Leon Tsoukernik Claims Just Overserved, Not Pilfering $3 Million In Aria Game

Aria Casino in Las Vegas
One of the more outrageous gambling stories of the year basically just told outlets covering the story, “Hold my beer.” Literally.

High stakes Aria poker game leads to suits and countersuits

Eruopean casino owner and recreational poker player Leon Tsoukernik drew attention this summer after a high stakes poker session at Aria Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada against poker pro Matt Kirk. It all began with a financial loan conducted via text message inside the elite Ivey’s Room.

Kirk pursued the money he felt Tsoukernik owed him via legal action. In October though, the court largely sided with Tsoukernik.

Now Tsoukernik is out to get some money of his own. He both countersued Kirk and filed legal action against Aria. Tsoukernik claims he was clearly intoxicated, yet Aria staffers not only continued to serve him, but prevented him from leaving the game as well.

Timeline of events in the Tsoukernik/Kirk/Aria case

May 2017: The game takes place

The poker game took place in May, right when poker season was heating up in Las Vegas. The $300,000 Super High Roller Bowl took place at Aria, while the World Series of Poker (WSOP) was about to begin. Tsoukernik final tabled the Super High Roller Bowl, the only amateur to do so.

On May 27, Kirk and Tsoukernik played in a game where Kirk was getting the financial best of his opponent. Out of money, Tsoukernik and Kirk allegedly arranged a loan via text message totalling $3 million.

However, at the end of the night when Tsoukernik went bust again, Tsoukernik texted Kirk back that he owed him $0, as the text message contract was an unenforceable gambling debt. Kirk filed suit in July.

October 2017: Court rules in Tsoukernik’s favor

In the fall, Clark County judge Linda Marie Bell threw out eight of the ten counts Kirk filed against Tsoukernik. Apparently, the recreational player was correct. In the letter of the law, gambling debts are unenforcable.

However, as the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported, Bell did note that there is still room for Kirk to legally pursue his cause via appeal:

“Tsoukernik entered into the contract intending to use its unenforceability to refuse repayment. If proven, this could place Mr. Tsoukernik at the greatest moral fault in this matter.”

November 2017: Tsoukernik takes legal action of his own

While the World Series of Poker Europe series wrapped up at Tsoukernik’s Kings Casino in the Czech Republic, the mogul decided to both countersue Kirk and file court paperwork against Aria Casino.

Card Player broke the news of the legal development this week. The most surprising part of the turn of events was the reasoning behind Tsoukernik’s legal action. He claims the casino and Kirk effectively conspired to keep him too drunk to play effectively. More from Card Player:

Tsoukernik said that alcohol was provided to him and that it was “sufficient to visibly intoxicate and impair” him and “induce him to play for large sums.”

He claimed he was so drunk and tired that he needed Kirk and the dealer in Ivey’s Room to help him count his chips. Tsoukernik says he also “misread” his cards during the match.

His legal team said that he was suffering from “extreme fatigue” during the game that was running past 5 a.m. Tsoukernik claimed that Kirk was aware of his condition but still continued to play him.”

There are two other elements of Tsoukernik’s suit drawing attention. First, he claims he was not aware Kirk had financial backing, which impaired his ability to play to the best of his abilities.

Secondly, Tsoukernik claims the casino purposefully did not let him leave the game and return to his room.

What are the potential repercussions of this case?

There are many elements at play in this poker suit, so much so that even mainstream media outlets like the Washington Post are picking up the story.

In this mainstream coverage, the focus seems to be on the alcohol and the allegations the casino conspired to keep a fall-down drunk millionaire gambling. The heart of the matter raises important questions about the legal responsibility of casinos to cut players off when they are too drunk or too incapacitated to make smart decisions.

In the poker world, the issues of the loan and the question of backing are drawing both attention and ire.

Poker pro Phil Galfond Tweeted about the case, incredulous at Tsoukernik’s claims.

Galfond’s point has merit among other poker players, who frequently play marathon casino sessions on little to no sleep. It also subtly points to the truth of high-stakes cash games: backing is beyond commonplace.

However, if Tsoukernik continues to succeed in court, the ruling could have a huge impact on how these high stakes games operate going forward.

Photo by Oleg Anisimov / Shutterstock.com

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About

Jessica Welman has worked as a tournament reporter for the World Poker Tour, co-hosted a podcast for Poker Road, and served as the managing editor for WSOP.com. A graduate of Indiana University and USC, Welman is not only a writer but also a producer. She can be found on Twitter @jesswelman.