Great Player; Poker Visionary; WPT TV Commentator; & Poker's 1st Ambassador.
There are many components that have contributed to the Poker Boom, and two of the biggest are
TV coverage and online poker. Mike truely is like our quarterback or point guard in both of these
important arenas. He was the right person in the right place for all of us. In spite of his enormous
success, he is very modest and down to earth with everyone, whether it is a low limit player or a
major star from Hollywood.
am very proud of the contributions my brother, Mike Sexton, has made to the poker world.
The original (TOC), that Mike founded and created brought a tremendous amount of class to the poker world, and ended up being Mike’s launching
pad into his own career! When Mike hosted the 1999, 2000, and 2001 TOC wearing his tuxedo while interviewing the players on camera, all the
players took notice that this wasn’t just a poker tournament; it was a first-class happening showcasing where the poker world would be going in the
future. Lights, cameras, and action surrounded the event, with a special arena set up to showcase the final table featuring pageantry, flags, boom
camera, a worldwide internet broadcast booth, a special International Team Award, the Champion’s Lounge complete with 30 beautiful collages
featuring the great players, and sponsorship booths with TOC clothing, hats, jackets shirts, and miscellaneous TOC mementos for sale. Participants
were mesmerized as players marched into the arena with their country flags.
Next everyone watched a special film showing pictures of the world’s top players while
“We Are The Champions” by Queen played in the background. The original TOC wowed the entire poker world, and made each participant proud to
be a poker player!
Mike’s vision was unreal back in those early days before the poker boom hit us in 2003. Mike hired an independent film crew to televise the TOC
events each of the three years. By the third year, the man holding the camera for Mike’s closing thoughts was an unknown guy named Steve
Lipscomb. I remember all the players and fans had left the arena as Steve recored Mike’s final thoughts in 2001. When Mike finished, Steve put the
camera down and walked over to me and said, “Your brother Mike, is like a poker god on that microphone. He is an absolute natural, with no notes
or script………….I can’t believe it! The original TOC served as Mike’s audition to be both the TV announcer for the World Poker Tour and the
expert domain host for Party Poker.
It was Steve Lipscomb who created the WPT with the movie set like final table. In my opinion many of the classy ideas that were subconsciously
learned from his experiences in Mike’s original TOC played a major impact role in the WPT development. The first person Steve called up was Mike
Sexton, remembering what an absolute natural he was on the microphone during the TOC. Steve’s choice of an expert poker announcer that would be
able to project to both the poker world and general public would be a key decision. His answer added up to Mike Sexton! A Travel Channel
executive once told me how they rate the TV show’s various people and components during each taping of the WPT, He said, “Your brother is simply
off the chart, with spectacular results!” Today, Mike is in his 6th season as TV announcer with his good friend Vince Van Patton. As a team, they
complement each other perfectly. The broadcast team of Mike and Vince on the WPT has been the rock steady anchor to the show, while there has
been a new lady host every year, since the first two years with Shauna Hiatt. Mike and Vince also survived changing networks from the Travel Channel
the first five seasons to Gaming Sports Network (GSN network) in the sixth season. The WPT will now be seen on Monday nights following the
popular high Stakes Poker show. For all of us who are poker fans, Monday night in America will now be poker night on TV.
In Mike’s case, if you go back 20 years and read Card Player Magazine, you will discover Mike was the first poker player to get sponsored by
LaMode. You would be able to read what his predictions were about corporate sponsorship and how TV coverage will take poker to new heights
unimaginable. He had the consistent vision as a true pioneer of the game as he said, “You can mark this down, TV is coming in a big way.” Most
people thought he was crazy back then... as someone with tinted glasses and grandiose dreams. His predictions not only came true, but he personally
led us into poker’s new age! He created the original Tournament of Champions(TOC), which opened the poker world’s eyes to what was right
around the corner. He helped Steve Lipscomb connect with Lyle Berman, as he personally took Steve over to Lyle’s home to meet him in Las Vegas.
Steve would be the first to tell you, that Mike Sexton was instrumental in how the World Poker Tour came to be, and that he received a lot of good
advice from Mike every step of the way. Mike along with his good friend, Linda Johnson, were the two who were asked to go out and help sign up
the original 12 charter members of the WPT, so Steve could be welcomed with open arms. Linda and Mike came through for both Steve and Lyle
Berman, as each one got six places to commit to becoming WPT charter members. Lyle then put the money up to finance the WPT through one of his
Going back in time, I remember getting an exciting telephone call about 2:00 AM from Mike. He had just gotten out of his first editing session in LA for
the first WPT show ever filmed at the Bellagio…………the one Gus Hansen won. Remember, the announcers never get to see the players' hole cards
during the actual taping of the show. Mike and Vince actually see the cards each player has in a small editing studio in LA almost 2-3 months after each
taping. They work off a playbook of about 80 key hands that determined the outcome. Mike and Vince replay those hands by adlibbing and winging it
with their commentary. The genius of Steve Lipscomb shines in the way the show is edited; giving the live TV audience the impression that each show
is live. When I got that early morning call final from Mike about that first WPT show he said, “Tom, you're not going to believe what I just saw when
editing our first WPT show. I was there when we originally did the commentary for the live show, but it was like I wasn’t even there. Seeing the hole
cards for the first time with those little TV cameras on the table was like a revelation…..a whole new world! Of course with all of the bluffing by Gus
Hansen and the way he moves his chips around, the first WPT show is going to rock the whole poker world and change poker forever!”
