I’m one of those people that always (slight exaggeration) moans about being skint and never winning the lottery, and then proceeds to never do the lottery.

We’re the worst, I know – like we somehow expect a small fortune just to land on our laps. But hey, I honestly do.

*insert something about millennial self-entitlement*

Now ever since the lottery has been around I’m sure there’s been people trying to work out how to beat it. I think Derren Brown even tried to do it. To my mind, though, everyone has failed. Until this next couple (sort of).

That’s because a retired couple in Michigan say they “cracked the code” on state lotteries by implementing “simple arithmetic”.

Please stick with me throughout this.

It all started in 2003 when Jerry Selbee, who graduated college with a degree in mathematics, saw a brochure for a new lottery called Winfall – and realised he could beat it through something called “roll-downs, ” according to CBS.

This is a special rule in some lottery games that have a limit where the jackpot essentially rolls over if nobody wins.

If this happens, the cash that could have made the jackpot bigger is allocated to the next tier of prizes, or if no one won the grand prize, the entire jackpot is given to the next tier. Essentially, the jackpot would spread across those who matched either five, four, or three numbers – rather than all of them – so even if you didn’t win, you could still make money.

Basically, he was making money out of being the best-placed loser.

Are you still with me?

Lottery officials announced when this “roll-down” happened, so Jerry would get ahead of the game and buy thousands of tickets – knowing full well that he would get a certain amount of matches.

Jerry explained that if he bought $1,1000 worth of tickets, he would have at least one four-number winner, which paid him $1,000. He would also get at around 18 or 19 three-number winners, which paid $50 a piece – totaling $1,900. When he tried his plan for the first time, he bought $3,600 of Winfall tickets and won back $6,300.

For the next roll-down game, he put down $8,000 and won double in award winnings again.

Yep, he’s definitely onto something here.

After telling his wife Marge about the loophole, the couple began upping the ante and playing the games for hundreds of thousands of dollars. For about seven times a year, the Selbees would spend around 10 hours a day for 10 days straight to look over and organise their lottery tickets, often putting down over $600,000 per play.

After a while making a serious tonne of cash, Jerry set up a corporation called GS Investment Strategies and invited friends and families to buy shares for $500 each. When the Winfall game later closed down in Michigan for ‘lack of sales,’ the couple began playing in Massachusetts where the game was still being offered.

The company grew and grew – to about 25 members – and they would continually play these “rolldown weeks”, making a fortune in the process.

In 2011, the Boston Globe got a tip that someone may be scamming the Cash Winfall game and later found that the Selbees and a group of math majors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Jerry’s company – were monopolizing the winnings.

They bet more than $17 million and earned over $3.5 million in profits before the Massachusetts state treasurer shut down the game and began an investigation.

However, the investigation found that the chances of everyone else winning were not affected by the high-volume betting, so the Selbees weren’t actually doing anything illegal.

In total, Jerry and his wife’s corporation earned $26 million, including $8 million in profit, by the time they were done.


“It is actually just basic arithmetic. It gave you the satisfaction of being successful at something that was worthwhile to not only us personally but to our friends and our family,” Jerry said.

“The only thing I found really remarkable is nobody else really seemed to grasp it.”

Apparently, the Michigan couple used the money profited from the lottery games to renovate their homes, and financially assist their six children, and to pay the education for their 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

They recently sold their incredible story to movie producers who plan to make a film about their lives.

I mean, what a truly inspirational story; it just goes to show what you can do with a maths degree and an eye for making a buck.

And the fact they’re making a film on it makes the story even better. I wonder who’s going to play him? I hope it’s George Clooney channeling those Ocean’s Eleven vibes.

Just a certified badass making a mint;  Jerry countin’ stacks.



Images via CBS