Over the decades, people have gamed various lotteries to win millions of dollars. Some have done so legally, some definitely broke the law, and others’ methods were in gray areas. One legal tactic of gaming the lottery, for example, is by buying massive amounts of tickets. However, that is not always possible, depending on state laws.
This is why several mathematicians, statisticians, and economists have closely studied the lottery to determine their best chances of winning. Other times, criminal gangs have bribed lottery employees to help them cheat—even on live television. In few instances, lottery employees themselves have inserted codes into lottery computers or found other creative ways to cheat.
10. Stefan Mandel
In the 1960s, Romanian economist Stefan Mandel developed an algorithm that allowed him correctly predict five of the six numbers of the winning lottery ticket in the Romanian lottery. He called his method “combinatorial condensation.”
He had family and friends pool money to purchase thousands of tickets containing the five numbers and an extra random number. He won 78,783 lei ($19,300). With his $4,000 share of the winnings, Mandel left Romania for Australia, where he started to cheat the lottery again.
Mandel realized he could win the Australian lottery if he bought every available ticket. This was because the Australian lottery only allowed players to select six numbers between 1 and 40. Mandel would definitely win if he bought each of the 3,838,380 possible combinations at $1 per ticket. (As long as the jackpot was greater than $3,838,380, he was good.) Mandel got some investors and won a number of times before the Australian lottery adjusted its rules to block the loophole.
The determined Mandel turned his attention to the Virginia lottery in the United States, which had number combinations between 1 and 44. This meant there were 7,059,052 combinations, which was way lower than the over 25 million possible combinations in other lotteries across the US. Mandel set up the International Lotto Fund (ILF) under his company, Pacific Financial Resources, and sold shares to 2,524 investors.
Each investor put at least $3,000 into the scheme. Mandel purchased computers and printers and hired 16 people to print some seven million tickets. However, he could only submit 5.5 million tickets before the lottery closed in February 1992. This reduced his possibility of winning from 100 to 78 percent. Luck shone his way when he won a $27,036,142 jackpot and over $900,000 in secondary prizes.
The Virginia Lottery refused to pay Mandel and initiated an investigation that involved 14 various agencies, including the CIA, FBI, and the Australian Securities Commission, which determined that he had done nothing wrong. Mandel paid himself a $1.7 million consultancy fee and gave his investors only $1,400 each. Today, several US states have laws to prevent people from copying Mandel’s winning tactic.
9. Nick Perry
In 1980, Nick Perry was exposed as an accomplice in one of the worst scandals to ever rock a US lottery. At the time, Perry was the host at the television studio where the winning numbers of the Pennsylvania Daily Number (now called Pick 3) were selected.
Numbered balls were put inside a machine that spun and rolled the balls before sending three winning balls up to the top. The numbers on the balls were considered the winning number. This was done on live television, and Perry was host—a job he had held since 1977.
Unknown to viewers, Perry and several television and lottery office employees had conspired with the Maragos brothers to game the show. The group painted every ball except those numbered “4” and “6” with a latex paint that made them heavier than normal. This meant the winning balls would be a combination of “4” and “6.”
On April 24, 1980, they won $3.5 million after the machine drew the infamous number “666.” However, they never got the money; lottery officials became suspicious at the sheer number of tickets with only “4” and “6” picked that had been purchased all around the state.
Investigations soon revealed the criminal link between Perry and the Maragos brothers. The brothers avoided jail time by snitching on Perry and some other lottery officials. Perry got seven years in prison, while other lottery employess got jail terms of two years or less. Perry denied any guilt until his death in 2003.