“Luck had nothing to do with it.”
As the ballooning Mega Millions jackpot continues to surge (currently it’s at $1.6 billion), people are asking themselves why they didn’t pay more attention in math class.
There surely has to be a way to game the system, right?
One man, currently living on a tropical island, figured it out and won the lottery 14 times. But sadly for us, it will probably never happen again.
In the 1950s, Stefan Mandel was living in Romania and figured that the only way to make enough money to get out was by winning the lottery. So the math whiz hit the books, began studying probability, and bought up a block of tickets which he knew would guarantee a winner.
“He doesn’t just go out and buy random tickets,” Planet Money host Alex Goldmark reported. “He’s a pretty natural math whiz. He goes to the library and he starts reading math paper after math paper after math paper, and he comes up with a formula for buying blocks of tickets that he thinks should guarantee him a prize.”
After his first big win, Mandel earned enough to move his family to Australia where he would use a similar strategy to win the lottery another 12 times. Australian authorities eventually caught on and changed its laws, putting Mandel out of business.
So the Romanian expat set his sights towards America.
In 1992, Mandel determined there were 7.1 million different ticket combinations in the Virginia lottery. “They printed out all 7.1 million tickets in Australia, paid $60,000 to ship them to the US, and negotiated bulk buys with grocery stores all around Virginia about how they could send cashier’s checks to buy tens of thousands of lottery tickets,” Goldmark explained.
Mandel won the $27 million jackpot in what would be his final big score.
“It cannot be done anymore,” Goldmark says. “The number of combinations have grown too much, you wouldn’t be able to print the tickets, you wouldn’t be able to buy them in time and you probably couldn't even do the math right to figure it out without making a mistake.”