We’ve all heard of math geniuses who manage to beat the casino at cards and win a fortune. But is it actually possible to use mathematics to beat the lottery? As economist Stefan Mandel proved, it certainly is possible-and although it took a math genius to figure out, he used a deceptively simple method.
This is the fascinating story of Mandel and how he managed to win the lottery a staggering 14 times over 30 years. Here we break down his strategy, his strengths and where he went wrong.
Who Is Stefan Mandel?
Stefan Mandel is a Romanian economist who turned to playing the lottery to get his family out of poverty-stricken Eastern Europe in the 1960s. Over a few years, he developed a mathematical formula to calculate which combinations of numbers were most likely to win him second place in the Romanian state-run lottery. He effectively increased his odds of winning from one in several million to one in several thousand.
With a little legwork to collect money to buy tickets for the most likely winning combinations, he won the first-place prize. His winnings equalled 18 years of salary in Romania at the time.
Next, Mandel moved to Australia, where he created a “lottery syndicate” and convinced a number of investors to fund his new winning strategy: predict every possible number combination-yes, millions of them-and buy them all.
Over the next three decades, he won 12 more lottery jackpots and many secondary prizes in the UK and Australia, confounding lotto authorities with his entirely legal strategy. His final win was the Virginia Lottery in 1992, when he snapped up the $27 million jackpot and 273 additional prizes.
Mandel has been the subject of several documentaries and books about the lottery-and no one has ever been able to replicate his winning method.
How Did He Do It?
While some lottery winners, such as Bill Morgan, can win the lottery multiple times through nothing more than sheer luck, Mandel used his math smarts to develop an algorithm that could predict every single combination of numbers in a given lottery. He would then create tickets with all the possible combinations and print them out at home. Printing his tickets out at home allowed him to choose as many combinations as he wanted. To maximize his odds of winning, he chose lotteries with fewer numbers to pick from, which meant there were fewer possible combinations.
Mandel’s Lottery Strategy:
- Calculate the total number of possible combinations for a given lottery using a simple mathematical algorithm.
- Choose a jackpot where the winnings are at minimum three times more than the money you’d spend to buy tickets with every combination. For example, for a lottery where you’d need to buy 3 million tickets at $1 each to cover all combinations, the jackpot should be at least $9 million.
- Collect enough money to pay for the lottery tickets to cover every number combination. Mandel raised his capital from interested investors.
- Buy tickets for all possible combinations. Mandel hand-filled or printed out the tickets at home, which was allowed at the time.
- Take the printed tickets with all the combinations to authorized dealers across a region, pay for the tickets and have them processed.
- Collect the winnings, pay investors their share and pocket the rest!
Mandel’s Biggest Win
The strategy was absolutely foolproof, but after paying his investors and his overhead costs, Mandel wasn’t left with significant profits. He decided to try his luck on the much larger Virginia lottery jackpot to increase his profits.
Backed by 2,500 investors who put up about $4,000 each for the tickets, Mandel printed out every possible number combination. He then shipped the tickets from Australia to the US and hired couriers to deliver and pay for them at dealers around Virginia.
Even though only 5.5 million of the 7 million tickets bought by Mandel’s syndicate were processed by dealers in time for the big draw, the winning ticket was among them. Including all the prizes they won, the syndicate collected a whopping $30 million.
Where Mandel Went Wrong
When it came time to pay the syndicate members their winnings from the Virginia lottery, Mandel kept a $1.7 million “consulting fee” for himself and only paid out a return of $1,400 to each investor. The furious stakeholders couldn’t do anything about it since Mandel had given them a return on their investments, just as he’d promised.
After allegedly selling the annuity on the 20-year lottery payout to an American insurance firm for $14 million and covering his expenses and $5.5 million worth of tickets, Mandel walked away with millions.
However, when his massive haul made the news around the world, the Australian Securities Commission, FBI and numerous other international agencies began investigating Mandel. Although his actions were deemed to be legal, the states changed their laws so that his bulk buying stunt couldn’t be repeated. By this time, Australia also did not allow players to bulk-buy tickets or print them off at home.
With his actions, Mandel had narrowed the playing field and scared off his investors. Yet despite being a millionaire, he wasn’t done playing games.
He tried opening a life insurance company and then his own lottery in Gibraltar, but he failed and declared bankruptcy. Mandel continued running investment scams until he was caught in 2004 and given 20 months of jail time in Israel.
Where Is He Now?
When he was released from jail in 2006, Mandel retired with the remainder of his winnings to a beach house on the South Pacific island of Vanuata. Although he occasionally gives interviews, he has mentioned no plans to play the lottery on a large scale ever again. Whether or not that’s true or he’s just wisely staying under the radar, however, is anybody’s guess.
As Mandel explained, “mathematics properly applied can guarantee a fortune.” Ultimately, he had a successful run of winning the lottery using his math formula and bulk ticket-buying-something many people, including lottery addict Adam Osmond, failed in trying to replicate.
While it’s impossible to replicate his exact strategy today, others have successfully used mathematics and developed formulas to increase their odds of hitting the jackpot. And with the help of computers to crunch massive data sets and solve complex problems, creating a lottery-winning algorithm should certainly be possible today. However, although many products tout that they employ such algorithms and strategies, many of them are nothing more than lottery scams that prey on gullible people and don't help them much, if at all.
No matter how you play the lottery, make sure to enjoy it responsibly. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Mandel, it pays to play carefully.