casino, its staff served too much alcohol to him and “prevented” Tsoukernik’s friends from removing him from the poker room.
He is suing Kirk for punitive damages, emotional distress, defamation, humiliation, and pain and suffering, the worth of which exceeds $10 million. Tsoukernik has reportedly endured “a significant amount of criticism from the poker community over the past several months,” according to PokerTube’s information about the case.
PokerTube also reported that Kirk enlisted the help of Rob Yong, owner of Dusk Till Dawn Casino in England, to help negotiate a settlement between he and Tsoukernik. The two agreed upon a deal, shook hands in Yong’s presence, but Kirk returned 15 minutes later to nullify the deal.
The counterclaim included a statement from Tsoukernik: “As a casino operator, I feel it is my obligation to never allow a patron to be treated as I was and to alert the poker community of the risks they take in situations like mine. I believe that my response shines light on some of the unethical practices that target poker players. It would be easy to remain silent and make a business decision but too much has been said and too much damage has been done for me to keep quiet.”
Poker Community Splits
As the WSOP Europe winds down in Rozvadov, the results of the 12 tournaments show that thousands of players descended upon King’s Casino for the series. Despite many players knowing about the situation between Tsoukernik and Kirk, players like Anatoly Filatov, Maria Ho, Pierre Neuville, Philipp Gruissem, Mike Leah, Anthony Zinno, Rainer Kempe, Niall Farrell, Ryan Reiss, Bryn Kenney, and Phil Hellmuth patronized the casino.
— Kevin MacPhee (@KevinMacphee) November 9, 2017
However, there were some in the community who stayed away from the WSOPE and have been outspoken on the topic, including Daniel Negreanu and Doyle Brunson.
The "I was too drunk" excuse is such horseshit. Besides, this is the SECOND time this guy stiffed someone! He stiffed Elton Tsang also, and didn't even cry drunk that time. Total horseshit. If you don''t want to make bad decisions drunk, don't drink. Period. https://t.co/Kb3JSnVVjb
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) November 9, 2017
Gavin Griffin even wrote a column about Tsoukernik, including allegations from poker pro Elton Tsang about a previous incident with Tsoukernik. Griffin broaches the subject of the WSOP’s continuing alliance with Tsoukernik amidst one allegation after another of dishonesty and unpaid debts.
It is a topic that the poker community must face, regardless of the outcome of the court cases.