Mike new at this precise moment in time, that there was going to be a poker boom beyond belief, when these WPT shows aired would air later on
Travel Channel, with these little cameras allowing the audience to follow the thought process of the players for the first time in America. The key TV
show to launch this true renaissance in the poker world was the World Poker Tour! These shows led to a poker TV explosion from which sprung all
the other TV shows we enjoy watching today. ESPN lost the bid for the WPT that first season, because Steve wanted to have real estate, where the
WPT would be a two hour format aired across America in all time zones. Travel Channel could offer that, while ESPN was too booked, and could
only offer a one-hour format verses a two hour show. Wednesday night would be poker night on the Travel Channel, where all markets would tune in
from 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM, and repeat the show from midnight to 2:00 AM. Each week, the episode of the week would be repeated on
Saturday afternoon! The ratings were spectacular, and this made ESPN take serious notice. In previous years, ESPN had filmed the WSO and then
aired it unannounced at 4:00 AM maybe 8 months later. All of a sudden with the success of the World Poker Tour, the whole poker world would
witness a TV Renaissance, for all of us to enjoy.
My brother Mike not only had the vision to foresee the power of television, but also ended up leading the
way as poker’s TV pioneer! I couldn’t be more proud of Mike for all he has done for poker and the
entire industry over all of these years!
What a lot of people don’t know about is Mike’s important role in the growth of Internet poker, which is
the other major component of the poker boom. As it turned out, he was the quarterback or point guard
here for the industry as well. Mike had received a phone call in December of 2000 from a woman he had
never met named Ruth Parasol. She said she was searching for one poker player in the world to be her
expert domain consultant, to help lead the way to develop a new online poker website. She had seen
Mike’s film of his original TOC, and liked the way he had handled himself on the microphone with his
rapport with all of the players. She had also seen the 2000 Mike Sexton Roast tape filmed at the Mirage
that showcased his wit and humor. Ruth instinctively knew Mike was someone special...he was exactly
what she was looking for: personable, creative, and knowledgeable about poker. There were no
customers yet or software developed, and Mike’s role would be to fly to India for 6-7 months to lecture a
brilliant software team about how to play poker. The generosity of the compensation package was off the
chart, so Mike was on his way to India within a week. Although Mike knew everything about poker, he
knew nothing about computers. Fortunately he had a young software team that knew everything about
computers and nothing about poker, so they were a dream team that helped launch Internet poker into the
This past week, there was a news announcement that the National League of Poker, known as NLOP, has reached an agreement that will allow Mike
Sexton to be their national spokesman and resident pro. The NLOP is legal in the United States. Players can play for free for prizes, with the option to
become a VIP club members for $20 per month, thus making them eligible for bigger prizes including big buy-ins for big events. The NLOP hit the
jackpot to land Mike as their spokesman. Look for them to be the leader amongst the competition for a long time to come.
I’ve had many young players come up to me and say, “I love your brother on TV. He is the best announcer in the business, but I didn’t know he was
also a great player himself.” Mike made a living for 25 years as a professional player, winning a WSOP gold bracelet in seven card stud Hi/Lo split in
1989. He is the only American player to win the European Championship twice. He has won the main event at the Four Queens twice, and many all-
around awards in many tournaments. In Lake Tahoe, he won the Super Stars of Poker, winning three events, including the main event, a new car, and
the best all-around trophy. He was the first winner of the $10,000 main event at the World Poker Finals at Foxwoods, plus he has captured several
other events there as well. Recently he won Poker after Dark on NBC, where six players post a $20,000 buy-in, in a winner take-all format You’ll
see faces on that show that have played 6 times or more and have never won. Mike played on the show twice and has already won, defeating the 2006
WSOP Main Event Champion Jamie Gold heads up. Jamie previously set a WSOP record winning $12,000,000!
In 2006, something happened to Mike Sexton that seemed like a scene right out of a movie. After creating the original TOC and hosting it in 1999,
2000, and 2001, Mike went on to win the 2006 WSOP Tournament of Champions and $1,000,000. The final table lasted 17 hours, with heads-up
play between Mike and Daniel Negreanu lasting 7 grueling hours. Many poker players came up to me to tell me how happy they were to see Mike win
the WSOP TOC. They would go on to tell me what poetic justice it was that he had created the event, and later won it.
