The Houston Astros Are Queasy Money for Sportsbooks Because of 1 Wild Bet

The sporadic protests at their games confirm there are still MLB fans who aren’t over the Houston Astros winning the 2017 World Series. But if you think the prospect of a 2021 championship has those fans riled up, just try walking in the shoes of executives at the William Hill sportsbook.

A case of agita over the prospect of the Astros winning it all is one thing, but losing $20 million is quite another. But that’s exactly what is at stake following a huge bet by a Texas businessman.

The Houston Astros’ signal-stealing scandal was a black mark on MLB

Houston businessman Jim McIngvale, known as 'Mattress Mack,'  poses for a portrait at his Gallery Furniture store in Houston. | Mark Felix for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Houston businessman Jim McIngvale, known as ‘Mattress Mack,’ poses for a portrait at his Gallery Furniture store in Houston. | Mark Felix for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The history of the Houston Astros dates to 1962, but it took until 2005 to reach a World Series and then 2017 to capture the championship in a seven-game nail-biter against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Two years later, The Athletic used information from pitcher Mike Fiers to reveal how the Astros pieced together an intricate system to cheat their way to the championship. Using a camera in center field and a monitor in the dugout runway, the Astros stole catchers’ signs and knew what was coming. By banging on a garbage can near the dugout, they tipped off Houston batters on whether to expect a fastball or a breaking pitch.

The MLB commissioner’s office investigated and confirmed the details of the website’s report. The punishment was harsh, beginning with a year-long suspension of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. MLB also docked the franchise $5 million and took away draft picks.

But what commissioner Rob Manfred did not do was strip the Astros of their World Series title.

The pandemic delayed the start of the 2020 season. Once action started, opposing fans booed the Astros, waved signs mocking them for cheating, and threw objects on the field to further show their displeasure. The behavior carried into the 2021 season.

The Houston Astros are in the hunt, and so is ‘Mattress Mack’

The Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox enter Game 3 of their American League Division Series on Sunday night tied at a game apiece. That puts the Astros within 11 postseason victories of their second championship.

Their fans are pulling for them, but none more so than Jim McIngvale, the man known around town as Mattress Mack. McIngvale operates the Gallery Furniture stores, which is a high-volume business in part because of an irresistible offer he makes each year: Customers spending more than $3,000 get their money back if the Astros win the World Series.

McIngvale can afford to root for the Astros to win because he limits the potential liability by laying down bets with sportsbooks. In June, he wagered $2 million with the William Hill sportsbook, owned by Caesars Entertainment Inc., at 10-to-1 odds. According to ActionNetwork.com, that puts him in line for the biggest legalized betting win in U.S. history.

Mattress Mack didn’t stop there. He made a series of other bets. In total, he is gambling $3.25 million to bring home $35.6 million. And McIngvale will need every penny of it: After taxes, he’ll barely cover the estimated $20 million in potential liability from the promotion.

“Obviously the Astros would be the worst-case scenario,” Caesars VP Craig Mucklow told the website. “It’s an exciting bet to take, but it would be nice if they got knocked out early.”

That scenario would leave McIngvale in the hole by $3.25 million, which is much better than taking a $20 million hit.

‘Mattress Mack’ has done this before

Having to wager as less favorable odds, businessman Jim McIngvale dropped about $5 million in 2019 as the Washington Nationals beat the Houston Astros in the World Series, but the alternative would have been rebating $20 million for a championship. Sales volume was down to around $6 million in eligible purchases in 2020 because of the pandemic, so he didn’t need to bet (or lose) as much. The $250,000 hit was a drop in the bucket.

The 2019 loss hit Mattress Mack in the checkbook, but FanDuel, which handled much of the action from McIngvale, chalked up that World Series as its most successful sporting event yet.

“The Astros had a 55-45 spread in terms of bet count, but when it came to money, it was 85% to 90% in favor of Houston,” FanDuel’s director of risk and trading John Sheeran said, according to Yahoo! Finance.

McIngvale is more optimistic than nervous this time.

“We just gotta make the best run,” he said.

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