Historical Accuracy (Q&A):
When did the real-life story take place?
The Jerry and Marge Go Large true story reveals that while the Paramount+ movie is set in the present day, the real-life events began in 2003, which was the year that Jerry Selbee, then 64, figured out a loophole in a Michigan state lottery game called Winfall. He and his wife Marge, who live in the single-stoplight factory town of Evart, Michigan (population 1,900), spent roughly the next decade taking advantage of the game's mathematical flaw.
How long have Jerry and Marge Selbee been married?
In determining how accurate is Jerry and Marge Go Large, we confirmed that they were indeed high school sweethearts. Jerry and Marge Selbee were married on November 7, 1956 when Jerry was a high school senior. This is in line with the movie mentioning that they were married when they were 17. They celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary on November 7, 2021. As implied in the movie, Jerry and Marge were high school sweethearts. They're pictured here in the 1950s. Photo: Dawn Tomlinson
As implied in the movie, Jerry and Marge were high school sweethearts. They're pictured here in the 1950s. Photo: Dawn Tomlinson
How old were the real Jerry and Marge Selbee when they started winning big?
Jerry and Marge were in their early sixties when Jerry, then 64, discovered the lottery loophole. This was not long after they had sold the local convenience store they had run for 17 years on Main Street in Evart, Michigan. Prior to purchasing the store in 1984, Jerry had been a materials analyst at a Kellogg's cereal factory, working on designing boxes and liners to maximize freshness. The movie has Bryan Cranston's character working at the cereal factory up until his retirement, omitting their ownership of the convenience store altogether.
In real life, Jerry and Marge Selbee ran this convenience store on Main Street in Evart, Michigan prior to retiring.
Did it really take Jerry Selbee a matter of minutes to figure out the loophole in the lottery game?
Yes. In exploring the Jerry and Marge Go Large fact vs. fiction, we learned that on a random morning in 2003, Jerry walked into the convenience store he used to own. He noticed a brochure for a new state lottery game called Winfall. He read it, performed some quick lottery math, and says that in "three minutes," he "knew what the potential might be." -CBS News The real Jerry Selbee (left) said that it took him three minutes to figure out the lottery loophole in the Michigan game. Bryan Cranston (right) portrays Selbee in the movie.
The real Jerry Selbee (left) said that it took him three minutes to figure out the lottery loophole in the Michigan game. Bryan Cranston (right) portrays Selbee in the movie.
What was Jerry Selbee's lottery loophole?
Jerry Selbee's lottery math involved a state lottery game in Michigan called Winfall. The unique thing about the game is that unlike Mega Millions where the jackpot keeps building until there's a winner, with Winfall, once the jackpot reached $5 million and no one matched all six numbers, the prize money rolled down to the lower-tier winners. When this occurred, it was called a "Rolldown" and the lottery commission announced in advance when it was going to happen. As a result, it would then significantly increase the winnings of people who matched five, four or three numbers.
Jerry calculated that if he spent $1,100 on tickets, odds are he'd have one four-number winner ($1,000) and 18 or 19 three-number winners that totaled $900. This meant that his investment of $1,100 would yield a $1,900 return, leaving him with a profit of $800. After Winfall was shut down in May 2005, Jerry Selbee applied his lottery strategy to a similar game in Massachusetts called Cash Winfall.
Does Jerry Selbee have a background in math?
Yes. In analyzing the Jerry and Marge Go Large fact vs. fiction, we discovered that Jerry has a bachelor's degree in math from Western Michigan University. Jerry Selbee called his lottery strategy "basic arithmetic" and was initially worried that a lot of other people would have figured the math out too, but he was "amazed" that was not the case. "I just couldn't fathom it," said Jerry. -CBS News
At what point did Jerry Selbee tell his wife Marge about his high-stakes gamble with their savings?
In answering the question, "Is Jerry and Marge Go Large accurate?" we confirmed that like in the movie, Jerry didn't tell marge until after he started testing out his lottery strategy. He waited for a rolldown to be announced and then he bought $3,600 in Winfall tickets and won $6,300. This confirmed his math. He then bought $8,000 worth of tickets and nearly doubled his money. It was at that point he thought it was a good time to tell his wife what he had been doing with their savings.
