EVART, Mich. (WOOD) — A Michigan couple, whose method for winning the lottery has become the stuff legends are made of, has gone Hollywood.
Jerry and Marge Selbee of Evart won nearly $27 million over a nearly ten-year period, after Jerry capitalized on a flaw in the system. Now, their story has been turned into a movie.
“I’ve always been good with numbers. Never been too good with words,” said Jerry Selbee, sitting with his wife Marge on the patio behind their home in Evart.
Back in 2003, while reading the back of a brochure about payoffs in a lottery game called Windfall, Jerry figured out that a flaw in the way the game was set up could be used to a player’s advantage.
Basically, when the jackpot didn’t pay out, the odds for smaller pay offs became much more favorable for a player.
Jerry calculated he would only lose 3 out of 20 times. He tested his theory.
And he was right.
“The next bet was $3,000, and I got back $15,700,” said Jerry.
It was totally legal. The couple brought family and friends in on the action.
“We played $18,000 and we lost. They stayed with me, and we had that $18,000 loss and a profit back in the next draw,” said Jerry.
Their winning ways continued. First, in Michigan until the state shut the game down. Then in Massachusetts until that state’s lottery shelved the game in 2012.
The states said they were simply phasing out the games. Jerry is convinced they were embarrassed by his winning ways.
There were articles and news magazine features on Jerry and Marge. Then, Hollywood picked up the story.
“Jerry and Marge Go Large” began streaming on the Paramount streaming service earlier this week. Annette Bening plays Marge and Bryan Cranston plays Jerry.
Suddenly, the coupe from this small Osceola County community are walking the red carpet at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The film portrays the couple’s travels to Massachusetts to play Windfall, printing the tickets, then checking them one by one.
The Selbees have won $1.8 million over the years.
“It took a total of 12 days to go through them in the motel. We’d start that about 7:30 in the morning,” said Jerry.
The film takes some dramatic license, writing Jerry as a recently retired line manager at Kellogg’s. The truth is, he worked at Kellogg in the 1960’s. The couple bought a convenience store in Evart in the early 80’s and eventually sold it and retired.
In real life, the beneficiaries were the family and friends who invested in the GS Investment Strategies, the company Jerry formed to distribute the winning — not the Evart community.
There were also no Harvard University rivals attempting a hostile takeover of GS Investment Strategies.
“If they had stuck strictly to a documentary, it’d been boring. They had to jazz it up some,” said Jerry of the Hollywood production.
But Hollywood did get the motive behind the effort right. The winnings didn’t change Jerry and Marge’s lives.
Married for 65 years, the parents of six kids, 14 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren still live in the comfortable home just a short drive from downtown Evart.
“We didn’t take cruises. We didn’t do things out of the ordinary that we would have normally done anyway,” said Jerry. “It did not seem like work to us. It was just a pleasure and a challenge to do it,” he added.
The movie did capture the happiness their winning gave to others.
Jerry still remembers an investor named Alde who he played poker with. One day, Alde didn’t show up for the game.
“He drove himself to the hospital. He had had a heart attack,” said Jerry.
A few days later as Alde lie in a coma, the man’s son brought him his latest winnings — $73, 000.
“He said he thought he saw Alde smile. Alde died that night,” Jerry says, posing to choke back his tears. “That always breaks me up.”
“It was something to do,” said Marge.
“Yup,” said Jerry. “Something to do that gave us purpose. And that was good.”