Retired Michigan couple wins $26 million in the lottery over nine years by using ‘basic arithmetic’
Pulling off this get-rich scheme was perfectly legal, very cunning — and really not all that hard.
A retired Michigan couple won $26 million playing the lottery by using “basic arithmetic.”
It all started in 2003 when Jerry Selbee noticed a new lottery game called Winfall at the corner store in his hometown of Evart.
“I looked at the brochure and it was a unique game,” he told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in an interview that aired Sunday night.
Selbee, with a “head for math” said it took all of three minutes for him to figure out how to take advantage of this game. The key was to dive in when the money “rolled down” to the lower tiers. This happened when no one matched all six numbers.
The odds to win with five or less numbers matching were already promising, and now the prizes were getting more lucrative.
“If I played $1,100 mathematically I’d have one four-number winner, that’s 1,000 bucks,” Selbee explained to CBS News. “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 three-number winners and that’s 50 bucks each. At 18 I got $1,000 for a four-number winner, and I got 18 three-number winners worth $50 each, so that’s 900 bucks. So I got $1,100 invested and I’ve got a $1,900 return.”
Got all that? Selbee calls it “basic arithmetic,” but there’s nothing basic about the strategy at all. At one point he purchased $3,600 in Winfall tickets and pocketed $6,300. He also almost doubled an $8,000 commitment.
Selbee would tell his wife, Marge, his high school sweetheart, about the scheme, and they started playing for much bigger stakes, according to CBS News. They set up a corporation and recruited local investors, and their “club” reached 25 members by 2005, according to CBS.
When the Michigan Winfall shut down, they found a similar game in Massachusetts called Cash WinFall, and started playing it.
“Did you guys ever say, ‘We’re supposed to be retired here. We’re making 14-hour drives to Massachusetts,’ ” CBS News reporter Jon Wertheim asked.
“We’re having fun,” Jerry Selbee said.
“You get a high on it,” Marge Selbee added.
The Massachusetts game was eventually shut down as well, sparked by a Boston Globe “Spotlight” investigation. MIT students had also been winning huge amounts of money.
“I was dumbfoundedly amazed that these math-nerd geniuses had found a way legally to win a state lottery and make millions from it,” then-state Inspector General Greg Sullivan told CBS News.
The Selbees’ run ended after nine years with winnings of $26 million.
“The only thing I found really remarkable is nobody else really seemed to grasp it,” Jerry Selbee told CBS News.