It's true that Jerry didn't tell his wife Marge (left) about risking thousands of dollars of their savings until after he started to test his lottery loophole theory. Annette Bening (right) plays Marge in the movie.
Did Jerry Selbee set up a corporation and invite family and friends to buy shares?
Yes. Jerry created the corporation G.S. Investment Strategies after he and Marge started betting hundreds of thousands of dollars. He invited family and friends to join the fund, which was similar to a hedge fund, and charged $500 per share. He detailed the corporation's winnings in stacks of record books and kept both the winning and losing tickets. He would meet with some of the members at a local Evart gathering place, Sugar Rae's Café, which closed a few years prior to the movie's release. G.S. Investment Strategies members included James White, a local attorney; Dave Huff, a machine and tool shop operator; retired farmers Loren and Ray Gerber; three state troopers; a bank vice president; and a factory manager; to name a few. Huff says that the game helped him pay for his children's education, including one to go to law school. As of the spring of 2005, Jerry's gang had 25 members. Like in the movie, the Jerry and Marge Go Large true story confirms that a lot of townsfolk were leery of such a high-stakes gamble.
G.S. Investment Strategies members included James White, a local attorney; Dave Huff, a machine and tool shop operator; retired farmers Loren and Ray Gerber; three state troopers; a bank vice president; and a factory manager; to name a few. Huff says that the game helped him pay for his children's education, including one to go to law school. As of the spring of 2005, Jerry's gang had 25 members. Like in the movie, the Jerry and Marge Go Large true story confirms that a lot of townsfolk were leery of such a high-stakes gamble.
How many children do Jerry and Marge Selbee have?
Jerry and Marge have six children, 14 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren. They reportedly invested some of their lottery winnings in their younger family members' educations.
Marge and Jerry Selbee with two of their young children in the 1960s.
Is Jerry and Marge Go Large based on a book?
The movie is actually based on Jason Fagone's 2018 Huffington Post article of the same name.
How much was Jerry Selbee's group betting and winning at its peak?
Jerry and his group of friends and family members were betting hundreds of thousands of dollars whenever a rolldown occurred in Michigan's Winfall lottery game and later in Massachusetts' Cash Winfall game. During an interview with CBS News, Jerry pointed out that during one such rolldown, for example, they purchased $515,000 in tickets and won $853,000, a 60 percent return.
Is Jerry Selbee's accountant, Steve, based on a real person?
Yes. Larry Wilmore's character, Steve Woods, was loosely inspired by Jerry Selbee's real-life accountant, Steve Wood, a longtime Evart local. Similar to what unfolds in the movie, Wood bought shares in the Selbees' corporation and used his winnings to go on four cruises and renovate his house. When the real events were taking place, Wood was similar in age to actor Larry Wilmore, 60. However, it seems that Steve Wood is white in real life, not black. The Huffington Post article also describes him as having a "smoker's scratchy voice."
Comedian Larry Wilmore portrays Steve Woods, who was inspired by Jerry's real accountant.
How many times did Jerry's group play Michigan's Winfall lottery game?
A Jerry and Marge Go Large fact-check reveals that G.S. Investment Strategies played Winfall 12 times, accumulating over $2.6 million in winnings. When the Michigan game was shut down in the spring of 2005, they then played a similar Massachusetts game 43 times, racking up more than $24 million in winnings.
Did Jerry and Marge Selbee travel to Massachusetts to play a similar lottery game there?
Yes. Once the Winfall lottery game shut down in Michigan in 2005 due to, ironically, a lack of sales, Jerry and Marge Selbee began traveling 900 miles to Massachusetts to play a similar lottery game there called Cash Winfall. Jerry recalls, "One of our players emailed me and he said, 'Massachusetts has a game called Cash Winfall. Do you think we could play that?'" It took Jerry ten minutes to figure out that the game was another winner. In the movie, Jerry (Bryan Cranston) learns of the Massachusetts game from the local convenience store employee after he asks him why the Michigan game was shut down.
