'Jerry and Marge Go Large' based on Michigan couple who legally gamed the lottery

·3 min read

Gerald Selbee figured out a way to legally hack the lottery.

It was 2003, and he and his wife, Marjorie, were retired from owning a party store in the small northern Michigan community of Evart (population 1,900). "Jerry" was back in the Corner Store talking with its new owners when he saw a brochure for a (since discontinued) Michigan Lottery game called Winfall.

Looking at the game structure and odds, he quickly figured out a mathematical loophole that would earn his family and their investment group millions.

“It took me about 3 minutes to figure that out,” Selbee said in a 2018 Battle Creek Enquirer interview.

The discovery would eventually lead to nearly $27 million in winnings for the couple's investment group, a profit of $7.75 million (before taxes) over a nine-year period, and now, a movie based on how they turned the lottery odds in their favor.

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"Jerry and Marge Go Large," starring Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening as the titular couple, is a feature-length comedy premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival June 15 and debuting on Paramount+ June 17.

Bryan Cranston as Jerry Selbee, Annette Bening as Marge Selbee, and Rainn Wilson as Bill in Jerry and Marge Go Large streaming on Paramount+.
Bryan Cranston as Jerry Selbee, Annette Bening as Marge Selbee, and Rainn Wilson as Bill in Jerry and Marge Go Large streaming on Paramount+.

Filmed in Georgia in 2021, the "inspired by a true story" film is exclusively available on the Paramount+ streaming platform. Directed by David Frankel ("Devil Wears Prada", "Marley & Me"), its cast includes Larry Wilmore, Rainn Wilson, Anna Camp, Ann Harada, Jake McDorman, Michael McKean and Uly Schlesinger.

The real life Selbees, who could not be reached for this article, gained attention in 2012 following a series of articles from the Boston Globe and a report from Massachusetts' inspector general. They drew considerable more buzz after being featured in a 2018 Huffington Post article by Jason Fagone, which inspired the movie.

Jerry is originally from East Leroy Township and attended Athens High School, graduating alongside Marge. He would later earn an associate's degree from Kellogg Community College before earning mathematics and business degrees and his MBA from Western Michigan University. Marge was a homemaker as the couple grew their family with six kids.

In 1966, Jerry was working as a materials analyst for the Kellogg Co. in Battle Creek when he cracked the code on competitor cereal boxes. Looking at the stamped codes on the bottom of the boxes, he figured out a way to trace each one back to the date, time and plant of its creation.

That discovery wouldn't lead to riches, and soon after he left the cereal business for a job at the Upjohn Institute. After he retired in 1984, the Selbees moved 120 miles north to Evart, where they purchased and ran the party store before retiring in 2000.

Annette Bening as Marge Selbee and Bryan Cranston as Jerry Selbee in "Jerry and Marge Go Large" streaming on Paramount+.
Annette Bening as Marge Selbee and Bryan Cranston as Jerry Selbee in "Jerry and Marge Go Large" streaming on Paramount+.

The movie's trailer portrays Jerry's "aha" moment with Cranston as Selbee sitting in a diner when he discovers the loophole in the game before sharing the find with his wife, accountant and others in the small town.

The real Winfall game cost $1 a ticket, with players selecting six numbers. Six correct numbers earned a jackpot. But if no one hit it, there would be a special feature where the prize money would "rolldown" and be distributed to people who guessed five, four, three or two of the numbers right. Statistically, that made each ticket likely to pay out more than the $1 it cost.

Jerry realized that if he bought tickets in bulk during the roll-down weeks, he would turn a major profit. However, it would require spending hours letting a computer select and print out numbers before painstakingly organizing and counting thousands of tickets.

The Selbees formed a 32-member investment group (20 of whom were relatives) and played Winfall for about two years. When that game ended in 2005, they began driving to Massachusetts to play its similar game with a rolldown feature called Cash Winfall.

In this 2001 photo, Gerald Selbee of Evart, Michigan shows some of the 1.22 million Massachusetts lottery tickets he stores in a barn on his mid-Michigan property.
In this 2001 photo, Gerald Selbee of Evart, Michigan shows some of the 1.22 million Massachusetts lottery tickets he stores in a barn on his mid-Michigan property.

The couple would use their lottery winnings to found a construction financing company that helps to build homes for military veterans in Northern Michigan. In November of 2021, they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.

Contact reporter Nick Buckley at nbuckley@battlecreekenquirer.com or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley

This article originally appeared on Battle Creek Enquirer: 'Jerry & Marge Go Large' based on Michigan couple who gamed the lottery