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A Bad Message

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Dec 06, 2017


Leon Tsoukernik After Winning 2016 EPT Prague High RollerEditor’s Note: Tsoukernik has countersued Kirk and the Aria Casino alleging he was taken advantage of.

The $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop is a prestigious tournament. It has been won by a luminary of our game, Antonio Esfandiari and two young up-and-comers at the time, Daniel Colman and Elton Tsang.

Millions of dollars have been raised for a spectacular cause by Guy Laliberte’s charity, One Drop, to bring clean water to people in Africa, India, and other places. By all accounts, it’s been a smashing success and overall a very good story for the poker world. Why then, is the World Series of Poker using it to promote a scammer?

On Nov. 4, 2017, the WSOP Twitter account announced that, after moving it to Monte Carlo in 2016, the $1 million buy-in event will come back to Las Vegas for 2018. In a reply to that tweet, they announced that Leon Tsoukernik is the first to put down his deposit for the event.

Of course, WSOP staff was at the casino he owns in Rozvadov, so it seemed to make sense on the surface. Give the owner of the casino that’s hosting you a little publicity, get a good announcement out of it yourself. That’s all well and good until you look below the surface level.

When you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that Leon Tsoukernik is accused, with some pretty damning evidence in tow, of scamming or attempting to scam two people out of millions of dollars, including the most recent winner of the Big One For One Drop, Elton Tsang.

Tsang alleges that after playing and winning in a game with Tsoukernik and two other players for two sessions, Tsoukernik told Tsang that he would pay him for the amount he owed from the first session but not the second. Tsoukernik hinted that he didn’t think the game was on the level even though he had 90 percent of the other two players’ action.

Tsang was finally paid the amount owed for the first session, something around €1.2 million and not for the second session, in which he won about €2 million. Tsoukernik has gone on record saying that Tsang is lying and taking a shot at him because he owns a casino.

There is another instance in which there is ongoing legislation involving Tsoukernik and Matt Kirk, another high-stakes regular. Kirk has sued Tsoukernik in Clark County over a gambling debt that Kirk says Tsoukernik incurred in a late-night poker game earlier this year. There is proof that this took place in the form of a series of text messages from Kirk to Tsoukernik verifying that he gave him loans of $500,000 twice and $1 million twice. Tsoukernik is alleging that those debts are not enforceable in the state of Nevada, which is true as they are between individuals and not a casino and the individual. So, Kirk may not have any legal standing in Clark County for those particular charges, but he does possibly have standing in another charge that hasn’t been dismissed by the court.

There are further stories of debts that this man refuses to pay in games that are played on credit. You may be wondering why people are continuing to play in games on credit with him. The simple fact is that it’s just too much hassle at most casinos in the world to play games that big by wiring money in and making huge cash and chip withdrawals. It’s generally much easier for the players to play and then settle up afterwards.

What I’m wondering is this. It has to be clear to the World Series of Poker that this man is untrustworthy when it comes to poker. Why, then, would they want to be associated with him in any way? He’s defrauding and scamming their customers on a regular basis and generally making the high stakes games that are frequented by these players much tougher to deal with. After all, in poker, if you can’t trust someone to pay you when you play, how can you play with that person?

It’s a problem that most of us will never have to deal with because we won’t ever reach those stakes, but it’s still an issue at the top end of the poker world and is something that the WSOP shouldn’t be ignoring.

I’m sure the contract for the World Series of Poker Europe was signed before these allegations came to light and it would have been very difficult for them to change venues on short notice. As a result, it’s certainly understandable that they wouldn’t move that event away from Tsoukernik’s casino. However, it isn’t necessary for them to make a big deal of him being the first person to put a deposit down for the tournament. It sends a bad message to others in the poker world that you can get away with not paying your debts and still be a centerpiece of the promotion of a high-stakes event.

Gavin GriffinGavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG