John P. Lopez – Pay the man: Mack collected winnings like he’s lived his life – in a blur

John P. Lopez – Pay the man: Mack collected winnings like he’s lived his life – in a blur

By John P. Lopez

It was 3:11 a.m., and Mattress Mack was running on cranberry juice and about two-hours sleep.

You would never know it, though. Since the wheels of his jet touched down in Las Vegas nine hours earlier, the only time Jim McIngvale stopped was for selfies with gawking casino patrons and a celebratory dinner at Bobby Flay’s Amalfi restaurant at Caesar’s Palace.

“Eat up, boys … Eat well,” Mack told friends at the dinner as plate after plate of Flay’s signature dishes arrived to the table. “They’re paying for it.”

Boy, did they.

Caesar’s paid. Bet MGM paid. They all paid.

“This is what it’s been about,” Mack said. “The Astros won, and our customers won. And here we are.”

To ride with Mack on this uniquely Mack journey was to be immersed in equal parts awe and inspiration.

Every scene on the way to collecting the last of $75 million in winnings was more head-spinning and remarkable than the previous one. Every character in this sleep-deprived 12-hour overnight journey into the hidden big-money bowels of Las Vegas seemed perfectly cast.

From the security director with a pronounced scar down the back of his scalp to the shiny-suited sweaty-palmed executives to the back-slapping promoters tripping over themselves to please the highest of high-rollers, it was the perfect backdrop for Mack to shine.

And that is exactly what he did, wearing a personalized “Win it all” Astros jersey, an Astros cap, and an Astros backpack as he marched his way toward collecting the largest legal gambling payout in American history.

Mack arrived from Houston as the sun set over a chilly Nevada night, bringing a handful of friends and about a half dozen backpacks with him. He thought all his winnings would fit in the backpacks. He was gone by 4:00 a.m., using a wheelbarrow and a handful of friends to stuff an ostentatious $10 million in plastic-wrapped parcels of $100 bills into the luggage compartment of his private jet.

“What was your most memorable part of this trip?” Mack asked the group as it collectively exhaled once the jet’s door was shut and the wheels went up.

Where to begin?

Was it the opulent check presentations at the Aria and Caesars? The comp’d Strip-view suites for each member of Mack’s party? Turning heads and posing for pictures nearly every five-feet no matter where he went? Dinner at Bobby Flay’s, where the group was joined by Mack’s friend and acclaimed “Best Gambler In The World” Anthony Curtis, who gushed about how monumental and barrier-breaking Mack’s bets on the Astros will prove to be.

“His early bets were brilliant,” Curtis said of Mack getting 10-1 and 12-1 odds on the Astros last June. “People think this is easy. But you just can’t give him enough credit for what he did.”

Was it Mack, the most acclaimed gambler America has known in recent years – this Vegas whale that every casino in America knows and now fears – having to Uber from the airport to the strip because someone forgot to book cars? Was it Mack walking from one check presentation to the director of gambling at BetMGM and saying, “I’d like to put $1.5 million on the Houston Cougars to win it all,” as jaws dropped and calls were made to MGM bosses overseas?

Or maybe it was the primary entrance of Caesars Palace being temporarily blocked because more than 100 fans stopped to watch Mack raise goblets and toast the big night with friends in front of the Caesar statue.

The entire dizzying trek was a cross between how Hollywood sees Las Vegas and what Houston knows of Mattress Mack.

It was part-unspoken Vegas underbelly, with double-locked private teller rooms and hidden steel-gated limousine drives. And part Mack being Mack, frustrating casino security by stopping to chat and take pictures with anyone who asked, roaming across the casino like a blue-haired slot player with a bucket full of quarters.

When Bet MGM wanted a photo-op with Mack presenting the winning tickets at the betting window, Mack pulled a wrinkled Manila envelope out of his old Astros backpack, an array of folded papers and receipts falling to the floor. Mack dug through the raggedy scraps of paper until he found the winning tickets.

Then finally, when it was time to collect the final payoff of this wild ride — $10 million cash – Mack and his friends gathered in the lobby with half a dozen security guards and hotel executives. It was 3:11 a.m.

The director of Aria security, the one with an athletic build and a pronounced scar running down the back of his head, led the group, hustling across the casino floor in a fitted blue suit. Other security personnel were talking into cell phones, their eyes darting back-and-forth. Two armed security guards trailed the pack as Mack was flanked by Bet MGM executives and his son-in-law, Phil, and nephew, Tripp.

The casino floor still was wide awake and popping, like Mack, the floor cackling with gaming machine bells, one-too-many loud conversations, and table game hoots and groans.

The group was escorted into an unmarked, windowless room with a large thick-steel cage on one side of the room. Behind the steel bars, two executive tellers stood flanking a roughly two-foot by four-foot locked steel bin. The key was fetched from another locked wall box, and the bin was opened. Inside were six sealed plastic parcels imprinted with “Federal Reserve.” In each of the five parcels was $1.5 million in wrapped $100-bill bricks. In the other was $1 million in wrapped $100 bricks.

“All we need is the tickets,” one teller said.

Mack could not find them. He thought he gave them to the teller the night before at the photo op. The room went silent. Finally, digging back into the backpack, Mack found the tickets in the bottom of a pocket.

“Man, that’s a lot of money,” Mack said, stepping back in awe of the magnitude of the moment and the pile of money in front of him.

As the money was delivered into the trunk of one of a pair of limousines waiting in the hidden private drive, the entire group hustled into the vehicles, and the limousines sped off. Once on the tarmac, a red wheelbarrow was delivered to the group, and Mack began stacking the parcels onto the wheelbarrow. The tire on the wheelbarrow went flat from the weight of the money, so Mack dragged it to the luggage bin of his jet.

“We’re gonna fly this back to Houston, put it in a bank downtown, and we’re having the first of three events Sunday night at Gallery Furniture,” Mack said. “My wife has been writing checks all week. We have 14 other people writing checks. This is for our customers. This is a win-win for everyone.”

Finally, the last sealed package containing $1.5 million in cash was packed and closed in the plane’s luggage bin. Everyone hustled onto the plane, and once seated, Mack turned, exhaled, and smiled. The plane was in the air and headed back to Houston no more than three minutes after the door shut.

“Well … that’s the wildest trip I ever took,” he said. “That’s about as crazy a trip as I’ve had.”

Yup. And rest assured, he is ready to do it again.

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  • Thank you for telling this once-in-a-lifetime story, Lopez — and for bringing the real life character, Mattress Mack, to life!

  • John, I love your writing. Thank you for sharing your words that made it feel like we were there.

  • Such a cool story! Well written skipper!

  • Great story OG!

  • Thank you so much for that. As a long time Houstonian that loves your radio work I forgot what a great writer you are. THANK YOU!

  • Hmm. I wonder why they don’t just write a cashier’s check or wire the money. Seems like the smart way to do it. Carrying that much cash is a liability for all involved.

  • Wow. Makes you wonder why they would risk flying it rather than wiring it. Maybe for the thrill and the moment. Seems risky to me. But hey, one lucky guy. Met him at his store when I lived there. Super down to earth and humble man. So happy for him, Houston, and his customers.


  • Temendous story John, congrats to Matress Mack for his win. He’s a “first class gentleman”and a true man of the people!

  • Love seeing anyone who beats the odds against the casino’s!!
    Good thing he has all those mattresses, he’s gonna need them to stuff.

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