Sexton's Corner, Vol.46:
Mike Sexton: Poker Visionary, Part 4
"Television Pioneer"
I said in the beginning, television and Internet poker were two of the biggest components of the poker boom. With Internet poker ready to explode
in 2003, the first WPT shows airing in January of 2003, and a player with a very catchy name, Chris Moneymaker, set to win the 2003 WSOP
Main Event, all of the ingredients were in position to explode into poker's recent boom period.

On television, Mike has become an icon over the last six seasons with the WPT, and to his credit, is still considered to be one of the nicest guys in
the industry. His creative innovations for made him a pioneer for Internet poker as well. I've mentioned earlier that we would look
into Mike's contributions to the success of, and how it led to its parent company Party Gaming going public on the London Stock
Exchange for eight billion dollars. Stay tuned for the final part of Mike's story as poker's visionary in Part 5 next week.

The Cab is Parked,

Tom Sexton
elevision in the poker world has been the driving force behind poker's popularity. Today there
are so many TV shows featuring poker, that if you record them all on your DVRs each week,
you'll run out of room! The expansion and growth of these shows has been stunning. Equally
as stunning is the one TV show in America that has been on the longest, that has turned into
the pro's poker tour. Most people know it was this show that was the first to use the small cameras in a
big way, while filming the show with a live audience that truly launched the poker boom by 2003.
I am,of course referring to the World Poker Tour, simply known as the WPT.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to the creator of the  WPT, Steve Lipscomb, and to Lyle Berman, who
provided the financing. They took a huge gamble and it paid off for all of us who love poker! Before I
elaborate on the role Mike Sexton played in helping the WPT come to life, special mention needs to go
to someone outside the WPT, a person who actually survived the Nazi War camps of Germany in 1942,
and much later won a WSOP Seven Card Stud bracelet at Binion's Horseshoe in 1996. If that wasn't
enough, he went on to file 100 patents on various inventions, created the Super Stars of Poker, and was
granted patent #5,451,054 in 1995 from the US Patent and Trade Office, for the invention of poker's
hole-card camera, which, buried in the rail, brought access to a player's holdings! His name is Henry
Orenstein, who, now in his eighties, is still very much active in the poker world.
(Above) Mike Sexton and Bobby Baldwin
are pictured together on opening night of
the first WPT show ever aired on Travel
Channel.  Bobby threw a great party!
Nobody took notice of Orenstein's poker invention for a couple of years, until a new TV show in
England, called Late Night Poker, was filmed from 1999 to 2002. This show had no live audience, but
for the first time, players' hole cards could be seen, as seven players were seated per show, with the
winners of the first seven episodes advancing to the semifinals. All seven runner-ups would play for the
eight and last seat for the Late Night Poker finals. Henry's special table with his TV cam invention
deserves recognition, as he certainly was a pioneer in television's role in poker!
It is also fair to point out that the World Poker Tour took a different path in
televising the player's hole cards with small lipstick tubes with a tiny camera inside,
each attached on top of the table in front of each player. It was rumored that these
small little cameras were a spinoff from the OJ Simpson trial, where some in the
media were trying to cover the restaurant where Ron Goldman had worked. The
restaurant didn't want all the media commotion, so the small lapel cameras were
attached to a shirt or suit for filming purposes. Not until the WPT decided to expand
the TV coverage with cameras embedded into the table a few seasons into the show
did they have to litigate with Henry Orenstein's original invention, and a settlement
was agreed to by both parties, for the good of the game.

There certainly is enough credit to go around, as to the evolution of television
coverage and poker. One fact is abundantly clear: Until the audience had a way to
follow the play seeing the hole cards, watching poker was like watching grass grow!
ESPN for many years used to film the WSOP, but later showed it unannounced five
or six months later at 3:00 AM, with very little marketing or fanfare. It wasn't until
Travel Channel won the bid for the WPT versus ESPN that a major change
happened for televised poker. Travel Channel could offer Steve and Lyle real estate,
between Steve Lipscomb and Mike Sexton and how the WPT came to life. One needs to go back to the 2001 TOC, where Steve was an
independent filmmaker hired to film the event. I remember Steve holding the camera, getting Mike's closing comments about the tournament. Brian
Saltus had just put on an amazing show, defeating poker legends TJ Cloutier, Scotty Nguyen, and "Miami" John Cernuto at the final table, stunning the
whole audience! Afterwards, Brian gave an emotional speech about putting life and poker in proper perspective; you could have heard a pin drop. As
it turned out, Brian, in his impromptu speech after his victory, told the audience he only had a few months to live. He had very advanced cancer, along
with other problems, and as the audience intently listened there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Steve filmed Mike on camera afterwards, asking him to summarize the 2001 TOC
with his closing thoughts. This moment would be the last time Mike would be filmed
on camera for his beloved dream, the Tournament of Champions he had created. The
players and audience had already left the arena. Once Steve was done filming Mike's
closing remarks, Steve put the camera down and walked over to me and said, "Tom,
your brother is like some kind of poker god on that microphone. He can talk about
poker like nobody's business, with no notes or anything. It's amazing… I can't believe
how good he is. He is an absolute natural!"

