It was a small-town story that instantly felt ready-made for the big screen: A retired couple from the Midwest banked millions of dollars by winning various state lottery games dozens of times. No fraud or scam here; the pair did it all legally through a mathematical loophole.
60 Minutes first reported on the story of Jerry and Marge Selbee in January 2019. Now their story is a feature film, set to premiere on Paramount+ next week. Paramount Global is the corporate parent of both Paramount+ and CBS News.
High school sweethearts, the Selbees had just sold their convenience store and were living a quiet life in Evart, Michigan when Jerry spotted a brand-new lottery game called "Winfall." While reading the fine print, Jerry noticed that the game had a feature called a "rolldown," and the lottery would announce when it was going to happen.
Unlike other high-paying lottery games, such as Mega Millions, where the jackpot keeps building until someone hits all six numbers and wins the big prize, in Winfall, if the jackpot reached the top prize of $5 million, and no one matched all six numbers, all the money "rolled down" to the winners who matched fewer numbers.
Jerry, who has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Western Michigan University, quickly ran the odds in his head and realized he was guaranteed to win money if he bought enough tickets.
"It's just basic arithmetic," he told 60 Minutes correspondent Jon Wertheim at the time.
After setting up a corporation, where he kept detailed records of his winnings, he invited family and friends to join him in his lottery payday. When Michigan shut down the Winfall game, Jerry set his sights on a lottery game with similar rules in Massachusetts.
All told, the Selbees grossed more than $26 million from playing the lottery. They put their winnings toward renovating their home and helping their grandchildren and great-grandchildren pay for their educations.
Even as their lottery winnings began piling up, the Selbees continued to live without extravagance. They ate at their favorite local restaurant, Sugar Rae's Café, and Marge baked butterscotch pies. They never bought a hot tub, a sports car, or even a timeshare—not even a lavish vacation with multiple ports of call.
"We don't cruise," Jerry told Wertheim.
When Jon Wertheim reported on the Selbees for 60 Minutes in 2019, the couple had already sold the rights to their story to Hollywood producers. In the new film, Jerry is played by Bryan Cranston, and Marge is portrayed by Annette Benning.
"There's something classically American about it," Wertheim said at the time. "But there's also something just reassuring, that stories like this can still happen."
"Jerry and Marge Go Large" is set to premiere on the Paramount+ streaming service in the U.S. on June 17.
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