How Jerry and Marge Gamed the Lottery

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At the the Huffington Post Highline, Jason Fagone reports on how a dyslexic cereal box designer with a penchant for puzzles and patterns figured out a loophole in the Cash WinFall state lottery game, earning $27 million in gross profits playing the lottery over nine years in two states.

Looking for a little more Fagone in your life? Read an excerpt of his book, The Woman Who Smashed Codes and learn how “know-nothings” Elizebeth Smith Friedman and William F. Friedman became the greatest codebreakers of their era.

So perhaps it was only fitting that at age 64, Jerry found himself contemplating that most alluring of puzzles: the lottery. He was recently retired by then, living with Marge in a tiny town called Evart and wondering what to do with his time. After stopping in one morning at a convenience store he knew well, he picked up a brochure for a brand-new state lottery game. Studying the flyer later at his kitchen table, Jerry saw that it listed the odds of winning certain amounts of money by picking certain combinations of numbers.

That’s when it hit him. Right there, in the numbers on the page, he noticed a flaw—a strange and surprising pattern written into the fundamental machinery of the game that, like his cereal boxes long ago, revealed something no one else knew. A loophole that would eventually make Jerry and Marge millionaires, spark an investigation by a Boston Globe Spotlight reporter, unleash a statewide political scandal and expose more than a few hypocrisies at the heart of America’s favorite form of legalized gambling.

The last time Jerry and Marge played Cash WinFall was in January 2012. They’d had an incredible run: in the final tally, they had grossed nearly $27 million from nine years of playing the lottery in two states. They’d netted $7.75 million in profit before taxes, distributed among the players in GS Investment Strategies LLC.

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