Left: The real Jerry and Marge Selbee are pictured nearly two decades after discovering the lottery loophole. Right: Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening portray the couple in the movie. Photo: Dawn Tomlinson
Jerry and Marge spent the next six years making the long trek to Massachusetts every time a rolldown happened in the game. On behalf of their corporation, they would make roughly seven plays per year, spending over $600,000 per play, a total expenditure of $4.2 million per year. They visited two convenience stores, purchased hundreds of thousands of tickets, and would hole up in a room at the Red Roof Inn (not the movie's fictional Pick and Shovel Motel), spending ten hours a day for ten days straight analyzing the tickets by hand for winners.
Is Rainn Wilson's character based on a real person?
Yes. As indicated at the top of the page, Rainn Wilson's character in the Jerry and Marge Go Large movie is based on Paul Mardas, the owner of Billy's Beverages in Sunderland, Massachusetts. The store was renamed Bill's Liquor Hut in the movie. Mardas shares a number of similarities with his onscreen counterpart, including being on the verge of a divorce when he met Jerry and Marge. The couple also offered him a stake in their corporation, which he accepted. Paul Mardas' lottery license was suspended in 2011 after he was accused of helping Jerry and Marge exploit the loophole in the Cash Winfall lottery game. Mardas has since remarried and has three stepchildren. -Huffington Post
Did a group of college students also discover the lottery loophole?
Yes, but the conflict with the college students in the movie is significantly exaggerated. In real life, after the closing of the Winfall lottery game in Michigan, the Selbee group began playing the Massachusetts lottery game Cash Winfall. They learned of a group of MIT students who were exploiting the same loophole in the game.
An MIT undergraduate named James Harvey, who was carrying out an independent study project for his mathematics degree, discovered the loophole and recruited a bunch of his friends to contribute money. He and his friend Yuran Lu formed the company Random Strategies Investments LLC to play Cash Winfall. Gradually, like the Selbees, they increased their money, got more backers, and were spending hundreds of thousands on tickets. Over a seven-year period, the MIT group saw the same rate of return as the Selbee gang, earning no less than $3.5 million in profits. -CBS News
Former MIT student James Harvey (left) inspired Uly Schlesinger's character (right).
Are the two Harvard students, Tyler and Eric, based on real people?
Comparing the Jerry and Marge Go Large fact vs. fiction reveals that the arrogant Harvard University students Tyler (Uly Schlesinger) and Eric (Cheech Manohar) are loosely based on James Harvey and Yuran Lu, who in real life attended MIT, not Harvard. Tyler and Eric's bullying tactics against the Selbees in the movie are pure Hollywood fiction, though the MIT group did intentionally trigger a rolldown.
Did the Selbees' high-volume ticket purchases lead to a government investigation?
Yes. In 2011, the Boston Globe learned via a tip that large volumes of Cash Winfall tickets were being sold in various Massachusetts locations. The Globe's Spotlight team, the same team that investigated the Catholic Church scandal, began looking into the suspicious bulk ticket purchases. They discovered that two groups, the Selbee gang from Michigan and a second group led by MIT math majors, were dominating the game.
The Globe's reporting caught the attention of state government officials, who suspected that the game might be rigged. Massachusetts State Inspector General Greg Sullivan headed up an investigation. "We used subpoenas, we looked at documents, we interviewed dozens of people to look at this in detail with a hypothesis that something illegal had happened." Like in the Jerry and Marge Go Large movie, the investigation concluded that everything the Selbee's team and the MIT group were doing was 100% legal and that no one's odds of winning were changed by the high-volume betting. What's not mentioned in the film is that the inspector general's report also identified other groups who exploited the loophole in the game, including a group of scientists from Boston University and Northeastern University (MIT.edu).
How much did Jerry and Marge Selbee win playing the lottery?
After exploiting the mathematical flaws in the lottery for almost a decade, their homegrown corporation made up of family and friends from around town had won $26.85 million from playing the Michigan lottery game Winfall 12 times and a similar game in Massachusetts called Cash Winfall 43 times. After Cash Winfall was shut down in 2012, the corporation had made a total of $7.75 million in profits from both games before taxes. In researching how accurate is Jerry and Marge Go Large, we learned that they only lost money in three of 55 drawings.