A player gets a sense of how popular it is when one of the nice guys wins something at the WSOP. Mike captured the prestigious title, while Mike
Matusow placed third. As poker’s Ambassador, Mike let WSOP officials know he wanted to donate $500,000 to charity after his stunning victory.
They were delighted and arranged a special ceremony at the top of the Rio, where Mike presented five $100,000 checks to five wonderful charities:
What a wonderful ceremony this was for these worthwhile charities, as representatives from each charity were there to accept the gigantic checks.
Party Poker, who sponsored the $2,000,000 total prize money for the TOC, the World Series of Poker, and the entire poker world, had a right to be
proud of its Ambassador that day. Those lucky enough to have been there to witness the ceremony were proud to be a poker player or any other part
of the industry!
As I said in the beginning of this article, I’m very proud of my brother for all of his contributions to the Industry. When the poker world needs a Master
of Ceremonies to host many special events, Mike gets the call, whether it is the recent Women in the Hall of Fame held at Binion’s Horseshoe, a roast
of Lyle Berman, a special 60th birthday party for Robert Turner, or the call to put on the headset microphone for ESPN in the field to announce the
$1,000,000 per hole extravaganza in the Doyle Brunson & Dewey Tomko Golf Invitational on High Stakes Golf. I would run out of space if I listed all
of the important functions Mike has hosted for various events in the poker world, and every time he gets the call, he does a great job, including all the
radio and TV shows he is a guest on, to promoting poker! To combine all of this with his key role in teaching WPT Boot Camp all around the country
and his personal conduct on or away from the tables, win, lose, or draw………it is easy to see why Mike Sexton is so revered and respected by his
peers and fans all over the world! It is easy to see why Mike has earned his title, Poker’s Ambassador. A true pioneer for the poker industry, we are
all fortunate to have him at the helm, leading the way towards a better poker world.
The Cab Is Parked,
The night the poker world celebrated the Card Player Awards Gala, that some refer to as Oscar Night for
the poker world for 2005, Mike received the Poker Ambassador Award. It was held at the Kodak
Theatre in Hollywood, and it truly was a night of Who’s Who in the poker world! Mike’s competition
that night in his category was pretty tough: Doyle Brunson & Daniel Negreanu! In this category, the
professional poker players voted, which made this award extra prestigious! It is the poker players who
recognized and appreciated what Mike has done for them over time with his amazing vision of where the
poker world could go. On Steve Wynn’s desk for many years was a framed quotation by Jonathon Swift,
“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” This is an amazing credo to follow in life, as Steve has had
retinitis pigmentosa that has caused him to lose most of his eyesight. Yet, in spite of this, Steve has had the
vision to change Las Vegas forever, building such creative hotel/casinos as the Mirage, Bellagio, Wynn
and Encore Casino. Let’s not forget the Golden Nugget renovation, Treasure Island, or Monte Carlo.
At that first meeting Mike had in India, Mike looked at the team of five young 25-year old computer wizards assigned to him, and asked, “Who knows
if a straight beats a flush in poker?” No hands went up. This labor of love for Mike would have to start right from the very beginning, but would
certainly need a name. They presented Mike a list of domain names they had secured to use, and asked Mike what he thought the poker site should be
named. Mike went up and down the names, and within seconds, stopped at one. He said, “I like his one; it has a nice ring to it for marketing down the
road………….let’s name the poker site…………… PartyPoker.com!”
For those of you that know what Party Poker meant to the explosion of online poker, enough said. For those of you who don’t, Party Poker ended up
being the biggest online site in the world. Mike started them out from the very beginning, and the owners cashed out part of their stock on the London
Stock Exchange for 8 billion dollars! The owners of Party Poker were seriously contemplating selling their interests out for $5,000,000 at one point. It
was Mike who talked to them for a number of hours to veer them away from selling. Mike said their success was only a year away and he ended up
being 1,000% right!
The key advice Mike gave the CEO of Party Poker.com occurred right after that first editing session he did for the first WPT show. The next morning,
Mike called Vikrant and said, “Don’t ask any questions. Just fly to New York City to the headquarters of Travel Channel, and buy every ad on a new
TV show coming out called the World Poker Tour. Not just a few, but every ad for the entire year and every re-run! If you do, Party Poker will fly by
all the competition and be number one in the world. If you remember, Mike did the promotional ads himself on TV, and as spokesman for the site there
was none better.
Upon passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), Party Poker withdrew its services to customers in the United Ststes, as
they were on the London Stock Exchange and required to obey all laws. Yes, Party Poker surrendered not millions, but billions trying trying to operate
within the law. They focused their attention on the other side of the world where there was less political interference. Party Poker was so big and
powerful that they were able to survive and are the biggest in the world overseas today.
Tom Sexton is the featured columnist on www.SextonsCorner.com, 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 scene, 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: