This is how most of us play the lottery. That’s how 80-year-old convenience store owner, Jerry Selbee, used to play it too. One day in 2003 though, he bought a ticket for a lottery called Cash WinFall in which the jackpot rolled over to lesser winners every time it reached $5 million. He says it only took him 3 minutes to realize he could (legally) play the system.
After buying $8,000 worth of lottery tickets, and doubling it, he told his wife, Marge, about the loophole. Jerry got his undergraduate degree in mathematics and says it’s just “basic arithmetic.”
“If I played $1,100, mathematically I’d have one 4-number winner, that’s 1,000 bucks,” he said. “I divided 1,100 by six instead of 57 because I did a mental quick dirty and I come up with 18. So I knew I’d have either 18 or 19 3-number winners and that’s 50 bucks each. At 18 I got $1,000 for a 4-number winner, and I got 18 3-number winners worth $50 each, so that’s 900 bucks. So I got $1,100 invested and I’ve got a $1,900 return.”
They decided to let friends and family in on the action by creating a corporation called G.S. Investment Strategies where they could invest for $500 a piece. Many of their friends say they used their winnings to put their children through college.
They were buying thousands of tickets for them and their friends. However, after a couple of years, the Cash WinFall lottery was shut down. Ironically, it was shut down due to lack of ticket sales. I guess their thousands weren’t enough. Luckily, one of Jerry’s friends suggested a similar lottery in Massachusetts. Jerry says it took him 10 minutes to know he could win that one too.
For about 7 years, Jerry and Marge got into the routine of driving 14 hours from their small town in Michigan to Massachusetts. After buying thousands of tickets, they would get a room at a motel, and spend 10 hours (for 10 days) going through all of their tickets to find the winners. They say it was “fun.” Marge said, “You get a high from it.”
It turns out they weren’t the only ones exploiting the system. A group of MIT students were doing nearly the exact same thing and also making millions. However, once it was discovered that only two groups were responsible for buying millions of tickets, the lottery was shut down and an investigation was launched. Investigators were certain they were looking for organized crime groups and were “dumbfoundedly amazed” when they found out retirees and MIT students were the ones behind it – and did it all legally.
Over 9 years, Jerry and Marge made $26 million. It’s no surprise their story has piqued Hollywood’s interest and they’ve already sold the rights. Hopefully, we’ll get a movie within the next couple of years, Marge says “They better hurry up, cause we’re getting old.”
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