Jim McIngvale, more widely known as Mattress Mack, brought a suitcase containing $3.5 million to wager on the Houston Astros at Scarlet Pearl Casino in D’Iberville.

Chances are, you’ve read or heard of Jim McIngvale – AKA “Mattress Mack” – the Texas furniture magnate who has wagered millions on his beloved hometown Houston Astros.

Chances are, you did not know there is a strong Mississippi connection where Mattress Mack is concerned.

Actually, there are several.

Rick Cleveland

Turns out, McIngvale is a Starkville native. Turns out, his father was a Mississippi State football star on one of the school’s greatest teams. Turns out, Mattress Mack made several of his recent bets at Mississippi casinos.

First, the news: McIngvale has placed more than $12 million in wagers on the Houston Astros to win the World Series at casinos in Mississippi, New Jersey and Las Vegas. Included in that was a single $3.5 million wager – the largest in Mississippi sports book history – which he bet on Oct. 1 at the DraftKings Sports Book at the Scarlet Pearl Casino in D’Iberville when the Astros had not yet begun to play in the American League playoffs. Should the Astros win the Series, he will win $7.7 million from that one bet alone. He has since placed two more $1 million bets on the Astros at the Scarlet Pearl. All totaled, he will win approximately $22 million if the Astros win the Series, more than $9 million at the Scarlet Pearl.

We’ll get to the wagers made in Mississippi, but first the Starkville background, much of it provided by Mattress Mack’s first cousin, Jack Cook, Jr., of Starkville.

“Jim McIngvale’s father, George Critz McIngvale, is my daddy’s brother, nicknamed Teaberry. He grew up in Starkville, played football at Mississippi State and bled maroon his entire life,” Cook said.

George McIngvale was Mr. Starkville High and voted “Best Athlete” of his senior class. He later played on the famous Mississippi State Orange Bowl team of 1940, which finished 10-0-1. He also played basketball and ran track for the Bulldogs.

George “Teaberry” McIngvale moved his family, including six children, to Dallas when Jim (Mattress Mack) was just a young boy. From Dallas, the McIngvale children went separate ways. Jim returned to Starkville and Mississippi State for a short time to try out for football in the early 1970s.

“Jim’s not a big guy, and I don’t think he played very much if at all,” Jack Cook, Jr. said. “He went back to school in Texas.”

Jim McIngvale eventually went to Houston where he founded Gallery Furniture, which has grown into a $200 million in sales per year business. He is nothing if not a character. And a giver. And he is often in the news.

“Jim’s done a lot of things like this,” Cook said. “A couple years ago after Hurricane Harvey, he opened up his stores for people to stay who had lost their homes to the storms and the flooding. He’s made phenomenal amounts of money but he always had a good heart for helping folks down on their luck.”

McIngvale is known as a shrewd businessman. Indeed, much of what he wins if the Astros take the Series will be used to fund a store promotion that offered free furniture to shoppers if the Astros win the World Series.

Says Gretchen Botha, another Mississippi native transplanted to Houston: “Mattress Mack is beloved here in Houston. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, he was on the news and in the newspaper daily, organizing all sorts of relief efforts and raising money to help people. He opened his showroom doors for shelter before Joel Osteen opened his mega-church, if that tells you something. He’s a huge Astros fan, as well, and he often takes military veterans to games with him.”

Jim McIngvale, nicknamed Mattress Mack, shows off his betting slip after wagering about $5.5 million on three separate bets at the Scarlet Pearl Casino in D’Iberville.

In October, Mattress Mack has flown into Mississippi on three separate occasions to place wagers, including the first wager of $3.5 million on Oct. 1. On that first visit, he met LouAn Pappas, the CEO of Scarlet Pearl Casino.

Pappas, in a phone conversation, called McIngvale “an endearing man, who captured our hearts while he was here. We had dinner. Everyone loved Mattress Mack.”

McIngvale’s $3.5 million bet, Pappas said, “is not only the largest single bet in Mississippi history, but also one of the largest in the history of American sports gambling.”

“Mattress Mack said as a native Mississippian, he was proud to make the bet in Mississippi, and we were proud to have him make it in our casino,” Pappas said.

No, Pappas said, she did not expect Mattress Mack to make a return trip Tuesday to increase his wager.

“No, but if the Astros win, we certainly expect to see him one day real soon,” Pappas said. “He has to be present to collect about $9 million. I would get here pretty quickly if it was me. Wouldn’t you?”

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.