In the early hours of May 27, two of professional gambling’s big names sat down for a private, high-stakes poker match. The setting was the Ivey Room, a posh enclave in the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Leon Tsoukernik, a Czech entrepreneur and casino mogul, was facing off against Matthew Kirk, an Australian gambler known for his hefty bets. A couple of others came to watch.
The session didn’t last long, but a huge amount of money changed hands. Tsoukernik was having a bad night. As the two played, Kirk loaned him a total of $3 million in chips to keep him in the game, sliding them across the table in increments of $500,000 and $1 million, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
In a little more than an hour, Tsoukernik lost all of it. But when Kirk tried to collect his winnings, Tsoukernik refused to pay him out in full.
Now, more than five months later, the two men are locked in a bitter and scandal-tinged court battle over who is entitled to the riches.
Kirk sued Tsoukernik in county court in July, alleging he was still owed $2 million. For months, Tsoukernik and his attorneys declined to discuss the details of the case, saying only that the amount sought by Kirk was an “unenforceable gambling debt,” according to the Review-Journal.
But in a counterclaim filed Wednesday, Tsoukernik made his reasons clear: Kirk and the Aria casino, he alleged, had taken advantage of him during the late-night, booze-fueled match.
Tsoukernik, who owns King’s Casino in the Czech Republic, alleges Aria staff plied him with alcohol throughout the session, enabling Kirk to dupe him into throwing away his money, according to Card Player, a popular industry magazine, and the gambling site PokerTube.
He ended up getting so drunk, he said, that he misread his cards and had to ask Kirk and the dealer to help count his chips. When others saw how intoxicated Tsoukernik was and tried to escort him out of the room, casino workers “prevented” them, he said, according to Card Player.
“Extreme fatigue” set in as the match stretched past 5 a.m., further impairing Tsoukernik, his counterclaim reportedly states. All the while, he said, Kirk knew he was wasted and weary but kept him at the table anyway.
“Tsoukernik acted under duress and, due to outside forces, was left without any ability to avoid any damages alleged” by Kirk, read the counterclaim, according to Card Player.
Kirk also leaned on financial backers to gamble, which skewed the betting, according to Tsoukernik, who 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,” his counterclaim reportedly stated, “nor did he have the financial wherewithal to secure loans from Aria.”
His counterclaim seeks damages “in excess of $10 million,” according to Card Player, and alleges Kirk defamed him in comments following the match.
Attorneys for Kirk weren’t immediately available to discuss the case Friday. They previously stated in court that Tsoukernik had “committed fraud” against their client and gambled away his money without ever intending to pay him, as the Review-Journal has reported.
A representative from Aria didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.
Tsoukernik and Kirk reportedly tried on two occasions to resolve their dispute before going to court.
The afternoon following the match, the two men met under the desert sun at Aria’s pool to work things out. With them was Rob Yong, a respected casino operator and an acquaintance of both men, who tried to broker a “discount” on the $3 million, PokerTube reported, citing court documents. That agreement reportedly fell through, but they met again a week later, with Yong again acting as an intermediary.
At some point, Tsoukernik paid Kirk $1 million, according to the Review-Journal. When he refused to pay the rest, Kirk sued. His lawsuit said the $3 million loan was essentially a business deal, not a gambling debt, and accused Tsoukernik of unjust enrichment, fraudulent inducement and other claims.
Court papers reportedly contained text messages the two gamblers exchanged at the poker table as Kirk loaned Tsoukernik money. Kirk’s attorneys said they showed Tsoukernik intended to defraud him. Per the Review-Journal:
“Gave you 500k,” Kirk wrote in a May 27 text message time stamped 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.”
In October, Tsoukernik won a partial victory in the case. District Judge Linda Marie Bell cut a number of claims from the lawsuit, ruling that the money was, in fact, a gambling debt and wasn’t enforceable in civil court, according to the Review-Journal.
But Bell said Kirk could continue to pursue fraudulent inducement and unjust enrichment claims. Tsoukernik may very well have intended to use the debt’s “unenforceability” to refuse payment, the Review-Journal quoted her as saying. “If proven,” the judge said, “this could place Mr. Tsoukernik at the greatest moral fault in this matter.”
The case continues.
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