Many desire to win a lottery but an American retired couple did something that most people can only dream about. Jerry and Marge Selbee, high school sweethearts, lived a quiet life for many years in Evart, Michigan, a town with a population of only 1900 people. Together they ran a little local convenience store on Main Street where Jerry handled the liquor and cigarettes and Marge kept the books and made the sandwiches.
After raising six kids and running the store for 17 years they had been thinking to sell the business when one day in 2003 Jerry happened to walk in store and spotted a brochure for a brand new lottery game called “Winfall”. After going through the brochure he realized that it is a unique game with a great potential.
During an interview with an American TV channel CBS in 2019 Jerry told that he had learnt the “hack” which is to win the Windfall draw where the player had to match all six numbers in the draw. If no one got it right, the prize was to be divided among those who got it right five, four and three. Unlike many US lotteries, the Michigan Windfall draw split the prize between multiple winners. Selbee calculated that by spending $1,100, he would have at least one winning 4-number ticket.
He explained that from 18 (tickets) he won $1,000 for a 4-number winning ticket and 18 three-number winners worth about $50 each, which is about $900. So spending $1,100, he got about $1,900 back, which is basic arithmetic.
Americans spend about $80 billion a year on state lottery games and about $250 per person on average. Selbee spent a little more than that, but with the certainty of being a likely winner with such a high return on the first investment. He didn’t hesitate to invest further and went on to spend $3,600, getting $6,300 back. Then he invested $8,000 and pocketed $16,000.
It was at this point that he told his wife what he was doing. The couple then began investing thousands of dollars more and created a company, GS Investment Strategies LLC, to manage the prize money they won. At one point, the Selbee decided to invite others from their community, selling them stock in the company for $500. There were from farmers to Everett lawyers. Some went on to invest larger sums. One of the best prizes was $853,000, according to the couple’s accounting books.
Although the whole scheme brought extraordinary gains to a retired couple, who had a lot of free time but purchasing so many tickets also took a lot of time and effort and then things got complicated when the Windfall Michigan lottery ended. But Selbee found a new opportunity of a similar draw through a friend in Massachusetts, thousands of miles from Everett, where that the same logic could apply and it was the same rule in lotteries in many other states. For six years, the couple crossed six US states to use lottery ticket machines at two stores and play Cash Windfall.
On average, they spent about $600,000 about seven times a year. The Selbee’s, who is now 80 years old, spent 10 days in a hotel sorting tickets by hand into 10-hour shifts which he found as something “fun”. According to him it is a pleasure to be successful in something that paid off not just for personal expenses, but also for our friends and family.
The adventure ended in 2012 after 18 million lottery tickets were purchased. A journalistic investigation by The Boston Globe revealed that there were stores with lottery ticket vending machines in Massachusetts that had a high level of winners. There was another group of students from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who also played a lot at Cash Windfall. This prompted state authority to investigate what was going on, whether there was any fraud or corruption in the game. But to the surprise of the prosecutors, no illegality had taken place.
The Cash Windfall draw was eventually canceled and today there are no more lotteries of this type in the country that guarantee such high return probabilities. But by the time that happened, the Selbee had already made millions of dollars, which they didn’t spend on any extravagance rather the Selbees put their winnings to practical use, renovating their home and helping their six kids, 14 grandkids and 10 great-grandchildren pay for their education. The couple still hold over 60 tons of Windfall lottery tickets.
Due to a simple statistical calculation that didn’t break any laws and which Selbee resolved in an instant. His extraordinary story was passed over by Hollywood for some time until it finally became a movie, released in June of this year: Jerry & Marge Go Large. Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening star in the Paramount film directed by David Frankel, known for The Devil Wears Prada. The film is loosely inspired by real events, but seeks to reflect the Selbee’s simplicity and how they kept their feet on the ground despite winning the lottery so many times.
Source: BBC Urdu