One bet on Super Bowl LVI may not seem like much when $7.6 billion is expected to be wagered on Sunday, but tell that to “Mattress Mack,” the Texas furniture entrepreneur and legendary sports gambler, who has $9.5 million riding on the Cincinnati Bengals to win it all.
Mack, whose real name is Jim McIngvale, has 20 million reasons for his wager—the big bet is a business decision. McIngvale owns Houston-based furniture store Gallery Furniture and he’s hedging a huge furniture promotion.
“If a customer comes in and buys a $3,000 mattress or a $3,000 reclining sofa, reclining loveseat, or reclining sectional, and the team from Cincinnati wins, they get their money back,” McIngvale says over the phone from his store. “I have a whole lot of liability on Cincinnati winning, which is why I turned around and bet on Cincinnati.”
Customers have from now until the start of the game to buy and take possession of the furniture in order for the chance to get a full refund. By the end of the promotion, McIngvale hopes to sell some $20 million worth of product.
“It’s a lot sexier than liability insurance,” he says.
McIngvale has been running these types of promotions and hedging against them with sports wagers for about 15 years, so he’s not feeling too uneasy about his hefty wager.
“If they lose, I lose the money on the bet, but I have the customer’s money, so it’s a wash,” he says. “The best scenario is for the team to win, the customers get their money back, and I get my initial investment on the bet back. That’s the way I’ve structured it: it has to be a win for the customers to be win for me.”
As a traditional retailer, the 71-year-old entrepreneur has relied on gimmicks like this to keep his business alive in the era of e-commerce. “Brick-and-mortar retailing is certainly a challenge right now with Amazon and Wayfair, so we have to do things to make it fun, keep it interesting so people come to our store and buy furniture,” he says. “And it certainly does all those things.”
Sports gambling is not legal in Texas, so McIngvale used to fly to Las Vegas, Colorado, or New Jersey. But this time, he only had to drive 120 miles from his home in Houston to a rest stop across the border in Louisiana, which launched mobile sports betting three weeks ago, to place his bets.
Last week, he put down a $4.5 million bet on Cincinnati to beat the Rams at +170. On Friday, which happened to be McIngvale’s 71st birthday, one of his employees drove him back to Louisiana so he could wager another $5 million on the Bengals, which was first reported by Houston’s KPRC 2. According to Caesars Sportsbook, with whom he placed the bets, his $9.5 million stake would pay $16.2 million.
“Caesar—at least for the moment—is a Rams fan,” said Ken Fuchs, head of Caesars Sportsbook, in a statement.
While is this the biggest wager ever accepted by Caesars Sportsbook, this is only McIngvale’s latest super-sized bet. His biggest gamble was on the Houston Astros to win the 2019 World Series. He put a total of $17 million on his hometown team over a couple of months and lost when the Astros were defeated by the Washington Nationals.
The loss stung, but at least it “was offset by furniture sales,” he says. “It would be better to win and give the customers their money back, but they are a hedge.”
His biggest win came in 2017 when the Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. He won about $15 million that year.
The Bengals, who have never won a Super Bowl and were last in the championship game in 1988, are the underdogs this year. McIngvale says he’s betting on them for a few reasons.
“First of all, I like Joe Burrow,” he says of Cincinnati’s star quarterback. “I like the Tennessee Titans and he beat Tennessee, and he beat the Kansas City Chiefs, and I considered Kansas City to be unbeatable, so I don’t know if they’re going to win or not, but they have a real good shot. Plus, when you bet the money line and you get back +170, that’s a whole lot better than betting on the Rams.”
And, boy, can the Bengals sell furniture. Burrow went to Louisiana State University and McIngvale says there are tons of people in Houston who went to LSU and in need of a new mattress. “They’ve been turning out tremendously to buy these furniture and mattress items,” he says.
As for Sunday, Mack will be watching the Super Bowl at Camp Hope, a Houston-based intensive residential program for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. If he wins, he’ll celebrate with the guys. And a few weeks later Mack will host a victory party for his customers and give them their money back.
If what happens if he loses that $9.5 million?
“Then I put my big boy britches on and the next morning go back to work,” McIngvale says. “It’s all you can do; you win some, you lose some; sometimes you get rained out.”