Man wins $4M Mega Millions prize using fortune cookie numbers

Frederic J. Brown
·3 min read

A man in North Carolina won big after he decided to use his fortune cookie numbers to play the lottery.

Gabriel Fierro, 60, picked up the cookie while having dinner with his wife at the Red Bowl restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina, according to a blog post on the North Carolina Education Lottery’s website.

“I don’t usually play my fortune cookie numbers but I tried them on a whim," he said.

He bought a Mega Millions ticket online for $3 and added $1 to make it a Megaplier ticket, meaning any win would be multiplied.

That was an extra dollar well spent on Fierro’s part because using the numbers from his fortune cookie, he matched all five white balls to win $1 million — then had his win quadrupled thanks to the Megaplier, meaning he actually won $4 million.

“I got an email in the morning and I just stared at it dumbfounded,” he said in the blog post. “I took it and showed it to my wife and she thought it was an April Fool’s joke or maybe a scam.”

After they were sure their win was real, Fierro and his wife “started running around the house,” he said, “screaming like a bunch of banshees.”

Fierro, a retired Army master sergeant who spent 32 years in service, took home $2,840,401 after tax withholdings. He said he was planning on investing most of the money — but added that he and his wife would be splurging on a bottle of Champagne on the way home.

Fierro isn’t the first person to win the lottery thanks to some lucky fortune cookie digits. In 2019, Charles Jackson, also from North Carolina, won $344 million in a Powerball drawing after playing numbers from a fortune cookie his granddaughter had given him years ago.

Could fortune cookie numbers really be any luckier than others? Back in 2017, statisticians at FiveThirtyEight set out to discover just that. They crunched the numbers found in 1,000 fortune cookies and compared them to the winning Powerball numbers stretching from 1997 to 2017.

Much to their surprise, they found that the fortune cookie numbers did seem luckier than other, randomly selected sets of numbers. They found that a theoretical gambler who had played the Powerball for the previous 20 years using fortune cookie numbers could have made $4.4 million on $4.2 million in ticket purchases.

On the other hand, someone playing random numbers would have made just $1.7 million on $4.2 million in ticket purchases.

“It would appear that the lucky numbers are legit lucky,” FiveThirtyEight’s former chief culture editor, Walt Hickey, wrote in a post about his findings.

That said, there could be other explanations for these supposedly “luckier” fortune cookie numbers.

“Maybe the lucky numbers were added into the fortune cookies after those Powerball wins,” he wrote. “Or, according to Occam’s razor, play several thousand lotteries with several thousand combinations, and you’ll hit a winner eventually. Many people have won lotteries, even Powerball, with fortune cookie insight.

“So I can’t say they’re lucky,” he added, “but I’m pretty confident we can’t claim the numbers are unlucky.”

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