Mike Sexton, Chairman of partypoker and a long-time commentator for the World Poker Tour, died peacefully on September 6 at his home in Las Vegas after a valiant struggle with cancer. He was 72.
Multifaceted as a player, commentator, promoter, raconteur, columnist, and author, Mike played a seminal role in the explosive growth of poker in the United States and around the world through his work with partypoker and the World Poker Tour. His skill in popularizing the game and his philanthropic work earned him the sobriquet “Ambassador of Poker” in 2006 and induction into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2009. He was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award at the American Poker Awards in 2016. In 2017, Mike was the second person to be inducted into the World Poker Tour Honors Society. In 2020 the World Poker Tour honored Mike by renaming its traveling WPT Champions Cup the “Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup.”
Born in Shelbyville, Indiana on September 22, 1947, Mike began seriously playing poker while attending Ohio State University on a gymnastics scholarship. After serving with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division from 1970 to 1972, he settled in Fayetteville, North Carolina, working as a sales rep by day and honing his poker skills in home games at night. He turned pro in 1977 and moved permanently to Las Vegas in 1985, earning a World Series of Poker bracelet in Seven-Card Stud/8 in 1989.
Among his many achievements as a player, Mike won the inaugural World Poker Finals $10,000 buy-in No Limit championship at Foxwood’s in 1992; successfully defended his previous year’s victory in the Summer Four Queens No Limit championship in 1997; won the Grand Prix de Paris championship in Paris, France in 2000 (at the time the largest poker event in Europe); won the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions in 2006, beating Daniel Negreanu for $1,000,000 in a seven-hour heads-up battle; cashed in the first two World Series of Poker One Drop tournaments in 2012 and 2013, the only player other than Antonio Esfandiari to do so; and won the WPT Montreal Main Event in 2016.
Mike was the creator of two mega-events in poker, the groundbreaking Tournament of Champions in 1999, and the partypoker Million in 2001, an event that helped partypoker become the number-one online poker site in the world. Mike was also active in philanthropy, founding PokerGives.org in 2009 with Linda Johnson, Jan Fisher, and Lisa Tenner. In 2008 Mike received a Patriot Award from Paralyzed Veterans of America for his work in supporting veterans’ causes.
In addition to his many columns for Card Player Magazine and other industry publications, Mike authored two books: Shuffle Up and Deal (HarperCollins, 2005), and Life’s a Gamble (D&B Publishing, 2016), a colorful memoir about the personalities and vicissitudes of the gambling life. In the course of his 50-year career as a poker player, Mike met and befriended most of the biggest names in the business, many of whom are featured in Life’s a Gamble. Mike’s personal values, loyalty, and hard work made him a widely beloved and respected figure in the poker world.
Mike was deeply devoted to his family. He is survived by his son, Ty Michael Sexton, and Ty’s mother, Karen Sexton, as well as his siblings Loni Wieland Minich, Jeff Sexton, Stephanie Sexton, Rodney Sexton, and Lance Sexton. Mike’s older brother, Tom Sexton, died in 2013. In addition to his joy in being a father to Ty, Mike was an incredible uncle to his ten nieces and nephews. His efforts to nurture his family relationships were as extraordinary as his poker achievements.
The World Poker Tour would like to thank the Sexton family for contributing to this celebration of Mike’s life.
Photos courtesy of Joe Giron Photography.