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Who is Cary Katz and How Did He Become a Billionaire?

cary katz pokergo

Cary Katz is a successful businessman, high-stakes tournament player, and one of poker’s most important figures.

Known to some as ‘El Jefe’, Katz has long since surpassed the title of “businessman who plays poker” based on his results. He currently has $17 million in career tournament earnings and frequently makes final tables in high roller events around the world.

The current state of televised poker coverage and the US high roller tournament scene has much to do with the 49-year-old Katz. He’s the founder of Poker Central/PokerGO and the creator of the ‘Triple Crown’ of US high roller events, which include the Super High Roller Bowl, Poker Masters and US Poker Open.

Let’s take a look at Cary Katz’ path to becoming one of the most influential people in poker.

How did Cary Katz make his money?

Katz founded the College Loan Corp. in 1999 and the company quickly found success as one of the leading issuers of student loans in the US. The company was the seventh-largest student loan company by volume in the nation at its peak in the 2000s.

College Loan Corp. issued more than $10 billion in loans in 2008, but by 2010 changing laws in the US mandated that student loans could only be directly issued by the federal government. This effectively shut down the ability to issue new loans for companies like College Loan Corp.

His business success also allowed him to build a massive bankroll for one of his favorite hobbies. Katz’ first recorded poker tournament cash came in a $10k event in Las Vegas in 2004, and throughout the 2000s and early 2010s cashed in a number of mid-stakes events and racked up a string of five-figure scores.

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Cary Katz ventures into poker

Katz earned his first recorded tournament win in 2010, taking down a $1k No Limit Hold’em event at the Five Star World Poker Classic for $25,500. Within a decade, that $25k would represent a fraction of a buy-in for many of the high-roller tournaments Katz is playing.

For the last decade Katz has regularly played events at the World Series of Poker, logging his first Main Event cash with a 159th place finish in 2009 for $40,288. That was Katz’ largest cash up to that point, and it was around that time that he started putting more time into playing poker.

From 2009-2012 Katz began appearing in a number of mid-to-high stakes tournaments in Las Vegas, churning out consistent five-figure cashes and posting his biggest result to date at the 2011 WSOP. Katz finished 12th in the $5k NL Hold’em event for $51,713, and followed up in 2012 with another year of consistent, frequent cashes on the Las Vegas tournament scene, including four wins.

The price of poker is going up

‘El Jefe’ has put together an impressive poker resume over the past five years, with many six- and seven-figure cashes.

The first of these big results came at the 2013 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) Super High Roller. The $100k buy-in PCA Super High Roller marked a huge jump in stakes for Katz, but in a preview of what was to come in his poker career, Katz finished 4th and took home $543,800 (more than 10x his previous best cash).

He followed up with another six-figure score at the 2013 WSOP, finishing 2nd in a $5k Pot-Limit Omaha event for $138,794. Katz kept the high-stakes success rolling to begin 2014, taking down a pair of $25k High Roller tournaments at the Bellagio in February to add two more six-figure cashes to his resume.

The 2014 Big One for One Drop brought Katz his first seven-figure payday, as he finished just inside the money bubble for $1,306,667. The 8th place finish represented a min-cash in the $1 million buy-in tournament, but still netted more than $300k in profit for Katz against the world’s toughest competition.

Now a high-stakes poker fixture, Katz began to go to work on a business idea aimed to revolutionize the presentation of poker-related content.

Cary Katz launches Poker Central and then PokerGo

In 2015 Katz launched Poker Central along with a group of investors that included big-name poker players Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, and Antonio Esfandiari.

In its original form, Poker Central was the first ever 24-hour-a-day poker channel, designed as a cable television network completely devoted to poker-related content. At the time of its launch, Poker Central’s content included a round-the-clock lineup of previously-recorded tournament coverage, classic programs from the 2000s vault like Face the Ace, and original programming like Pokerography and Stories from the Felt.

This business model didn’t last long, however, and in December 2016, 14 months after its launch, Poker Central was scrapped. The poker-centric platform wasn’t going away though, as plans were announced to transition Poker Central into a paid subscription service.

The new service, renamed PokerGO, featured on-demand streaming programming, available for consumption in browser and mobile app form. The $10-a-month service drew comparisons to Netflix, and this new “Netflix of Poker” now offered access to a wide variety of poker programming.

As of 2019 PokerGO gives you on-demand access to a television library that includes all episodes of classic shows like the original runs of Poker After Dark and Face The Ace, as well as ESPN’s WSOP Main Event coverage from 2011 to present. PokerGO also showcases original programming that includes a new run of Poker After Dark episodes, the Friday Night Poker cash game series, and Dolly’s Game, a high-stakes cash game featuring Doyle Brunson and a lineup of poker legends playing a mixed-game format.

PokerGO also offers live coverage of World Poker Tour final tables, as well as WSOP coverage of events not shown on ESPN, giving subscribers a chance to check out an expanded lineup of events like the $10k Heads-Up Championship and $100k High Roller.

Along with PokerGO, Katz created a new series of high roller tournaments for the service that include the “high roller triple crown” of the Super High Roller Bowl, US Poker Open and Poker Masters.

These events, along with the new run of Poker After Dark and Friday Night Poker, emanate from the PokerGO Studio at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. This state-of-the-art television studio is equipped with nine poker tables and room for 100 spectators, and gives the presentation of PokerGO’s in-studio games a slick look in a unique, intimate setting.

Cary Katz competes with high roller pros

With the advent of the “high-roller triple crown”, Cary Katz has even more opportunities to play the game he seems to love at nosebleed stakes. The Super High Roller Bowl (a $300k buy-in) has quickly become one of the most prestigious events on the high-roller circuit.

The US Poker Open and Poker Masters both operate as a series of high buy-in tournaments that award a championship to the winner of the series as a whole. Katz is omnipresent, both at and away from the table, at these events.

Since creating the Poker Central concept, Katz has become an even bigger fixture on the high stakes tournament scene, and as of 2019 sits at 28th place on the all-time tournament money list with $17,372,159 in earnings.

Katz had a breakout year in 2016, taking in $5,295,983 in earnings and logging the biggest score of his career with a 5th place finish and $1,929,203 payday at the Monte-Carlo One Drop Extravaganza. He posted four wins and 10 six-figure or better cashes, ending the year with a win in the $100k Aria Super High Roller 14 and a $733,000 prize.

Katz has cashed for seven figures four times, including a win at the PCA 2018 $100k Super High Roller for a $1,492,340 prize. He took home another $5,166,250 in total tournament cashes for 2018.

What does the future hold for PokerGo?

Cary Katz filed a lawsuit against Conservative Review TV, in April 2018 for $20 million. Katz is a part owner of CRTV, which is a conservative-facing media outlet and the parent company of Poker Central.

In this bizarre lawsuit against his own company, Katz alleges that CRTV borrowed $20 million from him over a year-and-a-half period and has stated it will be unable to pay it back. When news of the lawsuit broke last year, poker fans on the Two Plus Two Forums were left wondering what impact this legal action would have on the future of PokerGO.

For now though, PokerGO and Katz are firmly entrenched as fixtures of the industry, and Katz shows no signs of slowing down on or off the felt.

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About the Author

Geoffrey Fisk

Freelance writer and poker player based in San Diego, California.

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