After being slammed with a lawsuit in Clark County court over allegedly not paying a $3-million worth of poker debt, Kings Casino owner Leon Tsoukernik had taken a strange move, countersuing high-stakes poker pro Matt Kirk and even the Aria casino in Las Vegas for $10 million.
The Story, according to Matt Kirk
In the wee hours of May 27, 2017, two pros of the poker world sat down for a private session, specifically a high-stakes poker match. The poker room was called the Ivey Room, a stylish area located in the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Czech entrepreneur and casino tycoon Leon Tsoukernik, was battling against Australian Matthew Kirk who is well-known for his hefty bets. A handful of people came to watch the game.
The session did not take a long time; however, a massive amount of money changed hands. Things weren't looking good for Tsoukernik. During their play, Kirk loaned him a total of $3 million worth of chips so as to keep him playing in the game, shown by sliding them across the table in increments of $500,000 and $1 million.
After an hour and a few minutes, Tsoukernik was beaten. However, when Kirk tried to collect his winnings, Tsoukernik declined to fully pay him.
This time, six months after the incident, these two men are engaged in a bitter and scandal-tinged court dispute over who is entitled to the money.
It was in July that Kirk filed a suit against Tsoukernik, alleging he was still owed $2 million. For the next months, Tsoukernik and his legal team refused to discuss the case's details, only saying that the amount asked by Kirk was an "unenforceable gambling debt".
Tsoukernik's Side of the Story
On November 8 Wednesday, Tsoukernik filed a counterclaim, and his reasons were: Kirk and the Aria casino, he alleged, had taken advantage of him during the late-night, booze-fueled match.
Tsoukernik claims that Aria staff gave him alcohol through the course of the session, allowing Kirk to deceive him into throwing away his money.
He said that he ended up getting so intoxicated that he misread his cards and even had to ask Kirk and the dealer to help him count his chips. When the spectators saw how drunk Tsoukernik was and tried to escort him out of the room, Tsoukernik said that the casino staff ‘prevented' them.
As the match went on to past 5 a.m., he said that "extreme fatigue" set in, further impairing his judgement. All that time, Kirk knew he was weary and wasted but kept playing against him at the table anyway.
Written in the counterclaim, "Tsoukernik acted under duress and, due to outside forces, was left without any ability to avoid any damages alleged" by Kirk.
According to Tsoukernik, Kirk also depended on financial backers to enable him to gamble with high amounts, and he said he had no idea where his opponent's money was coming from, "Kirk did not have the financial wherewithal to play at the levels at which he was playing against Tsoukernik, nor did he have the financial wherewithal to secure loans from Aria."
His countersuit seeks damages ‘in excess of $10 million' and says that Kirk damaged his reputation in comments after the match. Tsoukernik says he wants to claim damages for defamation of character and emotional distress on grounds that Kirk's allegations have harmed his reputation and in the process hurt his business because some pros were opting not to play in the games and events at his casino in Rozvadov, Czech Republic as a result of Kirk's actions.
Rob Yong's Side of the Story
A recent blog post by Rob Yong tells quite a different story to what we have all been reading/hearing from the media write-ups so far.
Of course, the disputed amount is still the same, that Tsoukernik indeed had borrowed money from Kirk and he only paid 1/3 of the debt. However, how it exploded to a full-blown court battle is a bit more complicated.
Yong said he watched their game when it started but did not finish it as he went off to bed. The next day, he learnt from Kirk that Tsoukernik owes him $3 million and heard how the session got ‘out of hand' right after Tsoukernik got very drunk. Yong asked Kirk why he still chose to continue playing with Tsoukernik if he was so drunk, to which Kirk replied that he did not wish to "hit and run" Tsoukernik and besides, Tsoukernik had insisted to keep on playing, saying that if Kirk did not agree to continue with the match, he would never play with him again.
Yong suggested to Kirk that he offer Tsoukernik a $2M repayment deal and to play Kirk again for the remaining $1M, to which Kirk agreed to and asked Yong to propose this to Tsoukernik on his behalf. The reason why Yong suggested the $1M replay was because of the fact that even right after the session had been concluded and the two had got into the hotel elevator to go to their rooms, Kirk was convinced by Tsoukernik to further lend him $1M, which he then lost once they got back to Ivey's Room, and this clearly, says Yong, Kirk should never have agreed to, considering the (intoxicated?) state Leon was in.
