The Jerry and Marge Go Large true story reveals that while the Paramount+ movie is set in the present day, the real-life events began in 2003, which was the year that Jerry Selbee, then 64, figured out a loophole in a Michigan state lottery game called Winfall. He and his wife Marge, who live in the single-stoplight factory town of Evart, Michigan (population 1,900), spent roughly the next decade taking advantage of the game's mathematical flaw.
Jerry and Marge were in their early sixties when Jerry, then 64, discovered the lottery loophole. This was not long after they had sold the local convenience store they had run for 17 years on Main Street in Evart, Michigan. Prior to purchasing the store in 1984, Jerry had been a materials analyst at a Kellogg's cereal factory, working on designing boxes and liners to maximize freshness. The movie has Bryan Cranston's character working at the cereal factory up until his retirement, omitting their ownership of the convenience store altogether.
Jerry Selbee's lottery math involved a state lottery game in Michigan called Winfall. The unique thing about the game is that unlike Mega Millions where the jackpot keeps building until there's a winner, with Winfall, once the jackpot reached $5 million and no one matched all six numbers, the prize money rolled down to the lower-tier winners. When this occurred, it was called a "Rolldown" and the lottery commission announced in advance when it was going to happen. As a result, it would then significantly increase the winnings of people who matched five, four or three numbers.
Jerry calculated that if he spent $1,100 on tickets, odds are he'd have one four-number winner ($1,000) and 18 or 19 three-number winners that totaled $900. This meant that his investment of $1,100 would yield a $1,900 return, leaving him with a profit of $800. After Winfall was shut down in May 2005, Jerry Selbee applied his lottery strategy to a similar game in Massachusetts called Cash Winfall.
In answering the question, "Is Jerry and Marge Go Large accurate?" we confirmed that like in the movie, Jerry didn't tell marge until after he started testing out his lottery strategy. He waited for a rolldown to be announced and then he bought $3,600 in Winfall tickets and won $6,300. This confirmed his math. He then bought $8,000 worth of tickets and nearly doubled his money. It was at that point he thought it was a good time to tell his wife what he had been doing with their savings.
Jerry and Marge have six children, 14 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren. They reportedly invested some of their lottery winnings in their younger family members' educations.
Jerry and his group of friends and family members were betting hundreds of thousands of dollars whenever a rolldown occurred in Michigan's Winfall lottery game and later in Massachusetts' Cash Winfall game. During an interview with CBS News, Jerry pointed out that during one such rolldown, for example, they purchased $515,000 in tickets and won $853,000, a 60 percent return.
Yes. Larry Wilmore's character, Steve Woods, was loosely inspired by Jerry Selbee's real-life accountant, Steve Wood, a longtime Evart local. Similar to what unfolds in the movie, Wood bought shares in the Selbees' corporation and used his winnings to go on four cruises and renovate his house. When the real events were taking place, Wood was similar in age to actor Larry Wilmore, 60. However, it seems that Steve Wood is white in real life, not black. The Huffington Post article also describes him as having a "smoker's scratchy voice."
Yes. Once the Winfall lottery game shut down in Michigan in 2005 due to, ironically, a lack of sales, Jerry and Marge Selbee began traveling 900 miles to Massachusetts to play a similar lottery game there called Cash Winfall. Jerry recalls, "One of our players emailed me and he said, 'Massachusetts has a game called Cash Winfall. Do you think we could play that?'" It took Jerry ten minutes to figure out that the game was another winner. In the movie, Jerry (Bryan Cranston) learns of the Massachusetts game from the local convenience store employee after he asks him why the Michigan game was shut down.
Yes, but the conflict with the college students in the movie is significantly exaggerated. In real life, after the closing of the Winfall lottery game in Michigan, the Selbee group began playing the Massachusetts lottery game Cash Winfall. They learned of a group of MIT students who were exploiting the same loophole in the game.
An MIT undergraduate named James Harvey, who was carrying out an independent study project for his mathematics degree, discovered the loophole and recruited a bunch of his friends to contribute money. He and his friend Yuran Lu formed the company Random Strategies Investments LLC to play Cash Winfall. Gradually, like the Selbees, they increased their money, got more backers, and were spending hundreds of thousands on tickets. Over a seven-year period, the MIT group saw the same rate of return as the Selbee gang, earning no less than $3.5 million in profits. -CBS News
Yes. In 2011, the Boston Globe learned via a tip that large volumes of Cash Winfall tickets were being sold in various Massachusetts locations. The Globe's Spotlight team, the same team that investigated the Catholic Church scandal, began looking into the suspicious bulk ticket purchases. They discovered that two groups, the Selbee gang from Michigan and a second group led by MIT math majors, were dominating the game.
The Globe's reporting caught the attention of state government officials, who suspected that the game might be rigged. Massachusetts State Inspector General Greg Sullivan headed up an investigation. "We used subpoenas, we looked at documents, we interviewed dozens of people to look at this in detail with a hypothesis that something illegal had happened." Like in the Jerry and Marge Go Large movie, the investigation concluded that everything the Selbee's team and the MIT group were doing was 100% legal and that no one's odds of winning were changed by the high-volume betting. What's not mentioned in the film is that the inspector general's report also identified other groups who exploited the loophole in the game, including a group of scientists from Boston University and Northeastern University (MIT.edu).
After exploiting the mathematical flaws in the lottery for almost a decade, their homegrown corporation made up of family and friends from around town had won $26.85 million from playing the Michigan lottery game Winfall 12 times and a similar game in Massachusetts called Cash Winfall 43 times. After Cash Winfall was shut down in 2012, the corporation had made a total of $7.75 million in profits from both games before taxes. In researching how accurate is Jerry and Marge Go Large, we learned that they only lost money in three of 55 drawings.
"It didn't really affect our lives in any way other than giving us more financial security for our future," Jerry said. "Other members [of the corporation] buy a timeshare or take cruises. Marge and I didn't do any of that. We enjoyed life as it was." In addition to financial security, Jerry purchased a Ford F350 truck and a camping trailer. The Selbees also renovated their home and invested money in their grandkids' and great-grandkids' education.
This is what is stated at the end of the movie, and according to the Jerry and Marge Go Large true story, it's accurate. Jerry lent money for the construction of homes in the Traverse City area, focusing on housing for veterans, among others. -Huffington Post
Yes. Actors Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening spent a few days with Jerry and Marge Selbee prior to filming. "When you're doing research like this, you just want to be open to receiving the essence of people that you're looking at," noted Cranston. They spent time with the married couple of more than 60 years doing normal things, including rocking away on the porch, going for a drive, and having a meal. "It was just really sweet." -LA Times