How Responsible Is Aria For The Kirk/Tsoukernik Poker Incident?

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The fallout from a late-night, multi-million dollar, heads-up poker match between high-stakes poker pro Matt Kirk and King’s Casino owner Leon Tsoukernik is the talk of the poker community.

In a nutshell, Kirk wiped the floor with Tsoukernik. He purportedly won several million dollars from the Czech casino owner, $3 million of which Kirk loaned to Tsoukernik.

Claiming he was impaired and the loans therefore unenforceable, Tsoukernik paid just a third of the debt. Kirk filed suit, followed by a countersuit from Tsoukernik. As a result, the situation is now a he said, he said affair.

But a new development, a blog post by Dusk Till Dawn Casino owner Rob Yong, shed some light on what might have occurred. Yong wasn’t present during the match. However, Kirk called him in early in the ordeal to assist him in reaching a settlement agreement with Tsoukernik.

For anyone unfamiliar with the specifics of the case, we have a detailed timeline of events.

Yong says Kirk and Tsoukernik both being honest

According to Yong, both men are more or less telling the truth.

Per Yong:

“The next day… Matty came over and told me that he had won $3M heads-up off Leon last night and was worried about being paid. I didn’t understand why Leon would loan money to play, he had $4M + on deposit from roulette winnings, so I asked Matty what had happened.

“Matty told me the game got ‘out of hand’ when Leon became very drunk, loaning in total $3M in Aria chips from Matty which he then lost back to Matty heads-up.

“I asked Matty why he didn’t stop playing if Leon was that drunk or just refuse to loan him any more money.

“Matty said he didn’t want to hit and run Leon and was heavily pressured by Leon to continue.

Matty told me the game finally broke with Leon owing $2M, but they talked at the Aria lift on the way to their room and went back to Ivey’s Room to continue playing with Leon borrowing a further $1M which he lost to Matty.”

If accurate, Kirk seems to substantiate Leon’s claim that he was drunk.

Parties tried to agree on a discounted settlement

Asked for his opinion, Yong suggested offering Leon a discount. “Maybe $2M cash and play heads-up for the $1M loaned after ‘the lift’ as clearly the game should never have re-started with Leon in that state.”

According to Yong, the Tsoukernik said he was fine with whatever deal Kirk wanted. The two amicably agreed to the proposed “discount.”

Then, 20 minutes later, Kirk told Yong the deal was off. He allegedly intimated that his backer (someone on the phone) demanded Leon pay the entire $3 million.

As Yong explained, Leon wasn’t thrilled:

“I went back over to our cabana and told Leon that the settlement was now off and Leon said to me ‘this is ridiculous, you get me out of bed after 2 hours sleep, I don’t remember anything but I agree to everything, I even offer to get the money brought here now, I shake hands and now you tell me this!’. Leon left Liquid.”

A few days later, Yong was back in the UK. Tsoukernik and Kirk telephoned him and told him they wanted him to be a witness to their new agreement. Tsoukernik agreed to pay Kirk just $1 million.

A baffled Yong served as the witness and the deal was done… for a second time.

And then all holy hell broke loose. Kirk told Yong he only agreed to the deal because he was so irate with Tsoukernik. This led to Kirk filing his lawsuit. Tsoukernik followed with a countersuit that also included Aria. He alleges the casino staff over-served him and prevented him from leaving the game in some unspecified way.

Ignore the shiny objects

There’s a lot of flotsam and jetsam in this story.

  • Kirk reneging on the original settlement agreement.
  • The edict of gamblers and paying their debts.
  • A second accusation of Tsoukernik welching on poker debts.
  • Tsoukernik claiming he was drunk after the fact.
  • Text message confirmations that Kirk was loaning Tsoukernik money.
  • The dangers of loaning people large sums of money.

Put all that to the side. The story hinges on one thing: How impaired was Tsoukernik when he agreed to the loans?

  • Tsoukernik claims he was so drunk he was incapable of counting his chips.
  • According to Yong, observers saw Tsoukernik muck a winning hand.
  • From the sound of Kirk’s own explanation of events to Yong, Tsoukernik was extremely drunk.

By all accounts, Tsoukernik wasn’t in any kind of shape to agree to multi-million dollar loans. The other parts of this story are just a bright shiny objects meant to distract.

A quick primer on contract law 

If you’ve ever wondered why you need to get certain documents notarized, or why there is a spot for a witness to sign on contracts, it’s to make sure each party understands what the agreement entails. It is also to ensure that they’re in a proper state of mind to make an important decision.

Here’s a simple explanation of the legality of contracts entered into by intoxicated people from Study.com:

When an intoxicated person enters into a contract, the contract can either be enforceable, meaning held to the fullest extent of the law, or voidable by the intoxicated person. The court will look at two criteria that need to be present in order to make the contract voidable:

1. The intoxication was severe enough that the person entering into the contract was incapacitated.

2. The other party was aware of the intoxication at the time.

Essentially, gambling debts are unenforceable in Nevada , which is why eight of Kirk’s ten claims have already been dismissed .Moreover, if Tsoukernik was as drunk as he seemed, the text message acknowledgements sent by Tsoukernik to Kirk aren’t worth the virtual paper they’re written on.

What role did (or didn’t) Aria play?

Another area of interest is the role Aria and its employees played in the events. In his lawsuit, Tsoukernik is crying foul.

From his lawsuit:

“Several individuals in the Ivey Room recognised Tsoukernik’s intoxication and attempted to help him leave the Ivey Room, but Aria and/or its agents, employees or representatives prohibited these individuals from assisting Tsoukernik.”

Casinos are highly regulated. They also have the dual responsibility of both gaming and liquor licenses. That is something Tsoukernik alluded to in a statement released after he filed suit against Kirk and Aria.

“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.”

One of the arguments I’ve heard is Tsoukernik is an adult. As such, he should know better than to get drunk and gamble.

That’s a perfectly reasonable take. However, it ignores the casinos responsibility as a licensed gaming entity and as the holder of liquor license to:

  1. Not let gamblers get to the point where they’re falling down drunk.
  2. Protect drunk patrons from being exploited.

Casinos have a duty to protect customers

In these situations, a casino is very much like a bar. They need to stop serving alcohol to obviously drunk people. They also need to make sure these people make it home or to their room without being preyed upon.

The casino is a safe, regulated place to gamble. They have a duty to protect their customers.

That may entail calling them a taxi and helping them into it, or having security help the person back to their room.

Overserving or allowing an inebriated person to gamble are both derelictions of the casino’s duty, and clear violation of Nevada’s casino statute.

Nevada’s gaming law states that casinos can’t allow people who are visibly intoxicated to participate in gaming activity.

And in this case, that’s the only thing that really matters.

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Steve Ruddock

About

Steve Ruddock is an avid poker player and a veteran member of the gaming media. His primary focus is on the regulated US online casino and poker markets. He writes for numerous online and print publications, including OnlinePokerReport.com, USPoker.com, and USA Today.

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