Yong waked Tsoukernik and told him Kirk wanted the debt paid immediately, and Tsoukernik replied, "Tell Matty not to worry, I don't remember much but whatever I lost I will repay today." After Yong mentioned the proposal to him, he agreed.
However, a surprising turn came up...
In just about 20 minutes later, Kirk told Yong that the deal was off and that Tsoukernik should pay him the full $3M. Of course, this statement spells bad news for Tsoukernik who replied, "this is ridiculous, you get me out of bed after 2 hours sleep, I don't remember anything but agree to everything, I even offer to get the money brought here now, I shake hands and now you tell me this!"
A few days later, when he was back in the UK, Yong received a conference call from Kirk and Tsoukernik, with Tsoukernik telling Yong that they were at a cage at the Rio and that he and Kirk had agreed to $1M as a full and final settlement. Kirk had said, "Yes, it's fine we are all settled, I want to move on." Even though Yong couldn't fathom why this is the final agreed amount, but since he had only been called to witness the settlement, he just said, "fine, I have witnessed it."
Later that night, Kirk told Yong through Skype that the only reason he took the $1M was that when they had sat down to reach a settlement, he felt insulted at Tsoukernik speaking to him as if he was a child, saying stuff like, "this is a lesson for you, you shouldn't loan money to drunk people." Obviously too angry to continue talking to him, Kirk accepted the $1M and he said to Yong that now he doesn't care about the money and he aims to use the $1M to ruin Tsoukernik's reputation in the world of poker.
Tsoukernik received the papers and served a court action for $2M, and when Yong tried to contact Kirk about it, Kirk's lawyer answered and said he could no longer speak to him.
Now that Yong's side is out, this paints a whole new different angle to both Tsoukernik and Kirk regarding this topic.
Kirk's lawyers said their client wasn't immediately available to discuss the case last Friday. Previously, they stated in court that Tsoukernik had ‘committed fraud' against their client and gambled away his money without the intention of ever paying him.
A representative of Aria was contacted as well for comment, but no response has been made at this time.
Before going to court, Kirk and Tsoukernik reportedly tried to resolve their dispute amongst themselves, twice. The afternoon following the match, the two men met at Aria's pool to try and sort things out. Rob Yong, a respected casino operator and a common friend to both men, was there with them and tried to broker a ‘discount' on the $3 million. The agreement didn't happen, but a week later they met again, with Yong again acting as their intermediary.
At some point in time, Tsoukernik paid Kirk $1 million. When he declined to pay the remaining balance, Kirk then sued him. His lawsuit indicated the $3 million loan is regarded as a business deal, not a gambling debt, and accused Tsoukernik of fraudulent inducement, unjust enrichment, and other claims.
Court papers show that there have been text messages the two poker pros exchanged at the poker table as Tsoukernik borrowed money from Kirk. Kirk's lawyers said these text messages showed Tsoukernik intended to defraud him:
"Gave you 500k," Kirk wrote in a May 27, 2017 text message, the time 4:34 a.m.
"Gave you 1million," he wrote about 30 minutes later.
"OK," Tsoukernik replied, as the two documented the transactions.
At 5:46 a.m., Kirk wrote that he had sent the total of $3 million, and Tsoukernik replied "OK."
At 5:58, Tsoukernik wrote: "Not valid." Two minutes later, he typed: "0 now."
On October, Tsoukernik partially won in this case. District Judge Linda Marie Bell threw away a number of claims from the lawsuit, ruling that the money was really just a gambling debt and was not enforceable in civil court. However, Judge Bell said Kirk can still continue to pursue unjust enrichment and fraudulent inducement claims. Tsoukernik may have very well intentionally refused payment, using the debt's ‘unenforceability'. The judge said, "If proven, this could place Mr. Tsoukernik at the greatest moral fault in this matter."
Since Matt Kirk filed a lawsuit against Tsoukernik, another poker pro, Elton Tsang, has also accused Tsoukernik (publicly but not in court) that the casino owner, in 2016 at Monte Carlo, had pulled the same stunt on him. Tsang alleges that Tsoukernik refused to pay him $2.4 million in loans made across the poker table. Tsoukernik did not claim he was drunk at the match with Tsang.