Vince Van Patten jumped in his car and made the nearly five hour drive from his house in Beverly Hills to the Bellagio in Las Vegas. It was June 1, 2002 and Van Patten was on his way to work a gig that he only recently booked to do commentary on a televised poker tournament. He didn’t exactly have sky high expectations.
“I drove in that same day, that’s how important it was to me. I thought, you know, this is another silly gig, I’ll do a little hosting,” said Van Patten.
Van Patten knew Mike Sexton, the other commentator working the booth with him that day at the final table of the very first World Poker Tour event, the Five Diamond World Poker Classic at Bellagio. The pair had played some poker together over the years and Van Patten was looking forward to hanging out with him.
“So we did the show and it was this fun thing. Gus Hansen really stood out because he was playing such unorthodox hands. That really put poker on the map once it aired,” said Van Patten. “I think it was two months later we were up in Reno and the first show aired and from that show people everywhere were talking; there was real buzz about this new show, World Poker Tour. It was a great feeling.”
That great feeling came full circle on Day 1A of the 2022 WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas when the company he has been one of the faces for over the last 20 years recognized his work and dedication making him one of the 2022 recipients of the WPT Honors.
Van Patten found out about the award when WPT CEO Adam Pliska called him a few months ago to give him the news. Van Patten, along with PokerStars co-founder Isai Scheinberg, were recognized for their longstanding efforts in the game of poker.
“To get the job with the World Poker Tour 20 years ago with the great Mike Sexton and together we became best friends,” said Van Patten. “We didn’t know much about what was going to happen with the show, we thought who knows – no one likes poker, (but) to have it be that kind of success and then to have it 20 years later, it’s just a phenomenon and it’s just a true blessing in my life.”
The blessing almost didn’t come to be. As WPT founder Stephen Lipscomb and his team were putting the cast together for the initial show, they were looking for people who knew poker and could be somewhat charismatic on camera. Thanks to his commentary work on the 1998 World Series of Poker for ESPN, Van Patten was a target. Only problem was nobody could find him.
“My brother was married to Shana Hiatt and Shana was up for (the hosting) job with the World Poker Tour. She was the hostess in my cash game in Beverly Hills, a big cash game I had,” Van Patten said. “She gets the job with the World Poker Tour, but as she’s talking to them she says ‘Oh, I know poker because I host these games for Vince Van Patten, my brother-in-law’ and they went ‘What?- We’ve been trying to get ahold of him’.”
Hiatt put producers in touch with Van Patten and the chips fell into place. His work with WPT has put him in front of millions of poker fans on TV sets around the world for the last 20 years and allowed the one–time tennis pro and childhood actor to build a legacy within the industry built around a game he loves so dearly.
It also allowed him to build a one-of-a-kind friendship with Sexton. Through all the hours they spent in the booth together calling final table action, they built a connection that Van Patten considers one of the most treasured parts of his life.
“Mike was one of my best friends ever. We went to Christmas parties together. He was in my (poker) game, we would play poker 2-3 times a week. We would gamble on everything against each other. No hard feelings ever,” Van Patten said, who remembers Sexton, who passed away in 2020, as one of the most generous people he’d ever met. “If I had nothing left at a tournament and needed some money, he would look at me and say ‘You need some money?’ He’d throw me a $5,000 chip, just put it in my pocket.”
Usually, recognizing an industry stalwart is usually something that happens toward the end of one’s career, but Van Patten, now 65, has no intentions of slowing down any time soon. He’s quite happy to continue calling the action and seeing the world as the WPT continues to grow and expand to different markets around the world. He loves the way WPT puts the focus on the ones sitting down to play.
“I think we keep striving to be better and make it more entertaining. We cater to players. I always like to say, let’s make the players feel really good. It’s not just the final table, let’s make them feel like stars before that,” Van Patten said. “So they get recognition, that’s what people want – they want a little attention. And they deserve that, they’re putting their money up and they’re gambling themselves. So I like to share that, I think we get better and better at that.”