Couple finds lottery loophole, wins $27 million in 9 years

Selbees use basic math to capitalize on Winfall game in Michigan, Massachusetts

Pexels photo
Pexels photo

Jerry Selbee has spent his life looking for patterns. And it's paid off -- quite literally: to the tune of $27 million, in fact.

Yes, that's how much Selbee won once he figured out a loophole in a lottery game. If you knew the trick, you could do it, too. (Well, if lottery officials hadn't pulled the game, that is). Selbee wasn't even the only one who picked up on this trick. It all came down to basic math, really. But let's back up. This story all started with patterns, and Selbee's fascination with them.

One day many years ago, while at work in the cereal industry, Selbee figured out the secret meaning behind a string of letters and numbers stamped near the bottom of a General Mills box. Other food companies, including Post and Kellogg’s, stamped their boxes, too, usually with the time and place of production for a cereal, which allows its shelf life to be tracked. But General Mills’ figures at the time were garbled, as if in secret code, the Huffington Post reported. And Selbee cracked that code.

It wasn’t even a big deal. Selbee’s managers didn’t seem to value or celebrate his discovery, despite General Mills being a competing brand. Maybe the incident was foreshadowing what was to come.

Once they retired, Selbee and his wife, Marge, went on to become millionaires -- over the course of nine years -- by using math to “hack” the odds in a lottery game called Winfall.

But first: We'd be remiss if we didn't tell you to check out the full story from the Huffington Post. It's a long read, but it's worth your half-hour!

The Selbees got started when the game of Winfall was introduced in their home state of Michigan, and Jerry Selbee noticed a flaw in the rules. The rules listed the odds of winning certain amounts of money when bettors picked certain combinations of letters.

But Selbee saw a pattern to those odds, which served as a loophole of sorts.

Full disclosure: This is a "hack," yes, and it is basic math, yes, but that doesn't mean it's easy for the average Joe. It's actually quite complicated, if you're not a numbers person. The Selbees spent about nine years, too many hours to count, and thousands of dollars on bets, travel and other logistics in order to become profitable. They played in Michigan and Massachusetts. So although this is a very cool story, your chances of replicating the Selbees’ success aren’t great. (Sorry!)

But when it came to Winfall -- which is now defunct, thanks to this scheme, figured out by the Selbees and at least two other betting groups -- people played the game and then waited. If there were no jackpot winners and the pot grew higher than $5 million, a “roll-down” would take place; meaning, the cash in that jackpot went to the lower tiers of winners.

Jerry Selbee noticed that the roll-down happened every six weeks or so, and figured if he waited until the “roll-down” to play, he could win more than he lost on tickets -- as long as no one else won the jackpot. Does that make sense? So if no one hits the jackpot, a lottery ticket that normally costs $1 is worth more in a roll-down week.

It took some tweaking, but the couple were able to buy up tons of tickets when the time was right, and despite a few losses, they ultimately came out on top, in a big way.

It’s important to note that the Selbees weren’t doing anything illegal. Although lottery officials launched an investigation into how this could be happening, the couple were never arrested or anything like that. There's even been some talk of developing their incredible story into a movie.

The Selbees were very meticulous, holding onto tens of thousands of losing tickets, in case an IRS auditor ever wanted to see the paper trail. They were disappointed when lottery officials eventually closed the game.

But this story ends well: The Selbees went on to develop a new business venture with all their winnings: construction financing. Jerry Selbee now lends money to homebuilders in Northern Michigan who provide housing for military veterans.

The last time Jerry and Marge played Winfall was in January 2012.

In a final tally, they had grossed nearly $27 million, which they had to split among family and friends: anyone involved in their business that they made out of the scheme, called GS Investment Strategies LLC. They’d netted $7.75 million in profit before taxes, according to the report.

"Driving back home ... for the last time, the couple felt sad and frustrated," the story reads. "They’d known it could all end someday, of course, but they hadn't expected to be made out as villains. Almost anyone in their shoes would have made the same decisions."

Jerry would later say, according to the story: “If you figured it out and you could do this, would you do it? I’m just asking. Would you?”

Well, now it's your turn to let us know. Would you?

About the Author: