Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale told an SBC North America gaming conference audience at the Meadowlands Exposition Center on Wednesday that he had two employees who told him they were utterly certain they knew who would win the 2014 Super Bowl.
So he said he sent those two employees to the game — coincidentally, played just up the road from the New Jersey conference, at MetLife Stadium — and began an extensive promotion where customers who bought $3,000 in furniture and mattresses would get their money back if the “other team” somehow won.
“By Saturday night, we had sold every piece of furniture in the whole store — couches, recliners, bedroom sets,” said the 71-year-old McIngvale, clad in cowboy boots and a custom-made Houston Astros jersey that read “Win It All” as his name and with “2X” where a jersey number would go. “Once the shelves were empty, I had to get up on top of a desk and tell people, ‘No more, we’re done.’
“I was too nervous to watch the game, but then my cellphone rang and my wife said, ‘You dummy — you lost us $9 million,’” after the Denver Broncos were routed by the Seattle Seahawks, 43-8.
But the barrage of national attention on the promotion proved to be even more lucrative. McIngvale said that a major ad agency estimated he received $20 million worth of free publicity.
The promotions have continued, and so have multi-million-dollar bets that Mattress Mack soon realized he could take out as hedges. This spring, he put up $4 million on the Astros to win the World Series at 10/1 odds. Most books, given the Astros’ strong first half, now have them at 5/1 — including FanDuel, DraftKings, and Caesars.
Turning ‘boring’ into fun
McIngvale tends to lead with quips, but he said his promotions are simply a logical business proposition.
“Furniture buying — let’s face it, it’s as boring as you can get,” McIngvale said, adding that online merchants such as Amazon are an existential threat to his business.
But with the potential for a “free deal,” McIngvale said that customers visit the store already having decided that they will spend $3,000. And while furniture stores were down about 50% in sales nationwide in June, McIngvale said his stores were only down 2% — and he projects a rise in sales this month compared to July 2021.
McIngvale said having the hometown Astros as the 2017 promotion led to customers collecting $17 million worth of free merchandise. He said he went to Las Vegas and bet each Astros series and many of the individual games, ultimately cutting into his losses.
Sportsbooks have won millions off him, said McIngvale, who said that, for the most part, “my picks are horrible.”
This spring, his promotion was that furniture buyers would have “action” on the highest-ranked Texas team — expected to be top-seeded Baylor — to reach the men’s Final Four. But his alternate angle won the day: With no Lone Star State teams left, customers would get the team located closest to Texas instead. That turned out to be Kansas, the eventual national champion.
So McIngvale said he and wife drove east from Houston across the border to Louisiana, a legal sports betting state.
“We were sitting at a Sonic [fast food restaurant] eating a hamburger, and we bet $14 million,” said McIngvale, adding that he wires his money to a willing sportsbook beforehand.
The touchy topics of sportsbooks limiting pro bettors
Casual fans tend to enjoy Mattress Mack anecdotes more than many professional sports bettors, some of whom might get on a hot streak with $200 bets during football season and then find out that a sportsbook has lowered their limit to a level such as $50.
McIngvale said he is sympathetic to those gamblers.
“Winners are the best advertising on the world,” he said. “And the fact is that, by definition, in gambling if you get on a hot streak, that means a cold streak is coming. There are those who would bet $10 million or $15 million if they could — but if you limit them to $10,000, they’re not as interested.”
And what about McIngvale’s beloved home state of Texas?
“I used to think that Texas would never have sports wagering,” said McIngvale, who changed his mind after reading a pro-gambling editorial in the Houston Chronicle and being asked by some Republican leaders in the state to speak with lawmakers on the topic.
“Within five years, there will be legal sports betting in the great state of Texas,” McIngvale said, later doubling down on “under” five years if forced to pick along that time frame. “That way, I can continue to gamble with both hands every day.”
Does Mack like non-promotional sports betting?
In spite of that quip, McIngvale said that in reality, he rarely makes bets except those related to his furniture advertising.
“My first big bet was in 2006, with [Texas quarterback] Vince Young against USC” in the Rose Bowl national championship game, McIngvale said. He flew to Las Vegas with some of his top salesmen, where he said he bet $200,000 on Texas to win outright at +250 odds. Texas rallied to win, 41-38, and McIngvale stopped again in Las Vegas on the way home to collect his winnings.
“My wife says I have a gambling problem, but I don’t have a gambling problem — I have a promotions problem,” said Mattress Mack, whose high-limit casinos of choice are Caesars properties.
After his 30-minute discussion with ESPN sports betting writer David Purdum, McIngvale told US Bets that his father was a gambler, too — and that after he played his final football game for North Texas State at San Diego State, he and his dad drove to Las Vegas to place some bets.
McIngvale added that he “pitched pennies against the wall” as a youngster — his first modest foray into the world of gambling. After arriving in Houston in the 1980s, he said he found some in-house poker games where a top payoff might be around $5,000.
In the early days of his furniture business, McIngvale was down to his last $10,000, so he decided to invest it in a commercial. He didn’t like the premise, so he elected to put himself on the screen. More than 10 million views later, McIngvale said he was glad he trusted his instincts.
“I’m a hustler and a promoter, and I will be to the day that I die,” said McIngvale.
Photo: Brett Davis/USA TODAY