Source: Huffington Post
Did Jerry and Marge save all of their lottery tickets in case they were audited?
Yes. Like in the film, the real Jerry and Marge Selbee kept detailed records of their lottery transactions and winnings. The Jerry and Marge Go Large true story confirms that they kept $18 million worth of losing tickets in 60-65 large plastic totes that they stored in their barn in case of a federal audit. -CBS News
How did winning the lottery affect the real Jerry and Marge Selbee's lives?
"It didn't really affect our lives in any way other than giving us more financial security for our future," Jerry said. "Other members [of the corporation] buy a timeshare or take cruises. Marge and I didn't do any of that. We enjoyed life as it was." In addition to financial security, Jerry purchased a Ford F350 truck and a camping trailer. The Selbees also renovated their home and invested money in their grandkids' and great-grandkids' education.
Did Jerry use some of his winnings to start a construction loan business in the town of Evart?
This is what is stated at the end of the movie, and according to the Jerry and Marge Go Large true story, it's accurate. Jerry lent money for the construction of homes in the Traverse City area, focusing on housing for veterans, among others. -Huffington Post
Did Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening spend time with the Selbees prior to filming?
Yes. Actors Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening spent a few days with Jerry and Marge Selbee prior to filming. "When you're doing research like this, you just want to be open to receiving the essence of people that you're looking at," noted Cranston. They spent time with the married couple of more than 60 years doing normal things, including rocking away on the porch, going for a drive, and having a meal. "It was just really sweet." -LA Times
Bryan Cranston (left) is pictured next to the real Jerry Selbee. Annette Bening (right) is standing beside the real Marge Selbee. Photo: Paramount+
Does Jerry Selbee still play the lottery?
Yes, but only casually. He said that he continued to keep a close eye on the games, looking for a similar lottery loophole. He came across a game in Florida that he says is "similar but not quite the same. Winfall was a unique game. It was the only thing you could win without getting lucky, just based on purely mathematical and statistical odds." He will still purchase the occasional lottery ticket, particularly when there are large jackpots, but he doesn't spend over ten dollars.
WATCHJerry and Marge Go Large Trailer
Jerry & Marge Go Large is a 2022 American comedy-drama film directed by David Frankel and written by Brad Copeland. Based on Jason Fagone's 2018 HuffPost article of the same name,the film, which is based on a true story, stars Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening.What was the loophole in the Winfall lottery? ›
Unlike other lotteries that keep building until there was a winner, once the Winfall jackpot reached $5 million – and no one had matched all six numbers to win – a "rolldown" would happen. That meant the money rolled down and was split between winners who matched just five, four or three numbers.Was the Harvard student real in Jerry and Marge Go Large? ›
In the case of the Jerry & Marge Go Large true story, Tyler and Eric are based on two college students who did most of what's seen in the movie. Their names were changed, but the characters are meant to represent James Harvey and Yuran Lu, who attended MIT.What is the lottery loophole in Jerry and Marge Go Large? ›
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.How much money did Jerry and Marge keep for themselves? ›
It was an adventure, and it was to accomplish something. The proof is in the pudding because what did he do when he won the $27 million for himself, his family, and his friends in the town?How long did Jerry and Marge play the lottery? ›
By then though, Massachusetts State Lottery had moved on to a different game without a statistical twist. And with that, Jerry and Marge Selbee's excellent adventure drew to an end. In total, their unlikely homegrown company grossed more than $26 million from nine years of playing the lottery.Is there math behind the lottery? ›
Lottery mathematics is used to calculate probabilities of winning or losing a lottery game. It is based primarily on combinatorics, particularly the twelvefold way and combinations without replacement.Why do most lottery winners lose their money? ›
Spending is an easy trap to fall into after receiving a big cash windfall. It's common for lottery winners to blow cash on extravagant things like luxury items, sports cars and gifts to family and friends.
