“I knew I was going to win the first prize, six-second awards, 132 third prizes, and thousands of minor prizes.”
These were the words of Romanian economist Stefan Mandel at an interview after his jackpot lottery win of $27 million. Yes, a whopping $27 million by using the power of maths! That, too, legally. Stefan Mandel is a man who hacked the lottery and won, not once or twice, but 14 times.
But how did the math savant manage to pull off this stunning feat? Let’s explore the story of the 14-time lottery winner.
How It All Began for Stefan Mandel
The Communist rule marked Stefan Mandel’s days in Romania. Most people were in knee-deep poverty. Mandel, too, found it hard to make ends meet with a scant income of $88 a month. The Cold War-era forced people to either flee to the West or become involved in illegal schemes. However, the government-approved lottery system offered a way to Mandel to make quick money.
Mandel read several math papers and came up with a method to ensure a lottery win. His formula correctly predicted five out of six winning numbers in a lottery game. Three of his friends joined him, and luckily, they managed to win the first prize – a total of around $20000! The jackpot was enough to get Mandel out of Romania’s miserable life and finally settle in Australia.
Stefan Mandel Winning Strategy
Mandel’s firm belief in the power of math to warrant a fortune played out well for him. But now, he took a different take on the game. His formula was quite simple, and it was to buy all the possible lottery combinations. Mandel found that the way to a lottery win was spotting the jackpots, which were thrice as large as the total possible number of winning combinations. But how did the scheme work?
Say, a lottery requires players to choose six numbers between 1 and 40. So, there would be a total of 3,838,380 possible winning combinations. In this case, Mandel would buy a lottery ticket for every possible combination at $1 each. He would then turn in the ticket that wins the jackpot (rising to three times and yielding around $11.5 million). Mandel could make a decent profit and get double the money he had put into buying the tickets. This was, of course, after reducing overhead costs.
Turning Lotto Wins into Business
Over the later years, Mandel convinced several hundred investors to put their money together. Thus, his efforts resulted in a “lotto syndicate.” He then went on to develop an automation system. The machines ran on algorithms that could prepare a database of tickets with every possible combination. Thus, Mandel could save months of work and avoid any manual errors by outsourcing the job to computers. The lotto syndicate would always be on the lookout for jackpots three times bigger than the cost of covering all probable combinations. In this way, Mandel’s group managed to hit 12 jackpots, including a $1.1 million haul across Australia in the 1980s.
But Mandel’s system soon came under the radar. The Australian lottery authorities changed the laws and banned a single person from buying all the possible combinations. However, this did not stop Mandel, and his biggest hack was yet to come.
Mandel’s Ultimate Move: The Virginia Lottery
Helped by his global network, Mandel decided to apply his hack to the Virginia state lottery. Virginia’s lottery system had several pros. It allowed people to buy tickets in bulk and print them at home, and the system was relatively new. Mandel’s team printed 7 million tickets and shipped them to Virginia. The team then waited for the jackpot to hit a number that would be financially profitable. Mandel’s associate, Anithalee Alex, supervised the processing of the millions of tickets from grocery stores and gas stations across Virginia.
In February 1992, the lottery hit a jackpot of over $27 million. No doubt, Mandel’s team had won, making it the math whiz’s 14th and a final lottery win.
Stefan Mandel historic win made headlines. However, Mandel’s system’s legality stirred a debate, and he faced investigation from many agencies, including the FBI and the CIA. But the Director of Virginia state’s lottery authorized the prize release stating that Mandel’s team operated by the book.
Mandel’s fool-proof system, however, cannot be applied today. But his legacy lives on in the US lottery laws. Lottery authorities of all 44 states have changed the game rules making it impossible to copy Mandel’s scheme. People are not allowed to print tickets at home or buy them in bulk. However, strict laws have ensured that Mandel retains the title of being the luckiest lottery player.