Besides Mike's commentary skills, Steve Lipscomb had paid particular attention to
the movie like set Mike had created setting up the TOC finals. All of us are products
of our experiences in life, and Steve learned a lot watching Mike run the TOC. The
subliminal input Steve learned covering the 2001 TOC, in my opinion, helped him
create the unique movie-like set for the WPT. To his credit, Steve took it to new
heights, wowing the whole poker world. The final table was spectacular, and the
WPT would be the first venue in America to present poker every week, with
cameras focused on the hole cards.

The first WPT show aired in January of 2003, with a spectacular final-table lineup of
Gus Hansen, Scotty Nguyen, John Juanda, Freddy Deeb, John Hennigan, and Chris
Bigler. Gus Hansen won the title, and America fell in love with poker as presented by
the WPT on Travel Channel.
The first WPT show aired in January of 2003, with a spectacular final-table lineup of
Gus Hansen, Scotty Nguyen, John Juanda, Freddy Deeb, John Hennigan, and Chris
Bigler. Gus Hansen won the title, and America fell in love with poker as presented by
the WPT on Travel Channel. A writer for Poker Digest, Lee Munzer, pointed out
what Steve Lipscomb told him when this first WPT event was filmed at the Bellagio:
"I'm standing here in front of a dream I had years ago.

Thanks to Lyle, we're actually here and it is bigger, better, and more exciting than
I ever imagined it to be. The mission statement of the WPT is to make poker as
exciting to the audience as it is to the players by establishing new benchmarks in
poker programming, including incredible camera work which will reveal the player's
hole cards, a state-of-the-art 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'–type set, beautiful
hostesses and professional analysis from WPT commentator Mike Sexton."  Mike
had not only been a visionary who influenced Steve a great deal with his TOC and
Party Poker Million projects, but ended up being the "Voice of Poker" as a
commentator for the WPT.
Mike was paired with an actor and former professional tennis player, Vince Van
Patten, who did more of the color commentating. Mike's job was to analyze the play,
and do it in a way that it would be easy to understand for the general audience. The
commentating duo was a grand slam home run for the show, and they became
household names, still going strong with Season VII ready to be filmed in 2008!
Those first three seasons, Steve made another great decision to hire Shana Hiatt as
To emphasize the importance that Mike Sexton played in Steve Lipscomb's life, consider the day Mike got that phone call from Steve about being
his lead commentator on his new show, the WPT. The conversation went something like this: "Mike, I've got good news and bad news. The good
news is I want you to be my lead commentator on my new show called the World Poker Tour. The bad news is you won't be able to play in the
events, as we'll need consistency in the commentator booth." Mike decided to accept the challenge, when Steve asked him another question: "I've
got a good business plan, but I'm missing between three to five million dollars to implement it. Do you know anyone in the poker world that loves
poker, has that kind of money, and believes there is an audience out there like I do waiting to see poker with the hole cards exposed for the audience
to follow?" Mike answered, "Well, I can think of two guys in the poker world that might be able to do it. One is the owner of the LA Lakers, Jerry
Buss. He loves poker and has a lot of money, but is probably too tied down with NBA regulations to really get involved in this. The other person is
Lyle Berman, who plays high-stakes poker with Chip and Doyle, and is a super successful businessman. I would recommend you show your
business plan to him. I'm a friend of his, and will be happy to introduce you to him. He has a place here in town, and I'll be glad introduce you."
That first connection between Steve and Lyle was arranged by
Mike. Lyle liked Steve's plan, but had some questions about
securing locations for the first season. Mike suggested bringing
Linda Johnson to the next meeting, as she had major contacts with
the biggest casinos as publisher of Card Player Magazine. Lyle
decided to put Linda and Mike on the clock, to see if they could
line up the 12 charter members for Steve. Lyle told Steve, "If Mike
and Linda can open the doors for you, Steve, that would be your
best bet. Nobody knows you, but they all know Mike and Linda.
They can get the doors opened for you, so you'll be welcome with
open arms. If we get the commitments from the sites that will hold
the events, I'll go ahead and get involved in this and provide the
financing." Linda and Mike did a great job getting the first 12
locations interested in hearing Steve make his case. The rest is
(Above) Henry Orenstein shows his cute dog how to see the
hole cards.  Later in life, after surviving the Nazi concentra-
tion camps in 1942, Henry invented over 100 inventions,
including a patent on the first TV cameras underneath the poker
table, first used on
Late Night Poker in England.
meaning every Wednesday night across America would be poker night at 9:00 PM in every time zone.
Travel Channel could also offer a two-hour format per episode, while ESPN could only offer one hour.
Travel Channel could repeat the two-hour show every Wednesday night after a one-hour show in
between, and on Saturday each weekly episode would be repeated on Travel Channel. Steve's vision of
how he wanted to do the show with a two-hour format and Travel Channel were a natural fit! The ratings
for the popular new WPT on Travel Channel were enormous, and those little TV cameras used by the
WPT changed everything for televised poker in America. The quality of each show's production was
simply off the chart and captured the imagination of the whole industry. ESPN took a great deal of notice,
and decided to re-evaluate their whole approach to televising poker. With their rights to cover the
WSOP, the rest was history. Players and fans were both winners, as TV coverage with hole-card
cameras made players into stars and satisfied audiences. The historical importance of the WPT and its
contribution to the growth of televised poker is a fact, so let's go back in time and look at the connection
(Above) The WPT used small lipstick
cameras above the table.  This historical
picture was taken in the 1st show.
(Above) Steve Lipscomb films Mike Sexton's closing remarks
in the final TOC held at The Orleans in Las Vegas, Nevada in
2001.  The positive impression Mike Sexton made on Steve
handeling the camera, landed Mike his key role on television as
The Voice of Poker for the WPT!  The first WPT show aired
in January, 2003.
(Front row Lt to Rt)  John Hennigan, John Juanda, Scotty
Nguyen, Freddy Deeb, Chris Bigler, and Gus Hansen.  In
back are Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patton, the new WPT
commentators, who successfully set the bar as the colorful and
dynamic team that led the way for the WPT!
the female hostess. What a great team Mike, Vince, and Shana made in front of the
cameras for the WPT! Sometimes when any of us come out of a movie that is
fabulous, we say "The casting for that movie was unbelievable! I can't imagine
anyone else playing those key roles." The poker world was fortunate to have Mike,
Vince, and Shana in their WPT roles right out of the gate. Add this factor to the
creative vision Steve had in the editing and quality production of the show, where the
TV audience got to feel like they were all right there at the final table, during each
episode… the poker industry was the big winner!
(RIGHT) Gus Hansen went into the history books as the first WPT
Champion, held January, 2003.  Mike interviews Gus on television after his
victory, and has done so every year with many new millionaires who have
won prestigious WPT titles over the past six seasons.  As Mike has said
many times, "May your cards be live and your pots be monsters!"   
(ABOVE LEFT)  Mike, Shana, and Vince became household names as the announcers for the World Poker Tour.  The poker world was fortunate
to have these three shining stars on the front lines of the TV cameras!
ABOVE RIGHT) This photo was taken 10 minutes before the first WPT was ever filmed at the Bellagio.  Lyle Berman is surveying the movie-like
set where all the action was about to take place.  Next to Lyle is the creator of the WPT, Steve Lipscomb, who was about to do his magic behind
the scenes, directing poker's most extravagant TV production ever undertaken!
This was Steve Lipscomb's A -Team that literally changed poker forever!
(ABOVE LEFT to RIGHT) Robyn Moder, Steve Lipscomb, Shana Hiatt,
Mike Sexton, Audrey Kania, and Vince Van Patton.  As important as Shana,
Mike and Vince were in front of the cameras, Robyn and Audrey were always
Steve's secret weapons behind the scenes for the WPT!
Pioneers in the industry such as Steve, Lyle, Mike, and Linda
helped poker enter into a new age with the formation and success
of the World Poker Tour. Steve deserves a lot of credit for putting
the right people in the right place, as the architect of his dream,
selecting a tremendous staff that changed poker forever!
AUTHORS NOTE; This article is about Mike Sexton as a true television pioneer, but also
includes so many contributions made by others along the way.  The evolution of television in the
poker world has been a phenominal story, and my brother is proud he played a role from the
beginning right up to today.

