If there’s one thing top-level sports stars have never been able to enjoy, its anonymity. Even before televisions were a mainstay in peoples’ households, the best of the best were still stopped in the street. The world’s first great sports icon, Babe Ruth, would be surrounded on street corners throughout New York City during the Twenties and Thirties and it is a trend that has continued with increasing fervour as the decades have rolled on. With the internet increasing the immediacy of our news digestion, and mediums such as Twitter and Instagram allowing us to communicate directly with our favourite (or least favourite) stars, it is no surprise that people from all walks of life are being thrust into the public eye.
A case in point is surely Dan Ballerina. Frequenters of social media will be no stranger to his over-the-top antics, but who is he? Well, it would appear that Dan Ballerina is the first professional casino player to achieve comprehensive exposure from a number of mainstream media channels. He projects himself as a strange amalgamation – on one hand, he’s living the rock star lifestyle but on the other he has the be-the-best mentality of a sports star. It’s a combination that can only be born out of one thing, and that’s high-stakes poker playing.
While Bilzerian is in the public eye for his image – constantly surrounded by scantily-clad women, driving huge trucks and shooting guns – as much as his skills as a poker player, it signals something of a sea change in our attitudes towards professional gamblers. As footballers’ salaries continue to soar into the financial stratosphere, the huge displays of wealth that are part and parcel of top-level gambling are no longer that astonishing. This, combined with televised poker becoming ever popular with late-night viewers, has seen players like Bilzerian see their brand develop at unprecedented rates.
The extravagance of his losses has only fuelled speculation about the full amount of his gains. Across two games earlier in the year, he’s said to have lost over $5million with little signs of care or regret. Instead, he takes to social media to brag to those sitting at home or work about how much of an amazing life he leads. He fits in perfectly to a world of materialism that has allowed him to transcend professional gambling and enter the world of the celebrity.
The more exposure he gets, however, the more exposure poker gets too. Small time players have seen his lifestyle, and now everyone wants a slice. With online poker schools the perfect way to hone, train and refine skills, what once was seen as a hobby reserved for the rich is now very much a game for the people. Whatever you think of Dan Bilzerian, one thing is for sure. He is the first of a new generation of casino players, and it is something we can’t see losing momentum anytime soon.