If you bought a ticket for the last big Powerball jackpot, you (probably) know the disappointment every lottery player feels when their numbers don’t come up.
The odds of picking the winning ticket in the Powerball are 1 in 292 million. For comparison, your odds of being struck by lightning sometime this year are just 1 in 700,000. So you may be surprised to learn that mathematician Stefan Mandel has won the lottery 14 times.
His secret, which he used to win lotteries from Romania to Australia and eventually the United States, is so simple you’ll kick yourself for not thinking of it.
Mandel’s method involved waiting until a lottery had a huge jackpot, then buying every combination to guarantee he would win.
Okay, so it wasn’t that simple. To guarantee a win, Mandel actually wrote a number-picking algorithm. The huge theoretical work took up 8,000 pages, and was designed to match 5 out of 6 numbers.
That way, Mandel didn’t actually have to buy every single combination, just certain huge groups that almost guaranteed a win.
This is the basic concept he used in lotteries all over the world. To fund the cost of buying all the tickets, Mandel worked with huge “syndicates” of people who chipped in a few thousand dollars and were rewarded when Mandel found a lottery that was guaranteed to pay out.
Along with some multi-million dollar jackpots – including a $27 million prize from the Virginia Lottery in 1992 – each of the ticket-buying schemes won thousands of smaller prizes and a few dozen second-place prizes.
These days lotteries have all learned Mandel’s tricks. They’ve become more complicated and changed the rules to prevent block-purchases. So to win, you’ll have to play the old-fashioned way.
As for Mandel, he says he never believed in “gambling in general,” and beat the lotteries for the “kick” it gave him. He’s retired from the business now, and lives on an island in the South Pacific.