Bingo, Bango, Bongo! Show tunes must be going off in his head.
Wasn’t really surprised to hear that Sexton had made it. The consensus among those voting -- at least the ones who’d made their preferences known -- seemed to indicate the “ambassador of poker” would very likely be chosen. Nor was I all that surprised that only one of the finalists got in, given the way the voting procedure was set up. (More on that below.)
I was surprised, however, that the announcement came this week rather than in November. I’d been under the impression that Harrah’s was saving that news for the weekend of the WSOP Main Event final table (which begins November 7). There will be a special ceremony at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino sometime that weekend to recognize Sexton. I suppose having the announcement come first, then the ceremony later, more closely resembles the sequence followed by most other sports hall of fames.
Coincidentally, yesterday was also the day that the newly-created NASCAR Hall of Fame announced its first class of inductees. After several years of negotiating to get that sucker established, a panel of 50 voters plus one “fan vote” chose five hall of famers from a list of 25 nominees. The 50 voters consisted of journalists, NASCAR execs, and former drivers. The “fan vote” came from an online poll on the NASCAR website. The panel spent the afternoon debating the nominees at a meeting in Charlotte, NC, then cast their ballots.
The NASCAR voters were allowed to pick five names from the 25 nominees, with the top five vote getters being selected. The process for the Poker Hall of Fame vote, newly revised this year, went a little differently.
In the Poker Hall of Fame vote, there were 30 people voting -- 15 current members of the Poker Hall of Fame and 15 representatives of the media. The names of the nine finalists were announced a little over a month ago, selected by the Poker Hall of Fame Governing Council from the top ten online vote getters from over the summer. Only Tom “durrrr” Dwan was removed from that list, leaving Barry Greenstein, Dan Harrington, Phil Ivey, Tom McEvoy, Men Nguyen, Scotty Nguyen, Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, and Sexton. Each voter could only select three names from the list of nine, and a nominee had to get 75% “yes” votes in order to be inducted. I believe the ballots were due on Friday, October 2.
As Sexton would say, we had ourselves a race situation, Vince. That’s because the way the voting procedure was set up it was only mathematically possible for three of the nominees to get the needed 75%, and it was entirely likely one or even none would. (Wrote about this a bit last month.)
Traditionally the Poker Hall of Fame has only enshrined one or two individuals each year, so having just a single entrant this year doesn’t alter that pattern. Also, with regard to that NASCAR example, it is often the case that hall of fames kick off by inducting larger classes at first, so as to get the institution established. (Though I believe NASCAR plans to keep adding five more at a time each year here.) Indeed, when the Poker Hall of Fame was first created by Benny Binion back in 1979, seven individuals were inducted in that initial class.
Sexton is certainly a worthy recipient of the honor, handily meeting the criteria for induction. (So, of course, do several of the other finalists.) Sexton was born in Indiana and went to Ohio State University (on a gymastics scholarship -- no shinola). He then joined the Army and was stationed in Fort Bragg. After leaving the service, Sexton stayed in North Carolina and really that is where his poker career began -- in home games up and down the same highways traveled by folks like Junior Johnson, who ran moonshine before becoming one of NASCAR’s first superstars and eventually a member of its initial class of hall of famers.
Sexton later moved to Las Vegas (in the mid-1980s) to become a full-time poker pro. He won a WSOP bracelet in 1989 (in a Stud/8 event), was a friend of the late Stu Ungar and figures somewhat prominently in Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson’s Ungar bio One of a Kind, and of course went on to write for Card Player, represent PartyPoker, and, perhaps most importantly, co-host the highly influential World Poker Tour television show.
Like I say, not a huge surprise to see Sexton make it, especially considering the way his career put him in close proximity to both groups of voters -- the current hall of famers and the media. And though I’m surprised, I don’t really mind Harrah’s decision to announce his selection early like this, even if it does remove a small bit of suspense from the ongoing narrative of the 2009 WSOP. If you think about it, it would have been even worse for those not selected to have perhaps made the trip to the Rio only to learn they hadn’t got in this time around.
Will be curious to see if the process gets tweaked moving forward. Meanwhile, we can now all forget about that other November Nine -- the nine Hall of Fame finalists -- and go back to thinking about the nine who still have chips in the Main Event.
(Photo of Sexton at the 2008 WSOP courtesy the great FlipChip.)