John P. Lopez – How, and why, Mattress Mack became America’s most famous gambler

John P. Lopez – How, and why, Mattress Mack became America’s most famous gambler

It was 3 a.m. in Las Vegas – a time and a place where dreams normally go to die.

But there was Jim McIngvale — Mattress Mack – chipper as ever, bouncing through the Bellagio Hotel, carrying $2 million in cash, along with the hopes of countless Gallery Furniture customers and Astros fans.

It had been a long day of placing bets. Mack started out in Louisiana, wagering $2 million at the Barstool Sportsbook. He then hopped on a plane and flew to Iowa, where he wagered $1 million at the Unibet sports book and $1 million at the Betfred sports book. Finally, he flew to Las Vegas, where BetMGM opened the sportsbook in the early-morning hours specifically for Mack, so he could wager $2 million.

“There I was wandering through the casino at three in the morning and these two kids from Canada came up to me,” Mack said. “They knew exactly who I was. They were excited … I said, ‘how in the hell do you know who I am and what I’m doing?’ They said, ‘Barstool.’”

Mattress Mack has risen from Houston’s most famous save-you-money cultural phenomenon and philanthropist to an altogether different stratosphere. Thanks to millions of dollars in wagers, a personality that goes on for days and numerous furniture promotions, Mack now transcends geography and demographics.

And if the Astros take out the Yankees in the ALCS and go on to win the World Series, he just might break Las Vegas.

It’s an incredible story of creativity, marketing and, as always with Mack, doing something that will bind and bolster a community.

“Buying furniture is not the sexiest thing on earth,” Mack said. “It started out, it was a great way to get people to come in and excited about it. It makes it relevant when you have one of these sports promotions. And if it happens (to win), that’s something people will remember for the rest of their lives. What’s the value of that? You can’t put a number on that. Everyone who is part of it becomes an Astros fan for life, too.”

Mack is what bookmakers call a whale. A high-roller. A cheetah. But Mack swims like no other and his penchant for including customers and anyone who wanders into his orbit has turned this one-time whim into a movement.

Mack today is the most public, accessible and transparent multi-million-dollar gambler in the history of the game. He willingly poses for pictures and posts videos of wagers.

He walks through casinos and sports books carrying millions of dollars, smiling and shaking hands, as if he’s a grandpa with nothing more than a pack of gum in his pocket. He has been featured on national newscasts and the most popular sport and gambling websites in the world. The sports world and anyone who’s ever bet a $2 parlay love him. They’re pulling for him.

His wagers thus far on the Astros – and he may not be done yet – would yield upwards of $85 million in winnings.

And significantly, he’s done it for all the same reasons he always has done things. Business, sure. But few have had a deeper sense of community and zest for all things Houston than the 71-year-old McIngvale.

“The first big bet I ever had was when Vince Young was playing in the Rose Bowl (2005),” Mack said, referring to the Houston high school legend and University of Texas star. “I flew to Las Vegas and I bet a lot of money on Texas. They were seven-point underdogs. I won $150,000. That was a euphoric feeling when Vince ran into the end zone.”

It was a feeling that gave Mack an idea. What if he could replicate that feeling for customers? What if customers could be a part of it?

Mack began tying in store purchases with full money-back promotions on sports outcomes. There were significant hiccups along the way, but customers bought in and Mack saw the value. On one promotion in 2014 in which Mack offered full money-back promos with the Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl, things could not have worked out worse. But he was undeterred.

Mack lost $9 million when Peyton Manning and the Broncos were walloped.

“Out of pocket,” McIngvale said, “that was the biggest one. But you know … take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’”

By 2017, it consumed him. The Astros were among the best teams in the game and had a real chance to win the World Series. He decided to go all-in. He loved the personalities of the players and the makeup of the squad. And customers streamed through the doors, hoping their purchases would be free, free, free if the beloved Astros went on to win the World Series.

“We started promoting it all year long,” Mack said. “It went on for months and customers just loved it. Back then, the only casinos that were out there were in Las Vegas and New Jersey. So I started hedging in Las Vegas and they started seeing me coming, so they raised the price. So I went to New Jersey and started betting there. We kept promoting it and I kept betting as we sold furniture.

“I actually was out there betting more during Game Seven (in 2017). I wound up collecting all sorts of money and brought it back to Houston. It was dangerous. I got back here and went straight to the bank. That was a lot of money. The thing about those books, a lot of them won’t take your bet, but some have an appetite for big risk, so I was able to do it.”

And so here we are again. Mack has bet on the Astros. He has bet on Houston. He stands to win $85 million and Houstonians who joined him just might sleep better than they ever have, on free mattresses.

“That euphoric feeling I had when Vince Young scored back (in 2005), it was the same when Yordan Alvarez hit that homerun (in the ALDS),” Mack said. “That’s what this is all about. This is like my vacation. And it’s also a vacation for our customers because they become rabid Astros fans. It’s an escape and something everybody loves. That’s what it’s all about. Let’s all pull for the same thing and for something that’s good for all of us.”

Yes. Let’s all have a whale of a time.

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