Column: ‘Mattress Mack’ could lose $15 million if Astros win World Series. He’s OK with that
Jim McIngvale isn’t much of a gambler. At least that’s what the Houston furniture store owner known as “Mattress Mack” claims when asked about the big wagers he has made.
“I couldn’t pick a big dog out in a room full of Chihuahuas,” he said. “I don’t gamble. I hedge.”
Whatever you want to call it, McIngvale has sports books across Nevada looking the other way when his name comes up.
Two years ago, McIngvale, 68, who earned his nickname by wearing a mattress in local ads, offered a refund on any mattress purchase of at least $3,000 if the Astros won the World Series. He hedged the promotion through insurance policies and multiple six-figure bets on Houston at various sports books.
When the Astros won, McIngvale returned about $13 million in mattresses. But by successfully hedging the bet, he lost only about $1 million — a small price to pay for the exposure he got.
“The word of mouth on the promotion was remarkable in 2017,” McIngvale said. “Everyone knew about it. We developed loyal customers with over 60% buying more furniture.”
Looking to make a similar splash this fall, McIngvale is offering the same deal and is currently on the hook for more than $15 million in mattresses if the Astros win the World Series. There’s only one problem: This time, insurance companies and sports books aren’t offering the same deal when it comes to the hedge.
McIngvale didn’t look to hedge on his promotion until last month, after the Astros had added pitcher Zack Greinke at the trade deadline. They currently have the best record in baseball and are favored to win the World Series at most sports books. The favorable insurance rates and odds he got two years ago when the Dodgers were favored are no longer available.
“I bought a huge insurance policy before where I didn’t have to do much hedging in Nevada,” he said. “I don’t have any insurance this year. The reason is, the Astros have been hot all year and the insurance rates weren’t as good as they were, and then the Astros got Greinke and became the favorites. So I’ve had to hedge in Nevada, but the Astros are more prohibitive favorites, so the price is lower.”
McIngvale had his attorney reach out to Anthony Curtis, a gambler who publishes the popular Las Vegas Advisor newsletter and various books on gambling. Many sports books that had happily taken McIngvale’s action two years ago were now turning him away, so he needed a local to help him out.
“Insurance is gambling, it has to do with odds and that’s how they set prices,” Curtis said. “So Mack didn’t pursue the policy fast enough before they made their big moves. So they gave him a cost that wasn’t as good as he could do by just going to the gambling market.
“The problem is the sports books don’t want to cooperate. I’m flabbergasted by their reticence. They’re worried about their balance sheets. This isn’t a professional gambler with an edge. This is a businessman looking to hedge and they should accept his bet, but they’re not and it stuns me. We can’t make legal bets for him and it’s disappointing.”
Many of the sports books that turned down McIngvale’s money or capped a possible wager in the low five figures wouldn’t go on the record to explain why, but privately they each had a similar reasoning for their decision: They like the Astros to win the World Series, and they like their current position on the wagering and don’t want to lose it all on one massive out-of-town bet.
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The “out-of-town” part of this is important because a sports book might be more inclined to accept a bet over their maximum if it was from a player they would see again regularly and have a chance to recoup their loss. McIngvale, who works seven days a week in Houston, isn’t going to be a regular. He’s simply looking to hedge on his promotion.
“I’m sure he wants to bet a million here and a million there, but we’ve worked and molded our futures for a while,” said one oddsmaker. “We’re not just going to give away that position on one big bet on a team we think is going to win it all. You’re now looking at a big red number. It doesn’t make much sense.”
Many sports books have the Astros winning the World Series at +220. McIngvale is looking to make a bet at +250. That means, if he won, he’d get $350 back for every $100 he bet.
“I think they’re afraid of the Astros,” McIngvale said. “I think +250 is a fair price. It’s a nice margin for the book and a good return for me. I just want to be protected if the Astros win, that’s all.”
If Nevada books won’t cooperate, McIngvale may have to turn to New Jersey or another place where sports gambling is legal. Fan Duel in New Jersey has offered to work with him, but not at the odds he is seeking. He wants the Astros at +250, not +220.
The only Las Vegas sports book to take a significant bet from McIngvale has been the South Point, which accommodated him in 2017 as well.
Jimmy Vaccaro, who has been one of the most prominent bookmakers in Las Vegas for more than 40 years, met McIngvale a couple of years ago and was willing to take a $200,000 bet on Houston to win the World Series at +250. If the Astros win, the ticket would be worth $700,000 — a $500,000 profit.
Guess who’s treating for dinner tonight? pic.twitter.com/wvOeJDDbp8— Jimmy Vaccaro (@JimmyVaccaro) September 24, 2019
Of course, against a potential $15-million loss, that’s a drop in the bucket.
“I know he liked our odds,” Vaccaro said. “When you’re betting $200,000 or more, there’s a big difference between +250 and +220.”
Curtis was at the South Point to help see the wager through, and he didn’t leave empty handed.
“There was no way I wasn’t going to get some drink tickets,” Curtis said. “We made a $200,000 bet and I got a couple drink tickets and they were only good for domestic beer.”
Joked Vaccaro: “We treat everyone the same here.The guy who bet $20 on the Yankees tonight gets two drink tickets, and the guy who bets $200,000 on the Astros gets two drink tickets too.”
McIngvale said he will be in Houston for the postseason and will be pulling for the Astros to win even if it will mean taking on a multimillion-dollar loss.
“I hedge these bets not just for financial reasons but so I can still root and pull for the Astros,” McIngvale said. “I love the Astros. So hopefully I can hedge this bet and the best thing that can happen is the Astros win the World Series and we can have a refund party where I give back over $15 million in furniture.”
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