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Tributes pour in for poker giant Mike Sexton

Mike Sexton was an old-school poker player who had a large role in ushering the game into a new era of prominence.

The Poker Hall of Fame member and longtime World Poker Tour commentator died Sunday at his Las Vegas home at age 72. The cause was cancer, said Linda Johnson, a fellow Hall of Fame member who said she was authorized to speak on Sexton’s behalf.

“I am so thankful for the wonderful memories I have of traveling the world with Mike Sexton for the past 30+ years,” Johnson said on Twitter. “There was no kinder, more humble person. Mike leaves an amazing legacy for the poker world and for his family.”

Tributes to Sexton poured in over the past week after it was announced that he was in hospice care.

Phil Hellmuth, the all-time leader with 15 World Series of Poker bracelets, wrote in a post on USPoker.com: “Poker would not be as big without Mike Sexton. The poker players would not have as much money without Mike Sexton. And poker would not be as well regarded as it currently is without Mike Sexton.

“The poker world owes Mike a huge debt of gratitude. Mike has been the consummate gentleman, and has championed poker better than anyone else.”

Sexton served as a bridge between the time when poker players were regarded as unsavory characters gambling in a corner of the casino to a mid-2000s post-Chris Moneymaker poker boom that saw the biggest names become television stars.

Sexton was often the voice building up those stars, explaining the game to the masses on WPT broadcasts from their debut in 2003 until 2017. He ended broadcasts with the phrase: “May all your cards be live and your pots be monsters.”

Sexton’s WPT broadcast partner, Vince Van Patten, said on YouTube after his death: “Mike Sexton, one of my great gambling friends and one of my best friends forever. Just a standup, wonderful person. … Mike would just be saying, ‘Hey, don’t be getting upset. Celebrate everything.’ That’s the kind of guy he was.”

Just before the WPT started, Sexton was also in on the ground floor at partypoker, which became one of the biggest online poker sites in the world. In a later interview, Sexton bemoaned that he had accepted an early buy-out and cost himself about $500 million. After he left the WPT, he returned to partypoker as its chairman.

Sexton’s early involvement in online poker came despite his roots in an older era. His first recorded cash in a poker tournament came in 1981, according to the Hendon Mob Poker Database. His first cash in a WSOP event came in 1984, and he won his only WSOP bracelet in a $1,500 Seven-card Stud High-Low event in 1989.

Sexton amassed more than $6.7 million in career tournament earnings, according to the Hendon Mob. He won the WSOP Tournament of Champions for $1 million in 2006, beating Daniel Negreanu heads-up, and he got to be on the other side of the WPT cameras when he won an event in Montreal in 2016.

Sexton was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2009.

Johnson provided details of Sexton’s early life. He was born in Shelbyville, Indiana, in 1947, and he began seriously playing poker while attending Ohio State on a gymnastics scholarship.

He served in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division from 1970 to 1972. He turned poker pro in 1977 and moved permanently to Las Vegas in 1985.

Sexton is survived by his son, Ty Michael Sexton, and Ty’s mother, Karen Sexton, as well as five siblings and 10 nieces and nephews. An older brother, Tom Sexton, died in 2013.

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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