Dan Bilzerian is a social-media celebrity for his frequent postings documenting a lifestyle of yachts, sports cars and nightclubs, but he says one question follows him: Where did his money come from?

He isn’t eager to clear up the mystery. In an interview at his Hollywood Hills, Calif., home, the 33-year-old says he is often asked about the original source of his money because his father, Paul Bilzerian, earned “hundreds of millions” as a corporate raider and has worked for decades to protect his assets from a Securities and Exchange Commission judgment.

The younger Mr. Bilzerian says he received money from his father in a trust but declines to say how much or what role it had in kick-starting his career, gambling.

That career has been lucrative, by his account: He says he earned $50 million playing poker in a recent stretch of 12 or 14 months.

Mr. Bilzerian was little known in 2007 when he showed up in a Lake Tahoe, Nev., casino carrying a suitcase stuffed with cash and looking for a game, recalls Todd Witteles, a Las Vegas-based poker professional. Other players dubbed him “suitcase guy.” Mr. Bilzerian says that description of his arrival “sounds right.”

He says he has since graduated to ultra-high-stakes, private games, often with billionaires, that routinely include seven-figure bets.

“People are going to believe what they want to believe,” Mr. Bilzerian says.

He hasn’t always been on top. He failed to finish Navy SEAL training. As a poker player in college, he says, he once was so broke he was forced to take out a loan on his car—even had to “sell three of my guns.”

Guns like this one are casually displayed throughout Dan Bilzerian's house in the Hollywood Hills.
Guns like this one are casually displayed throughout Dan Bilzerian’s house in the Hollywood Hills. DAVID WALTER BANKS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Many of his escapades are bawdy. In an April video that went viral, Mr. Bilzerian was seen throwing a naked porn actress off the roof of his home and into a pool, in a photo shoot for Hustler magazine. She was injured and threatened to sue, bringing a sarcastic reply from a lawyer for Mr. Bilzerian.

Actor and director Nick Cassavetes, a poker buddy, says, “He is a guy that lives in a constant state of stimulus, and that seems to be attractive to people.” He calls Mr. Bilzerian “refreshing” for being “unapologetic about the way he goes about his business.” Mr. Cassavetes gave Mr. Bilzerian a cameo in a recent film, “The Other Woman.”

As Paul Bilzerian’s long fight with the U.S. government winds down, the former raider frets that adversaries might to try to get at him by charging Dan with something.

Dan Bilzerian says an Internal Revenue Service investigator has been making inquiries about his income. The IRS declines to comment.

“I’ve got a…target on my back the size of the state of California,” he says, adding that he has nothing to hide. “That’s the beauty of being above board—you can brag about your winnings.”

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