Mike Sexton Poker Journey: The Life of a Poker Legend

Mike Sexton

9 minutes

Last Updated: November 27, 2021

Image from WPT

There are a few names that, when mentioned in the poker world, there is a unanimously large amount of respect for.

Mike Sexton is one of these incredibly respected poker legends, whose legacy continues to inspire so many today.

There was little that Sexton couldn't do, being a player, a commentator, a promoter, a raconteur, a columnist, and an author.

He played a monumental role in the explosive growth of poker in the United States and all around the world.

For his skill in popularizing the game and his philanthropic work, Sexton received many awards and much recognition throughout his life. He was nicknamed the “Ambassador of Poker.”

Although he passed away on September 6th, 2020, Mike Sexton will forever be one of the legends of the game, and players will continue to learn from him for many years to come.

Mike Sexton Career Highlights

  • Started playing poker professionally in 1977, ditching his career as a salesman and moving to Las Vegas.
  • Received his first WSOP bracelet in 1989, after winning the $1,500 Seven Card Stud Split tournament for $104,400.
  • Co-founded the well-known partypoker platform, which was at one point the largest poker site across the United States but sold his shares for $15 million just a year and a half prior to the public offering.
  • Won the 2006 WSOP Tournament of Champions for a cool $1,000,000.
  • His biggest live cash came from placing 9th at the 2012 $1,000,000 The Big One for One Drop WSOP Event when he went home with $1,109,333 from that event alone.
  • Sexton joined as the voice of the World Poker Tour brand in its very first season in 2002 and worked as a WPT commentator for a whopping 15 seasons, leaving in 2017.
  • Won a WPT trophy in 2016 at his third final table appearance on the show, where he took home $317,817 and a championship belt made by the Playground Poker Club
  • Returned to partypoker in 2017 as the company’s chairman and ambassador.
  • Passed away in 2020 after his battle with prostate cancer.

Mike Sexton Early Life and Career

Mike Sexton was born in Shelbyville, Indiana, on September 22nd, 1947. He attended Ohio State University and earned a degree in public recreation after changing majors from business.

He began seriously playing poker while attending OSU on a gymnastics scholarship. Mike often joked that he majored in poker, not business, since he played it so often in college.

Sexton served in the US Army as a paratrooper assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division from 1970 to 1972, where he never saw combat as the division had just returned from Vietnam.

While teaching ballroom dancing in the army, one of his students persuaded him to become a salesman.

After the army, he settled in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he did just that – worked as a sales rep during the day and sharpened his poker skills in home games at night.

Realizing he could be making a lot more money as a poker player than as a salesman, he started to play poker professionally in 1977.

This was a huge decision that impacted Sexton’s entire career path. With an initial net worth of $2,500, he pursued tournament poker, where he achieved amazing results.

Mike Sexton poker

Mike Sexton’s Professional Career

It didn’t take long for Sexton to make a name for himself. In 1989 he had already realized the potential of his successes with the game and made two final table appearances at his first World Series of Poker back in 1984.

He promised himself that he would never miss a WSOP again in his lifetime and permanently moved to Las Vegas in 1985.

Las Vegas was naturally the perfect location for any poker player to experience the budding game first hand. Shortly after his first World Series of Poker appearance, Sexton won his own WSOP bracelet in 1989.

He secured this win by conquering the $1,500 Seven Card Stud Split tournament. After beating 174 entrants, he won $104,400 – his first six-figure score.

Sexton later stated, after having won millions in the game, that “nothing will ever compare to the joy of that first bracelet” because at the time, he had never played No-Limit Hold 'em, and Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo was his whole world back then.

For that reason, the Main Event didn’t mean much to him at the time, whereas the Eight or Better was his world championship.

Following this win, Sexton went on to earn 72 more WSOP cashes in his career, 20 of which were final table finishes.

Mike Sexton poker journey

He came close to winning another bracelet when he finished the runner-up of the 2011 WSOP $1,500 Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo for $123,925.

Although he didn’t win, he proved to everyone that he was still a force to be reckoned with after all those years.

After having established himself in poker for some time, Sexton wanted to utilize his passion and expertise to branch out and innovate the field of online poker.

With a small team, he co-founded the well-known partypoker platform, which was at one point the largest poker site across the United States.

When launching the company in 2002, they were faced with a $500k deficit and no guarantee that they would be successful.

However, Sexton remained true and passionate in what he believed in and put all he had into it – with the visions of televised marketing, convenient online qualifiers, and luxury million-dollar events all driving him to success.

Less than four years after launching partypoker, the site went public for nine billion dollars. Sexton sold out his shares of the company for $15 million dollars just a year and a half prior to the public offering.

He reportedly had never regretted that decision, although his estimated losses were worth roughly $500 million.

