Mike Sexton Dead at 72, Tributes Pour in for Much-Loved Poker Legend

Posted on: September 7, 2020, 06:14h. 

Last updated on: September 7, 2020, 10:18h.

Poker player and commentator Mike Sexton has lost his battle with cancer. Sexton’s friend, the player and tournament director Linda Johnson, reported that he passed away peacefully at home in Las Vegas on Sunday. The 72-year-old Poker Hall of Famer was suffering from prostate cancer, which had spread to other organs.

Mike Sexton Dies
Mike Sexton, seen here playing for the WPT Montreal title in 2016, explained poker to the masses during the mid-2000s boom, and few have done more to promote the game. (Image: World Poker Tour)

“He appreciated all the wonderful comments and farewells from poker players all over the world,” tweeted Johnson.

For most, Sexton will be remembered, with Vince Van Patten, as the TV color commentator for the World Poker Tour, and a tireless ambassador for the game. But he was, first and foremost, a player, and one who commanded immense respect from the poker world.

He held a World Series of Poker bracelet, for 7-card stud eight or better, and booked an extraordinary 72 cashes in WSOP events over three decades. He had a WPT title to his name and, in 2012, he finished ninth in the first Big One for One Drop tournament for his biggest cash, $1.1 million.

Majored in Poker

Sexton was born in 1947 in Shelbyville, Indiana. A talented gymnast, he attended Ohio State University, majoring in public recreation, although he joked that he really majored in poker. He joined the US Army in 1970, and stints as a ballroom dance teacher and a salesman followed. But he moved to Las Vegas in 1985 when he realized he could make more money playing poker.

There, he became close friends with another poker legend, three-time world champion Stuey “The Kid” Ungar, and was a pall bearer and speaker at Ungar’s funeral following his untimely death from drugs in 1998.

In the early 2000s, Sexton helped to found Party Poker and became a longtime ambassador for the site. By 2005, Party had become the biggest online poker site in the world, and floated on the London Stock Exchange for £4.6 billion, which at the time was around $8.4 billion.

A year later, unfriendly federal legislation resulted in Party quitting the US market, losing its position as global market leader to PokerStars.

Mass Appeal

As host of the WPT broadcasts from 2003 until 2017, it was Sexton’s job to explain poker to the masses during the Chris Moneymaker-led poker boom of the mid-2000s. Few have done more to popularize and promote the game of poker than Sexton.

Players young and old paid tribute on social media today.

“RIP Mike Sexton, he will go down as a true poker legend. He had an unrivaled passion for the game, its players, and telling poker stories as they were meant to be told,” wrote “semi-retired” pro Doug Polk. “Every time I saw Mike, he was smiling and cheerful. He was one of the most genuinely good people I ever met.”

“The world lost a giant today,” said commentator Jesse May. “Every day, Mike Sexton put on a suit and tie to demand respect for the game we love. And his vision for poker would come to pass. He gambled hard, he burned for the underdog, he walked with honor. We should all be so lucky. RIP Mike. And thanks.”