Mike Sexton and the WPT.
For 15 seasons those two names have gone together like rolled-up aces.
That’s why it came as a complete shock when Sexton announced last month he would be leaving the WPT to become the full-time Chairman of partypoker.
It was especially surprising because Sexton recorded one of his best years ever on the tour as a player, finally winning the coveted WPT title and gaining entry to the exclusive Tournament of Champions.
PokerListings grabbed Sexton on a break from a WSOP $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em to get the scoop on why he left the WPT and his plans for the future.
PokerListings: You’re pretty much synonymous with the World Poker Tour at this point. Where did the decision to leave come from?
Mike Sexton: It came from an opportunity with partypoker. They offered me the position of chairman. You know partypoker used to own the WPT and held events for them. Now the two companies have taken a fork in the road business-wise.
The World Poker Tour is going to be switching and will try and work with all the online sites to promote events while partypoker is doing its own partypoker LIVE tour.
There were conflicting events that were at the same time. We just had one in Amsterdam for the WPT and there was partypoker LIVE one in Montreal.
There would have been more conflicts going forward so it would have been very difficult to continue with poker of them.
It breaks my heart to leave the WPT because I’ve been there since the beginning and love it but this is just an opportunity that is too good to pass up.
PL: Is it better for you in some ways? A little bit less travel perhaps…
Maybe slightly less but the trips will be longer because I’ll be traveling overseas.
partypoker is heading in the right direction. I love where management is going and what they’re doing with poker.
Players are starting to embrace it again. I think we are going to get a lot of support from players. I think the partypoker LIVE tour can be the biggest in the world.
We’re excited about the future and I’m excited to be with party.
PL: You had an incredible year on the WPT and finally won a title the tour. Is it nice to go out on top?
It’s nice to have a good year as a player no matter what but that wasn’t the reason I left the WPT.
What’s nice about it is that I will be able to play the WPT Tournament of Champions every year from now on.
I’m excited about that.
PL: In general will you play WPT events?
I’ll be able to play some. The Bellagio one for example and the TOC. Maybe a couple more. I hope it works with my schedule that I can go back and defend my title in Montreal. I believe in defending so we’ll see what happens there.
PL: Can you talk about your new role with partypoker? It seems like an exciting time for the company…
They are doing a lot of exciting thing. We’ve actually got a platform of 10 things we want to accomplish and it’s my goal to see those get done.
As Chairman I’ll be working with the people in the office and the software developers. I’ll also be working with John Duthie on the live tour. I’ll be a consultant in a much bigger way.
I’ll be working on behalf of the players, honestly. I want to see that the new software gets done and customer support is improve. I also want to see that all the advertising money is going back to the players. partypoker isn’t advertising on billboards anymore or busses. The company is spending all the money on the players. I like that.
I think word will spread and players will appreciate that and we’ll get their loyalty.
partypoker is going all-in now and I like seeing that because there was a period of about 4-5 years where things got stagnant. We’ve been on the rise the last 18 months and I can see that continuing.
PL: You’ve been with partypoker from the beginning. What’s it been like seeing the company go up and down and now up again?
It’s exciting right now for me because I see all the changes that are being made and I see how much is being put back into poker.
It’s like the days when we first launched the Poker Million. It was so exciting to be there and see it all develop.
Now hopefully we’re going to explode again. Our goal is to become the #1 online site in the world again.
It’s a tall achievement but we believe it’s doable.
PL: Can you talk specifically about the rakeback that was recently introduced on partypoker?
Yeah. It’s 40% for everybody and 50% for the high-volume players. It’s a great opportunity for players to play on the site and they’re doing it now.
If you look at our cash games and our tournaments… they’re skyrocketing whereas the competitors are trending down.
Our goal is to continue that.
PL: You’ve leaving Vince Van Patten behind at the WPT. What’s that like?
I feel like we’re Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon if you want to know the truth on the tonight show. We’re two guys that are bonded. I hate departing him but this is an opportunity for me and my family that I just couldn’t pass up.
It’s probably my last go-around. I’ve been around awhile and done a lot of things but to bring partypoker back to the top would be the way to sail off into the sunset.
PL: Did you have any parting advice for Tony Dunst?
The only advice I would give him is that the TV audience is different than the live stream audience, which he does now.
The live stream is for the diehards. The online guys. When you get to a TV audience, the people aren’t interested in hearing the math terminology all the time because they’ll get bored and turn it off. They might not understand it or it might be too complex for them.
I think he’s got to recognize that 90% of his audience is going to be average Joe’s, so to speak. It’s not going to be the die-hard players, although they will watch also.
You just have to be careful of getting too technical I think.
PL: How much will play at the WSOP this year?
That’s a good question. I think I played about a dozen events last year. This year I think I will stretch it out to at least 15-20.
I’m excited about it because I’ll be in town the whole time. I think this is the fifth event I’ve played. I’ve cashed once so I’m a little behind but there’s still a long ways to go!