Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening play two retirees in new movie Jerry and Marge Go Large. But the characters they play are not fictional.
The Paramount+ film tells the true story of retiree Gerald “Jerry” Selbee and his wife Marge after they discover a mathematical loophole in the Massachusetts lottery. Together, they win millions and use the money to revitalize their small Michigan town, Paramount+ said.
So who were the Selbees really?
The couple met and dated in high school and eventually got married, they told 60 Minutes. The couple had six children at the time.
Jerry, who always liked math, had a bachelor’s degree in math from Western Michigan University, according to the show. And he spent 17 years owning a supermarket before selling it, 60 Minutes reported.
They then retired and were living in Evart, Michigan when Jerry discovered a brand new lottery game called “Winfall.”
For each $2 bet, the customer could choose six numbers between 1 and 46. The goal was to match the six numbers chosen at random during the Monday and Thursday evening draws.
However, the jackpot was capped at $2 million. When it hit that cap and no one won, it then created a ‘roll down’ feature where the jackpot was distributed to those who won smaller prizes.
Her story is not one of cheating.
“We haven’t done anything illegal,” Selbee told MLive. “At my age I refuse to do anything illegal.”
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MLive reported that, according to a report by Inspector General Gregory W. Sullivan, Selbee determined that playing at the time of an expected rolldown was statistically “a good bet.”
“Anyone putting these two facts together would see an obvious way to make money: sit on the sidelines while other players build the jackpot to nearly $2 million, and then jump in,” Sullivan wrote.
After the Michigan game closed, Selbee turned his attention to the Massachusetts game. The couple used this between 2005 and 2011 and often drove to Massachusetts to buy the tickets.
MLive reported that the Selbees bought 60,000 tickets for $120,000 on their first trip and made a 45 percent profit on the group bet. And in July 2011, the investment group made its biggest bet to date, buying 360,000 tickets for $720,000.
The Boston Globe reported the Selbee arrived in Sunderland and bought $2 tickets worth $307,000 at Billy’s Beer and Wine. The day before the couple’s arrival, they had sold $47 worth of lottery tickets, the newspaper reported.
The couple also spent $307,000 on Cash WinFall at Jerry’s Place, a coffee shop in South Deerfield, the Globe reported.
Sullivan’s report states that this type of betting “was permitted and encouraged because it provided a financial benefit to the state.”
“Cash WinFall was a financial success for the lottery,” Sullivan wrote. “It generated approximately $300 million in ticket sales, of which nearly $120 million went to lottery operations and funds distributed to cities and communities.”
That was also good for the stores. Purchases from the Sunderland store earned Paul Mardas, the owner, about $18,000 in commission, the Globe reported.
Selbees played 42 times and lost just once, he told MLive. 60 Minutes reported that the couple raked in more than $26 million playing the lottery.
They all kept their tickets, 60 Minutes reported, even the losers.
Then, in 2011, Massachusetts shut down the game.
But the Selbees didn’t spend their winnings on extravagant purchases. They told 60 Minutes that she has continued to eat at her favorite local restaurant, Sugar Rae’s Café, and has baked Marge butterscotch pies. Instead of spending it on a hot tub, sports car, or cruise, they renovated their home and helped their grandchildren and great-grandchildren pay for their education.
The couple told 60 Minutes they were just having fun.