Czech casino owner Leon Tsoukernik says Aria poker staff plied him with booze, causing him to lose $3 million in a high-stakes poker match against an Australian professional, recent court papers filed by Tsoukernik claim.
The poker pro Matthew Kirk filed a lawsuit against Tsoukernik after the two played an early morning head-to-head match prior to this summer’s World Series of Poker. Kirk is seeking $2 million that he claims Tsoukernik still owes him.
Tsoukernik’s counterclaim, which also named Aria as a defendant, said that staff members pumped him with alcohol “to the point of visible intoxication and impairment,” and they should have known that his drunkenness prevented the game from being played “honestly and competitively.”
Tsoukernik, whose King’s Casino hosted the World Series of Poker Europe last month, released a statement through his Las Vegas lawyer, Peter Bernhard, after the counterclaim was filed.
“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,” Tsoukernik said in the statement. “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.”
Despite a judge’s recent ruling that the transaction amounted to an unenforceable gambling debt, Kirk’s lawyers — Richard Schonfeld and David Chesnoff — have said they’re still pursing $2 million from Tsoukernik.
“We’re in the process of drafting our motion to dismiss the counterclaim,” Schonfeld said.
Last month, District Judge Linda Marie Bell threw out eight of 10 claims from Kirk’s initial lawsuit over the riches, but decided that Kirk could still pursue the money he believes Tsoukernik owes him, along with potential punitive damages, on accusations known as fraudulent inducement and unjust enrichment.
Before the two prominent poker figures squared up for the one-on-one poker match in the early morning hours of May 27, Kirk pushed chips in various denominations across the felt to Tsoukernik. At least two other people were at the table in the high-stakes Ivey Room while the exchange occurred, according to video surveillance of the game.
Tsoukernik initially repaid Kirk $1 million, but refused to repay the rest.
The two had been in Las Vegas for the start of the WSOP, and Tsoukernik’s presence helped promote his own high stakes room at Rio throughout the summer, while encouraging poker players to participate in the European leg of the tour.
About 12 minutes after sending text messages to confirm that he received the last million, Tsoukernik appeared to indicate he wouldn’t pay the money back, according to court papers.
A day earlier, Kirk had lost a poker match to Tsoukernik and paid him $1.5 million, according to the original lawsuit.