A retired couple from a small midwestern town in the US accumulated $39 million over the space of nine years by outsmarting a lottery game – now their amazing story has been turned into a Hollywood film.
Jerry and Marge Selbee, both 84, live in the quiet town of Evart, Michigan, and have been happily married for 65 years.
In 2003, when Jerry was newly retired, he came upon a brochure advertising a new lottery game called Winfall.
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Having always been good with numbers, Jerry spotted a flaw in the game, a loophole that could guarantee a win.
“I looked at the probabilities of the game and it said when the ‘win-fall’ actually occurred and no one won the jackpot, that the prize level would go up by a factor of 10,” he said in an interview with 60 Minutes .
Essentially, if the jackpot reached $5 million and failed to go off, the millions would trickle down to ticketholders with fewer winning numbers – meaning a higher chance for players to cash in.
“Anyone could have done it, it was just simple math,” Jerry said.
Having found the weakness in the game, Jerry tested his theory to great success, and finally decided to share with his wife what he had been doing.
Marge told 60 Minutes she believed his theory right away and didn’t feel the need to double check his maths despite the fact that Jerry was using their hard-earned retirement money to test out his idea.
“He does this stuff all the time, so I believed him,” she said.
With Marge on board, the couple immediately got to work.
The pair were buying hundreds of thousands of tickets, and eventually invited friends and locals in the town to join in a syndicate with them.
Dawn Tomlinson, the Selbees’ second-eldest daughter, was one of those 25 people to join her parents’ syndicate.
She described being in the syndicate as similar to having a second job, the only difference was you didn’t have to show up or do any work.
“I’d just get a check in the mail every two months or so, so that was awesome,” she said.
“I’ve always known that my dad, he will tell you he’s not, but I’ve always known he’s pretty much a math genius.
“I figured if he had figured it out, I was good with that.”
However, after a successful year in which Jerry and Marge nabbed their first million, the Michigan lottery officially shut down the game.
After finding out Massachusetts also had a game that was almost identical, the couple hit the road and took their winning strategy to another state, 1600km away.
After driving for 15 hours, Jerry and Marge would then stand for several more hours at a machine, printing out tickets upon tickets.
“I would start at five in the morning, (and) I would quit right around noon for a 30-minute lunch break,” Jerry said.
“Then I would quit for the evening about six or seven.”
But according to the couple, it didn’t feel like hard work at all.
“What else were we doing?” Marge said.
“You really wouldn’t sleep the night that you played, but it … gives you a real high feeling.”
Eventually, the story broke, and what the pair had been up to made front page news.
Investigators soon began looking into their syndicate, but quickly found nothing wrong.
Former Massachusetts inspector-general Greg Sullivan said he was “dumbfoundedly amazed” that the couple, or “math nerd geniuses”, had found a legal way to outsmart a small part of the lucrative gambling industry.
According to Jerry, it was just simple maths.
“It just wasn’t that complicated,” he said.
After nine years, the Selbees’ money making journey finally came to an end, with the couple having banked $US27 million ($A39 million) over the time period.
The Selbees’ extraordinary story has now been turned into a new film streaming on Paramount+, Jerry & Marge Go Large, starring Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in June.
Cranston told 60 Minutes the film was essentially a love story.
“This adventure for Jerry and Marge created an opportunity to reignite that romantic flair,” he said.
To this day, Jerry and Marge still reside in their small home town of Evart.
They didn’t spend their winnings on luxury cars and boats, but instead on education for their grandchildren and great grandchildren.
And if the opportunity came up to do it all again, they both said they would do so in a heartbeat.
“We would do it again,” Jerry said. “We would start it immediately.”