(LEFT)  Mike is pictured with one of the true living legends in the gambling and poker world,
Mr. Jack Binion.  Mike says, "There is no one person more revered today for his contributions
to the poker world than Jack Binion."  Jack was one of the original pioneers with his Dad,
Benny Binion. The first WSOP in 1970 came along, and it wasn't long before it was on
television on CBS in 1978, when Bobby Baldwin won the title.  Later ESPN came along.  
Although the little TV cameras hadn't come along yet, thus springing poker into the
stratosphere......  We all owe Jack Binion a big thank you for all he has done!
Tom Sexton is the featured columnist on, which has become one of poker's most popular and unique online web sites
around.  It offers poker's most colorful stories with amazing photos and film clips to enjoy, with easy navigational capabilities.  A new story appears
every Monday for the readers to look forward to.  Check out the multiple home pages, the
Archives, the Las Vegas Poker Rooms,
Poker's Trivia pages, and the Poker Store, where unique poker products are available for purchase.  Tom was the official WSOP photographer
for Binion's Horseshoe from 1999 thru 2002, and is well known in the poker world for his world class artistic collages of poker's biggest stars with
Poker Masterpieces!  Tom was an Ohio High School State All-Around gymnastic's champion as well as the 1st NCAA All-American and Big Eight
gymnastic's champion in history at the University of Oklahoma.  He went on to teach High School and coached the gymnastic's team to several State
Championships.  His brother, Mike Sexton, found TV fame as host for the
World Poker Tour, now entering it's seventh remarkable season, and
was voted by his peers as Poker's Ambassador for his contributions to the industry.  Tom welcomes your thoughts and comments about any of his
articles.  His email is: