Mattress Mack, The Most Famous Gambler in The Kentucky Derby

March 6, 2024

Mattress Mack, the famous gambler in The Kentucky Derby

Without question, the Kentucky Derby is the world’s most renowned thoroughbred race, nicknamed the most exciting two minutes in sports. It is the most attended horse racing event in the United States and the oldest continuously held sporting event in America.

Over its almost one-and-a-half-century existence, The Kentucky Derby has given birth to various globally famous champions like Secretariat, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Spectacular Bid, Always Dreaming, and many more. But the race has also made one gambler attain fame worldwide, and that individual is Jim McIngvale, better known as Mattress Mack, a Texas furniture retail chain owner who placed a $2 million bet on the Derby in 2021.

Who Is Jim McIngvale?

McIngvale is a Starkville, Mississippi native, born in February 1951. He spent a portion of his early childhood in the seat of Oktibbeha County before moving to Dallas, where he graduated from Bishop Lynch High School. McIngvale first went to Austin’s University of Texas and then attended Texas State in Denton. He was a football fan, playing at the college level at both Universities, where he earned a reputation for being an astute self-promoter.

After leaving school, Jim began working at a convenience store before getting a job in a Dallas furniture store. The latter allowed him to discover and become educated on the inner workings of this furniture sector, which led him to develop a love for this industry. He was able to translate this passion into growing a multi-million-dollar furniture empire down the road. The start of that successful journey began with McIngvale moving to Houston in 1981 with his wife Linda, and the pair opening up a store named Gallery Furniture, with a saving of only $5,000.

Today, Jima and Linda are still a couple, living in a Northgate Forest mansion, an unincorporated area of Texas’ Harris County, labeled as maybe the region’s most recognizable residents.

The Success of Gallery Furniture

As mentioned, Gallery Furniture was founded in 1981, and the business generated impressive sales in its first year of operations. Much of that got credited to many Americans moving to Houston to get jobs in the city’s booming steel, oil, and auto industries. Hence, they required furniture for their novel abodes.

That said, two years in, Gallery Furniture’s sales dropped, causing Jim and Linda to rethink how they go about marketing their business. When faced with dire straits, the pair posted fliers around town and commercials on local television stations. The TV ads proved to be a turning point for Gallery Furniture, primarily due to McIngvale’s fast-talking, energetic pitches, ones he usually ended with the statement – Gallery Furniture saves you money.

Jim would don a mattress costume in multiple commercials in the following years, earning him the nickname Mattress Mack. His store grew further because of its client-centric approach, with same-day delivery promises.

Philanthropy & Political Influence

McIngavle has an extensive track record of helping out those in need, particularly in times of crises, as evidenced by Jim opening up his stores for those affected by Hurricane Harvey, Tropical Storm Imelda, Hurricane Ida, and during the Texas power calamity of 2021.

McIngavle also received much public press for donating to the political campaigns of Republican candidates Madison Cawthorn, Ted Cruz, Lauren Boebert, and Donald Trump. He also endorsed Bill King in Houston’s mayor’s race in 2015 and George P. Bush in the 2022 Texas Attorney General election. Jim also has a history of supporting the Tea Party Movement, for which he has paid ads featured in the Houston Chronicle.

Horses & Gambling

While most will say that McIngvale has become known for his enthusiasm and innovative nature, it cannot go unsaid that he also has gotten massive public attention for owning horses that can run super-fast and his mix-result gambling endeavors.

Mattress Mack has made quite the mark on the horse racing scene as a stallion owner of Runhappy, a sprinter nominated for three Eclipse Awards in 2015, which also won the GI Breeders’ Cup Sprint that same year. The horse also broke records at Saratoga and Keeneland, racing medication-free. Runhappy has been Jim’s most successful horse, producing almost $1.5 million in purse wins. During and Wimbledon have also done well for this furniture mogul, claiming $800,000 and $443,000 in career earnings, respectively.

We touched upon in the intro that McIngavle made nationwide headline betting on the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, as KY online casinos and sportsbooks were not legal in 2021, when he made his $2 million bet (the highest in Derby history) on favorite Essential Quality, which he lost.

Unfortunately, Jim has made the news cycle several times because of his inaccurate predictions, as he lost $4.5 million wagers on Super Bowl LVL and $9.2 million on the final two games of the 2022 and 2023 CFP National Championships. That said, he is also noted for getting the highest total payout in sports betting history, a $75 million one, for the Houston Astros claiming the 2022 World Series.

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