The details of what Dan Bilzerian call his so-called life may read more like an adaptation of Tony Stark’s (Ironman) lifestyle and straight out of Marvel comics—billionaire, playboy and (sometimes) philanthropist that has a propensity for everything crazy and flashy.
Growing up in an 11-room mansion in Tampa, Florida, Bilzerian got an early taste of what being wealthy is all about. Their abode is half the size of the Buckingham Palace and came with its own indoor basketball court, lake-front views, a batting cage, a swimming pool with slides, and an “imported volcanic rock mountain”. His dad, a descendant of the survivors of the Armenian genocide, owned a robotics company and a horde of other investments. Meanwhile pretty much everyone in his family, including his Mom and brother, possess a near-genius IQ level. But amidst all these material things, Dan Bilzerian, however, conceded to having a stressful and lonely childhood.
“I guess I did not get much attention when I was still a kid, that’s probably why I’m such a flashy lunatic”
His father was a super successful Wall Street corporate raider who apparently set up large trust funds for both his sons. The elder Bilzerian then was imprisoned for nine counts of tax and stock fraud. This apparently took a toll with Dan Bilzerian as he was always getting ridiculed by his classmates thus sparking bouts of rebellion during his younger years and him being expelled from his schools.
Not quite knowing what to make of himself, Dan Bilzerian enlisted in the US Navy and began training for the Navy Seals. The rigorous training drills proved to be overwhelming for the young Bilzerian who was dropped from the SEAL program after incurring a safety protocol violation at the shooting range.
Dan Bilzerian never denied the fact that there are trust funds under his name. Truth be told, when he was still in SEAL training, the government pressured him into coughing up a third of his trust fund in order to get his father out of prison—an act of generosity that did not sit well with Dan Bilzerian. “My father would not talk to me for weeks after that” he later said in an interview.
That was about the time when all his gambling stints began.
Dan Bilzerian claimed that his first brush with poker was when he was at the University of Florida studying business and criminology—right after he dropped out from the Navy. His education apparently was “funded” by a $6,000 monthly “disability stipend as a veteran” which he qualified for due to his injuries sustained and honorable dismissal at the program.
By his second year, he went broke and was forced to sell some of his personal assets, particularly his gun collection. With fresh money in the bank, he returned to playing poker with an intensified focus. When asked about his losses, Bilzerian commented that “you really have to go broke to respect money and I had that style where I can win big if I had self-control”.
Bilzerian claimed that he was able to turn the $750 he had left from his liquidated assets into a whopping $10,000. Afterward, he purchased a one-way ticket to Vegas and turned that amount into $187,000. With this new bankroll, he went back to the university, more determined to finish his degree while continuously “honing” his poker skills in cash games after classes.
He never finished his degree. He was winning $90,000 in a week and decided to call it quits with his schooling.
Dan Bilzerian was 27 years old when he caught the attention of the people within the high-stakes poker circle. Todd “Dandruff” Witteles, a well-known poker player described his first time playing with Bilzerian back in 2007 and said that “he’s not playing wild at all”. At that time, Bilzerian had billeted himself in a big and expensive hotel room with a suitcase filled with a hundred thousand dollars in used bank notes.
Witteles recalled the game as being “nitty gritty”, meaning no one is betting that much. He thinks that Bilzerian is probably mad because people only see him as the rich fish (a pretty bad player) that they can gain money from.
Dan Bilzerian’s first attempt to win a big poker tournament was just as disappointing. He entered along with his brother Adam, and ended up in 180th place with a prize money of $36,000—the champion went home with $8.5 million. “I wanted to kill myself” expressed Bilzerian in dismay when recalling the event. However, ESPN was able to take note of his charisma and provided him with lots of on-screen time thereby enabling him to land a sponsorship deal with the now-defunct Victory Poker, an online cardroom. That deal went on to be the start of Bilzerian’s first public and outrageous stunts. He once bet $400,000 on a drag race with his lawyer. He also swam through a lake filled alligators at midnight due to a bet and fired a machine gun at an RV at the desert until it burst into flames. He also reported having refused an offer of $100,000 from one the founders of Facebook for him to shave off his precious beard.
Bilzerian became notorious for playing “loose aggressive” in private cash games which roughly translates to betting big and betting often, much to the chagrin of his fellow wealthy players. In one moment of unscrupulous madness, Bilzerian agreed to a coin toss worth $2.3 million in casino chips…He lost.
Before long, Dan Bilzerian gradually moved from playing high-stakes poker to “nosebleed stakes” at games that are hosted at his LA home with an array of billionaire and celebrity friends in the likes of Spiderman actor Tobey Maguire, action star Mark Wahlberg, Ben Affleck, and film director Nick Cassavetes.
Dan Bilzerian, however, is not pretending to be one of the world’s most talented poker players. He simply argues that he’s got access to the most lucrative private cash games on the planet. A lot of people believe that Bilzerian made his own poker fortune even before his trust funds become accessible to him. Others counter that it’s quite the opposite—that Bilzerian can only afford to take part in nosebleed stakes mainly because of his father’s assets offshore and that other players don’t just regard him as the big fish (bad player) but see him instead as the “ultimate whale” or the player with a seemingly unlimited bankroll.
When he was interviewed by radio host Howard Stein back in 2014, Bilzerian declared that he’s worth around $100 million– $50 million of which came from his poker winnings in the previous year. Very few are convinced about the accuracy of those figures, however.
What is undeniable though was the fact that Dan Bilzerian has displayed a lot of his own savvy in developing into an entirely new kind of celebrity that he is now. And whatever the case may be, he continues to be one of the most fascinating and entertaining personas in today’s poker world.