A former boss of mine, an editor who came up in heady days of journalism and still believed in the three-martini lunch, once told me that the definition of an alcoholic is someone you don't like who drinks more than you.
I note this because it means I'm a poor judge of what a gambling problem looks like—I don't really gamble at all, save the occasional game of poker. I can't even bring myself to buy a lottery ticket when the jackpot is astronomical. So I don't know if I'm crazy to feel a little concerned about Mattress Mack's gambling habit.
Back in 2014, Jim McIngvale came up with a novel promotion: Customers who spent at least $6,000 at Gallery Furniture and had their furniture delivered would get it for free if the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl that year. The Seahawks, as you might remember, crushed the Broncos 43–8, and Mack refunded about $7 million to the customers who took him up on the bet. McIngvale told ESPN "the gambler in him" wouldn't let him take out insurance on the promotion, and the loss represented about 5 percent of Gallery Furniture's annual revenues.
The Seahawks were considered underdogs, and Mack bet against them based on a coin toss, but since then he's offered customers big-ticket bets that he seems increasingly unlikely to win, though he raised the minimum purchase to $7,000 and limited the number of customers who could take advantage of the offer. The same year he bet that the Astros would win at least 63 games during the regular season in honor of his 63rd birthday. It seemed like a decent bet, with the Astros losing at least 100 games for three seasons in a row, but in 2014 the team rallied to win 70 games and put Mack in the loss column again. In retrospect, it seems like a dicier bet: The last franchise to have four 100-loss seasons in a row was the New York Mets from 1961 to 1965.
By 2015, Mack was betting on the price of oil hitting $85 a barrel by years end—to no one's surprise, it didn't. Now he's betting on the presidential election, offering anyone who buys a mattress set for $2,000 or more the chance to name the winning party this November or get their money back. At least this way I assume there will be a mixed bag of winners and losers.
But isn't this is getting a little out of hand? You can't keep gambling away your furniture, Mack! You're a pillar of the community. You were in Reality Bites. People like you, and like Gallery Furniture. I know these promotions bring in tons of press coverage from the likes of Forbes and Business Insider, but what does one of Houston's biggest advertisers need with free publicity that ends up costing $7 million!?
After his Super Bowl loss, McIngvale told ESPN he felt the loss was worth it, because it earned Gallery Furniture loyal customers—customers who obviously are ready to drop some pretty serious money on furniture. "Doing a promotion like this creates affinity, creates trust with the customer, makes you relevant," he said. Then again, rationalizing is classic addict behavior.
Look, who am I to tell Mattress Mack how to run a successful furniture business? Nobody. But Mack, if you ever want to quit, Houston is here for you.