When did the real-life story take place? The Jerry and Marge Go Large true story reveals that while the Paramount+ movie is set in the present day, the real-life events began in 2003, which was the year that Jerry Selbee, then 64, figured out a loophole in a Michigan state lottery game called Winfall.What town was Jerry and Marge Go Large filmed? ›
Set in the Selbees' hometown of Evart (which boasts a population of only 1,700), the movie was shot in its entirety in the Atlanta, Georgia region, with several area suburbs blending together to stand in for the small hamlet.
It's no spoiler to say Jerry & Marge Go Large has a happy ending. Like I said, the film is very Nice. Lessons are learned, burned (well, slightly charred) bridges are mended, and everyone comes away a better person. “It's not about math,” Jerry's son says.How did Jerry Selbee figure out the lottery? ›
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 ...Are big lottery winners happier? ›
However, the effect on a person's happiness and mental health after winning a lottery is more mixed, with research showing increases are usually smaller and not statistically significant.Has big lottery been claimed? ›
California resident Edwin Castro is the sole winner of the record-breaking jackpot from November 2022. The California Lottery is maintaining it verified the rightful winner of the record-breaking $2.04 billion Powerball jackpot, after a man claimed he had the winning ticket before it was stolen from him.Did Jerry and Marge ever win the jackpot? ›
In 2003, a retired Midwestern couple in their 60s chose the former by winning millions after discovering — and exploiting — a legal loophole in a lottery game sold across the United States.Was the Winfall lottery real? ›
Winfall and Cash Winfall games
Cash Winfall in Massachusetts cost $2, players picked numbers from 1-46 and the jackpot capped at $2 million. The film portrays Winfall shutting down immediately, but the real-life Selbees worked that game for two years, racking up five-figures in winnings.
Bryan Cranston, left, and Annette Bening with the real-life people they portray, Jerry and Marge Selbee. “Marge didn't have stars in her eyes or anything, which I just loved about her,” says Bening. “She's tough — she raised six kids and her family called her Marge the Sarge.What was the loophole in windfall? ›
But the couple also discovered a legal loophole in the game sold across the US. The 83-year-old Mr Selbee told the New York Post that he found out about a feature called "rolldown" in the Winfall lottery - that the game's jackpot would roll down is no one won and the prize money was expanded.Has anyone ever won the Lotto multiple times? ›
Joan Ginther is an American four-time lottery winner. She first won the lottery in 1993, when she won $5.4 million in Lotto Texas (equivalent to about $10.9M in 2022). Her next win came in 2006 when she won $2 million in the Holiday Millionaire scratch-off.Is Jerry and Marge Selbee based on a true story? ›
“'Jerry and Marge Go Large' is inspired by the remarkable true story of retiree Jerry Selbee (Cranston), who discovers a mathematical loophole in the Massachusetts lottery and, with the help of his wife, Marge (Bening), wins millions and uses the money to revive their small Michigan town.”
- Buy your ticket in a state that doesn't require you to come forward. ...
- Don't tell anyone. ...
- Delete social media accounts (and change your phone number and address, too). ...
- Wear a disguise. ...
- Disconnect all phones. ...
- Get out of town. ...
- Set up an LLC or trust. ...
- Don't make any big purchases for a year.
Being Killed by a Shark
Even though dying from a shark attack is rare, your chances of winning the lottery are even rarer. According to the International Shark Attack File, your odds of dying from a “Jaws” moment is 1 in 3.7 million.
