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'Mattress Mack' says his bets make furniture buying more interesting

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

While watching this year's Kentucky Derby, there was a moment that stuck with our colleague Steve Inskeep.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: So there was this live shot from the betting windows. And the reporter said somebody back there was about to place a $1.2 million bet. The guy was Jim McIngvale, and it was said he somehow used the bet to promote his business. He bet on Angel of Empire, which was the favorite, and he lost. So I had to call him.

Mr. McIngvale.

JIM MCINGVALE: What's up?

INSKEEP: Hey. It's Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

MCINGVALE: Hey, Steve. Nice to talk to you.

INSKEEP: You were especially generous to come on (laughter) given that you lost your bet that I want to ask you about.

MCINGVALE: Hey, you know, Steve, you win some. You lose some. And sometimes, you get rained out. You got to get up the next morning, put on your big-girl, big-boy britches, go right back to work.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) All right.

Mr. McIngvale's business is known as mattressmack.com. He's based in Houston. He bets on sporting events all the time. As a promotion, he stages mattress sales, offers customers a chance at a refund and then places a bet on the favorite as a hedge.

MCINGVALE: We refunded $76 million after the Astros won the World Series.

INSKEEP: And then, of course, if the favorite loses, as happened in the case of the Kentucky Derby, you lost your $1.2 million, but you got to keep the money for all the mattresses.

MCINGVALE: Correct. That's how it works. Yes, sir.

INSKEEP: Nevertheless, doesn't it hurt just a little bit to lose a $1.2 million bet?

MCINGVALE: It felt like a very swift kick in the gut, but after about a couple of minutes, I got over it and put my chin up, smiles on and went on about my business.

INSKEEP: How did you get into sports betting?

MCINGVALE: I went to a Catholic elementary school, junior high and high school. And they used to have bazaars and raffles all the time. So I'm still a very devout practicing Catholic. I blame the church on getting me to gambling.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

MCINGVALE: Then I had done numerous Super Bowls, World Series, those type of things. It's all about making furniture-buying more interesting for the customers. So it's a win-win for the community and a win-win for us.

INSKEEP: Do you ever bet when there's not furniture at stake?

MCINGVALE: Very rarely. I have a, should I say, compulsive personality. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it's for promotional purposes.

INSKEEP: I want to clarify what you - you said a compulsive personality. Gambling, of course, can be addictive for a lot of people. You're saying you want to be careful with your gambling?

MCINGVALE: Yep. And I'm a compulsive worker. I work about 14 hours a day, seven days a week. So I know who I am, and I've been able to watch it. Gambling is fun. It's a great pastime for millions of Americans. But as you said, it certainly can be compulsive.

INSKEEP: Does gambling teach you anything about life?

MCINGVALE: Resilience. Resilience. Resilience.

INSKEEP: Oh, meaning because you have to be ready to lose a lot.

MCINGVALE: I firmly believe in my heart that a setback is just a setup for a comeback.

INSKEEP: So you're doing these bets, to underline, as a promotion rather than to make a living or anything like that. But nevertheless, you're sitting there trying to pick a horse. What advice would you give to anybody else who's trying to pick a winning horse?

MCINGVALE: Pick one that's kind of a long shot, 5-10 to 1, 'cause you get a bigger return on investment. And pick a horse race where there's eight or 10 or 12 horses in the race. You - the odds are much better there. And if you see a horse that reminds you of your best friend's name or your favorite colors, bet on it 'cause you'll probably win.

INSKEEP: (Laughter). You don't do any of that. You pick the favorite. You're telling people, don't bet like I bet.

MCINGVALE: Well, I had to pick the favorite because otherwise, the customers would be upset...

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

MCINGVALE: ...If I picked the horse wearing red silks, and he was 5 to 1.

INSKEEP: Jim McIngvale, also known as Mattress Mack, thanks so much.

MCINGVALE: Great to be on the show. Y'all have a great day. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.