A Houston furniture salesman, facing millions of dollars in refunds if the Astros win the World Series, has enlisted the help of two high-level gamblers from Las Vegas to find an American bookmaker willing to take a giant bet.
Gallery Furniture in Houston is offering to refund purchases of mattresses costing $3,000 or more, if the Astros win the World Series. Store owner Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale says sales spiked when the Astros picked up starting pitcher Zack Greinke at the Major League Baseball trade deadline, and then again over Labor Day weekend, when Justin Verlander tossed a no-hitter.
"The customers aren't dumb," McIngvale told ESPN this week "They know what's going on. They're hedging themselves as well."
Now, as Houston prepares to enter the postseason as consensus favorites to win the World Series, Mattress Mack is staring at a hefty liability, one so big that he's looking to hedge his potential losses with a bet upward of $10 million on the Astros.
With just a few days left in the regular season, the Astros are around +220 to win the World Series at most sportsbooks. If McIngvale is able to get $10 million down on the Astros, he would be in position to win more than $20 million to help pay for mattress refunds.
"I've placed hedge bets [on the Astros] at certain places, with still a few more to go," McIngvale said. "It's all kind of in flux. It's like the stock market. You have to shop for the best price."
The shopping process is ongoing, and it has been an ordeal, both frustrating and enlightening for the 68-year-old McIngvale. He's partnered with Anthony Curtis and Frank Betti, two well-known Las Vegas sharps, who have been communicating with bookmakers in Nevada and New Jersey and scoping out which places will take the biggest bet at the best price.
Sportsbooks maintain a much bigger house edge on futures markets, like the odds to win the World Series, than on single-game wagers. Even so, Curtis said multiple bookmakers have declined to take their action on the Astros. And the other shops willing to take their action so far took much less than they wanted to bet.
"The bookmakers are being offered a very good gamble, and they don't want to take it," said Curtis, who owns Huntington Press Publishing and runs the popular website LasVegasAdvisor.com.
This week, Las Vegas veteran bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro of the South Point sportsbook did take a $200,000 bet from McIngvale on the Astros at +250. McIngvale and his team, however, are eyeing a New Jersey bookmaker in hopes of placing a much bigger bet, potentially upwards of $10 million.
FanDuel, which operates out of the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey, has offered to take up to $10 million on the Astros from McIngvale, according to Curtis, but first must get approval from the state regulators. In early September, FanDuel filed a formal request with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. The decision was still pending as of Tuesday.
"It seems to me that some of the places in New Jersey -- let's put it this way -- are a little bit more aggressive, and willing to take larger amounts than some of the guys are out west," McIngvale said. "There are new kids in town."
The sports betting landscape in the U.S. has evolved dramatically since McIngvale first began his sports-themed promotions.
In 2015, after receiving assurance from two employees who were Peyton Manning fans, he offered to refund purchases if the Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. McIngvale expected to do only $2-$3 million in sales during the promotion that ran for 10 days.
"Well, we did about $9 million in volume," McIngvale recalled. "We sold out of furniture on the Saturday night before the Super Bowl and had to close the store."
McIngvale did not place any hedge bets that year and went into the Super Bowl needing the Broncos to win to avoid refunding $9 million in purchases.
The Seahawks won 43-8.
"My guys told me there was no way Denver was going to lose the Super Bowl," McIngvale said. "On the first play, they snapped the ball over Peyton Manning's head, and I thought, 'Oh, Lord.' I thought my wife was going to divorce me on that one."
In 2017, when the Astros won the franchise's first World Series, a similar promotion cost Mattress Mack more than $13 million in refunds. Sources told ESPN that year that McIngvale went around Las Vegas, sportsbook to sportsbook, placing more than $1 million in bets on the Astros to win the World Series at around 3-2 odds. Houston defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in a thrilling seven-game series.
McIngvale declined to specify how much money he was able to wager on the Astros in 2017.
"It worked out well for the Astros and it worked out well for our customers," McIngvale said. "That's all that matters."
For now, as McIngvale lines up his hedge bets, he's already seen a positive omen for the Astros. McIngvale's racehorse "Takeitback," named after the Astros' team slogan this year, recently won its maiden race at Kentucky Downs at 44-1.
"I was moving sofas and didn't have time to bet," McIngvale said with a chuckle, "but my little horse won the race at 44-1 and I didn't get a dime on it."
He's hoping to have more than a dime riding on the Astros.