WPT Engagement & Hall of Fame Induction

Sexton joined as the voice of the World Poker Tour brand since its very first season in 2002, where he increased the popularity of the game with his unquestionable skills in storytelling and ability to call the action.

He worked as a WPT commentator for a whopping 15 seasons, through which the number of poker fans and eager players quickly rose.

People turned to watch the televised WPT events that Mike Sexton commentated alongside Vince Van Patten.

During his time as a commentator, he still enjoyed playing poker and won the 2006 WSOP Tournament of Champions for a whopping $1,000,000.

Because he worked as the voice of the World Poker Tour, he was never allowed to compete in its events for many seasons.

It wasn’t until season 9 where WPT was able to negotiate new terms with its partners and grant both Sexton and Van Patten the chance to play in the WPT games.

Mike Sexton poker career

Image from WPT

He successfully got his name on a WPT trophy in 2016 at his third final table appearance on the show. Sexton defeated a 648-entry field and took home $317,817 and a championship belt made by the Playground Poker Club.

Having this WPT title under his belt (literally and metaphorically), Sexton became a recipient of a lifetime invitation to the WPT Tournament of Champions (an event which he himself created).

The increased coverage of these poker tournaments quickly led to a boom in poker popularity over the world.

For all his accomplishments and his “lifetime of stewardship to the game,” Sexton was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2008.

He received the WPT Honors distinction in 2017 for all his contributions to not only the brand but to the whole poker community over the years. This is the organization's highest distinction award which is given to the most vital members of the poker industry.

After leaving his long-time role as the commentator for the WPT brand, Sexton made a return to partypoker as the company’s chairman and ambassador.

His new job entailed investing in software development and improving customer care and service with loyalty programs.

He was also responsible for helping create a viable platform for recreational players that restricts the use of third-party poker software and adds value to smaller events. Additionally, he oversaw the marketing and growth of the partypoker LIVE tours.

Mike Sexton’s Net Worth

Sexton's career in poker was extensive and varied from playing the game and commentating on it to helping develop partypoker, and more.

From all these different branches of his career, he made quite a lot of money for himself throughout the years.

His total live earnings alone amounted to $6,708,146, with his best live cash winning coming from placing 9th at the 2012 $1,000,000 The Big One for One Drop WSOP Event. He went home with $1,109,333 from that event alone.

But playing poker was hardly all Mike Sexton did, as his whole life had evolved around the game and his poker bankroll was just a fraction of his overall assets.

He helped start partypoker and infamously sold his shares for $15 million a year and a half before the company went public.

Sexton also went back to developing partypoker in 2017, so his overall earnings from that company were massive.

Mike Sexton net worth

Finally, working for World Tour Poker from its first season in 2002 to season 15 in 2017 was Sexton's primary source of income.

Although there are no records of how much he made there throughout the years, we can assume that he made enough to live an extremely comfortable life.

Taking all of these factors into consideration, we can estimate that Sexton’s net worth was around $10 million at the time of his passing.

Mike Sexton’s Philanthropy and Battle with Cancer

Sexton was passionate about giving back to people and had a ginormous heart. After his win in 2006 of one million dollars from the WSOP Tournament of Champions event, he donated half of his post-tax winnings to 5 different charities.

From then on, he pledged to do the same with all the winnings he acquired in the future.

In early 2009, Sexton, Lisa Tenner, Jan Fisher, and Linda Johnson created PokerGives.org, a nonprofit organization that provides poker players with an easy way to give back to charity.

On September 1st, 2020, Linda Johnson, a fellow Poker Hall of Fame member and one of Sexton's close friends, shared on Twitter that Sexton has been battling prostate cancer for some time and that it has recently spread to other organs.

Despite his problems, Sexton wanted to keep his health problems as private as possible and only spread positivity.

He was always a happy man who wanted to radiate that energy into the world, and during this difficult time in his life, he tried to hide his struggles as much as he could.

Thankfully he had the support of all his friends and his loving wife, Karen Sexton, whom he married in 2007. They had a son, Ty Michael Sexton, in late 2008, who was Karen and Mike's pride and joy.

Sadly, on September 6th, 2020, Mike Sexton passed away after his battle with prostate cancer. The entire poker community mourned his death, and many turned to social media to remember special moments they shared with him.

The World Poker Tour team had become like family to Sexton, and his death hit the brand particularly hard.

A few months after his passing, the WPT officially renamed the WPT Champions Cup the “Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup” in honor of his incredible legacy.

Sexton will always be remembered as one of the most important poker players who made the game what it is today, as well as a kind, welcoming, and the funny man everyone loved and will greatly miss.

He was always the first person to welcome a player to the table or make a new employee in a company feel at home.

He never had a foul word to say to anyone. It is not hyperbole to state that there will never be someone else like Mike Sexton to enter the game of poker again.

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