There are two ways lottery winners can claim their earnings — as a lump sum or annual payments over time. Both options result in a lottery payout, but there are pros and cons to each. You'll receive your after-tax winnings immediately if you claim a lump sum payout.What are the 6 most common winning lottery numbers? ›
The most frequently appearing Powerball numbers are: 1, 26, 18, 10, 10, 2, 12, 11, 9, 6 and 20.Why is it so hard to win Powerball? ›
Every few years, Powerball and Mega Millions make small adjustments to the numbers of balls, but almost always in ways that make the jackpot more difficult to win. Even small increases in the number of white balls make a huge impact.What is the best strategy to win the lottery? ›
Lottery experts agree that the number one way to boost your chance of getting a winning ticket is to just get more tickets. Even though the probability of winning the lottery is low in general, the greater the amount of tickets you have, the more likely it is that one of these tickets will be the winner.Are most lottery winners quick picks? ›
In general, most lottery winners have used quick picks, but that's probably because more people tend to use quick picks, not because they have better odds of winning.Does the lottery target the poor? ›
Lotteries are regressive, meaning lower-income groups spend more of their budgets on lottery games than higher-income groups. Far more money is wagered every year on instant scratch-off games, which studies show attract more low-income gamblers, than huge jackpot drawings such as Powerball.How many tickets do most lottery winners buy? ›
In an effort to double their odds, many lottery players buy two lottery tickets. Of course, improving your odds doesn't hurt, but it's also not going to make much of a difference either.Who won the lottery in Evart Michigan? ›
Jerry and Marge Selbee of Evart, Michigan won $27 million dollars through the Winfall lottery over the course of nine years. They played in two states, Michigan and Massachusetts, and spent nine years on the project before hitting it big.
A Roll Down occurs when winnings are spread downwards to lower tier winners, at 5, 4, and 3 level matches. The State Lottery made a mistake in all this. They listed the odds of winning that was associated with each combination of numbers. The math explanation could fill an article itself.Was Jerry and Marge Go Large in theaters? › Does Jerry end up with Dorothy? ›
After an argument Jerry breaks up with his disgruntled fiancée Avery. He then turns to Dorothy, becoming closer to her young son, Ray, and starts a relationship with her. Dorothy contemplates moving to San Diego as she has a secure job offer there; however, she and Jerry get married.Who was the singer at the end of Jerry and Marge Go Large? ›
The town even booked a big name to sing, Tori Kelly, to celebrate the occasion. (Even though everyone kept wishing for Steely Dan). The film ends with Jerry going to count each ticket. And before the credits roll, it is explained Jerry and Marge won $27 million for their town.What happens at the end of the movie Jerry and Marge Go Large? ›
A Rainn Wilson voiceover closes the film, announcing that the couple used most of their winnings to offer business loans to townsfolk — most of whom were also able to pay for their children or grandchildren's college educations.How much is true about Jerry and Marge Go Large? ›
In determining how accurate is Jerry and Marge Go Large, we confirmed that they were indeed high school sweethearts. Jerry and Marge Selbee were married on November 7, 1956 when Jerry was a high school senior. This is in line with the movie mentioning that they were married when they were 17.What year did Jerry and Marge win the lottery? ›
In 2003, a retired Midwestern couple in their 60s chose the former by winning millions after discovering — and exploiting — a legal loophole in a lottery game sold across the United States.What lottery did Jerry and Marge play in Michigan? ›
The new movie “Jerry and Marge Go Large” tells the true story of a Michigan couple who used a lottery loophole to win millions of dollars. It stars Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening and is streaming exclusively on Paramount+. It's based on the true story of Jerry and Marge Selbee.Where in Georgia was Jerry and Marge Go Large filmed? ›
Set in the Selbees' hometown of Evart (which boasts a population of only 1,700), the movie was shot in its entirety in the Atlanta, Georgia region, with several area suburbs blending together to stand in for the small hamlet.Is there math behind The Lottery? ›
Lottery mathematics is used to calculate probabilities of winning or losing a lottery game. It is based primarily on combinatorics, particularly the twelvefold way and combinations without replacement.
According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, 70% of lottery winners go bankrupt within a few years. Obtaining more money often leads to careless spending and the desire to get more money, and the greed can be destructive to the lives of winners and their families.Who ended the Louisiana lottery in 1892? ›
Murphy J. Foster, an anti-lottery gubernatorial candidate, was elected, as were a majority of anti-lottery legislators. During that year all lottery operations were banned, and the charter expired in December 1893.What was Jerry Selbee's job? ›
Reading the fine print, Selbee — a math whiz who had spent much of his career as a materials analyst at a Kellogg's cereal factory — quickly realized that the lottery had a mathematical flaw that would mean guaranteed winnings if he bought enough tickets.What happens at the end of Jerry & Marge Go Large? ›
The film ends with Jerry going to count each ticket. And before the credits roll, it is explained Jerry and Marge won $27 million for their town.