If you ever slacked off in math class, thinking “I’ll never use this” (I know, me too), we have a story that just may make you wish you paid a little closer attention in school.
The tale begins with husband and wife Jerry and Marge Selbee, owners of a party store in Evart, Michigan, and a state lottery game called “Winfall.” It ends with the couple figuring out how to hack the odds in the game and winning $27 million.
You haven’t even heard the story yet and are already wishing you studied harder, aren’t you?
A Loophole In The Rules
It all started when Jerry—who always loved math and figuring out patterns—noticed a flaw in the rules of a new lottery game.
Those rules listed the odds of winning certain amounts of money by picking certain combinations of letters.
There was a pattern to those odds, which served as a loophole for the couple that would eventually make them millionaires and spark investigations into the lottery system itself.
Here’s How They Did It
The entire story is laid out in a seriously impressive article from the Huffington Post, but for the purpose of keeping it short and getting to the basics, here’s the quick and dirty on how it worked. Yes, it’s confusing and if you want to learn more about their winning strategy, I suggest reading the Huffington Post story in full.
In the game of Winfall, if there were no jackpot winners for a certain amount of time and the pot got higher than $5 million, there was a “roll-down,”which basically means that when it came time for the next drawing, as long as there was no jackpot winner, the cash in that jackpot went to the lower tiers of winners.
That roll-down happened every six weeks or so, making Jerry realize that if he simply waited until the roll-down to play the game, he could win more than he lost on tickets—if no one won the jackpot, of course. If no one got the jackpot, a $1 lottery ticket was actually worth more than $1 during a roll-down week.Getty Images | Justin Sullivan
So, once he realized that he could increase his chances of winning by playing a certain way, he spent thousands of dollars on the Winfall lottery. Long story short, over the course of nine years, that thousands then turned into almost $27 million in winnings.
“People have been conditioned to think it is luck,” he told Huffington Post. “They don’t look at the structure of games.”
After Winfall was replaced with a different type of lottery game in Michigan, the Selbees began buying tickets from Massachusetts.
Would You Do It If You Could?
Now, before you grab your calculator and try to figure out your odds of winning a similar game, know that while what the Selbees were doing was not illegal, many might see it as dishonest. Investigations were launched because of the couple and the game has now also been shut down in Massachusetts.
Regardless of what people think, however, the couple, who netted $7.75 million over the course of playing the game (they obviously spent quite a bit of money to buy tickets), say they’re sure others would have done the same thing if they had figured it out first.
“If you figured it out and you could do this, would you do it?” Jerry Selbee said. “I’m just asking. Would you?”
In the end, the couple used their winnings to open a construction financing company, where Jerry lends money to home builders in Michigan who provide housing for military veterans, among others.
Lightening Strikes Twice In North Carolina
Last fall, two incredible lottery stories came out of North Carolina. Michelle Shuffler’s husband randomly purchased a lottery ticket—and won $10,000. The couple decided to take their winnings and buy more lottery tickets. Their second ticket of the day won them a $1 million jackpot!
If that already sounds unbelievable, you’ll really be shocked by this: Just one month before the Shufflers’ double win, the same thing happened to another North Carolina woman! Kimberly Morris bought a Diamond Dazzler lottery ticket, and won $10,000, just like the Shufflers. And like them, she decided to double down, buying another ticket on the way home, winning—you guessed it—$1 million!
Kind of makes you want to move to North Carolina, doesn’t it?