Last week a Fleming won 107 million euros with EuroMillions. Not bad, but what happened on February 15, 1992, in the US state of Virginia, still defies the imagination much more.
Not only did one man alone win the jackpot, but he also won with six-second prizes, 132 third prizes, and 135 smaller prizes. That winner was Stefan Mandel, the man who won the lotto 14 times in his life.
At 11:20 pm on Saturday, February 15, 1992, six winning numbers rolled from the Virginia State Lottery drum: 8, 11, 13, 15, 19 and 20.
A few days later, one and the same man had the jackpot of $27,036,142 won and another six-second prize, 132 third prizes, and 135 smaller prizes, together worth another $900,000 and winner Stefan Mandel was not ready for his test piece.
The genius mathematician had a long history of lotto gains behind him. His secret? Bet on all possible number combinations.
The young Romanian Stefan Mandel had all the trouble in the 60s to make ends meet. Romania was suffering from a communist regime and Mandel was able to maintain his wife and two children with his salary of 75 euros per month. Many Romanians took the road of crime, but Stefan had a different plan: as a self-proclaimed philosopher/mathematician, he set his sights on the lotto.
Not exactly the tightest plan, you would think so, but Stefan Mandel was not the first one. He immersed himself in theoretical works by the world-famous mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci to master probability theory. After years of research, he wrote his own algorithm to choose numbers, based on a theory that he himself called ‘combination condensation’.
Stefan claimed that with his new algorithm he could predict 5 out of 6 winning numbers, which reduced the number of possible combinations from millions to just a few thousand. Together with a large group of friends and acquaintances, he bought thousands of lottery tickets with the combinations he thought were the most likely.
An algorithm that can predict 5 out of 6 winning numbers, it resembles a delusion of a scattered professor, but Stefan Mandel has silenced all criticism. He won (with good luck) the jackpot of more than 16,000 euros, with which he could flee his homeland. Mandel traveled through Europe for four years and finally settled in Australia, where he simply went on his zest.
Bet on every combination
A lottery game normally consists of 50 numbers, where you have to select six numbers. The chance that you choose the right combination is very small: about 1 in 16 million. At EuroMillions, you only have to choose five numbers, but there the chance is even smaller by the two extra stars: about 1 in 140 million. But Mandel saw something that nobody else saw.
Mandel noticed that with some lotteries the total number of combinations was lower than the jackpot. For example, if there were only 40 numbers in the game, then the odds of the jackpot were 1 at 3,838,380. If a ticket cost only 1 euro and the total jackpot was 10 million, then Mandel could bet on every combination and thus guaranteed a big deal of money.
One mistake would be fatal
A brilliant idea, in theory, because logistics turned out to be a real nightmare. To begin with, he needed a large capital to buy millions of lottery tickets, and he also had to fill in each note manually with a unique combination.
One mistake could cost him eight months of work, or worse: a jackpot of millions. Mandel gathered a group of investors around him who helped him with this titanic work, but the arrival of the computer meant a turning point. Mandel designed a fully automated system of algorithms, computers and a room full of printers to fill in every unique combination.
In the 1980s, Mandel and his group won no less than 12 jackpots plus $400,000 in smaller prizes. But because the taxes skimmed off a lot of his winnings and his investors always ran out of money; Mandel’s earnings began to dry up. And when self-printed tickets and mass purchases were banned at the end of the 1980s, things looked completely dull.
But Mandel did not just win with all his winnings he posted scouts throughout North America who had to search for lotteries where the jackpot was at least three times the total number of combinations. After thorough investigation, Mandel’s eyes fell on the Massachusetts State lottery with a jackpot of $37 million and 9 million combinations and Arizona’s ($11 million with 5 million combinations). But in the end, he decided to go all-in on the lotto of Virginia.
The lotto of Virginia proved interesting for various reasons. Participants could buy an unlimited number of tickets and they were also allowed to print them themselves. Moreover, the game consisted of only 44 numbers, which meant that barely 7.059.052 combinations were possible.
Mandel set up a fund, the ‘International Lotto Fund’ and convinced as many investors as possible to put at least 3,000 dollars in the pot. The interest turned out to be overwhelming, because 2,524 people invested in Mandels’ plan, totaling 9 million dollars.
1 ton of notes
Mandel oversaw the operation from a warehouse in Melbourne, Australia. 30 computers, 12 printers, and 16 full-time employees worked for three months to print 7 million notes, each with a unique combination. Mandel certainly had the winning ticket in his hands. Mandel then had one ton of notes shipped to the United States. The shipping costs alone amounted to 60,000 dollars.
Now that all notes were in the United States, it was important to wait until the jackpot was high enough. When the jackpot rose to 27 million dollars in February 1992, Mandel saw his chance. He participated with more than 7 million notes, a logistical nightmare.
Distribute 7 million notes
Although you could print the bills yourself, they had to go through a recognized distributor first. An old friend and one of his investors coordinated a gigantic operation to distribute the 7 million notes to hundreds of stores. In 72 hours the job had to be done because then the winning numbers were taken out of the drum.
Most stores liked to see such large purchases, but one store withdrew at the last minute. Of the 7 million notes, only 5.5 million had been used. As with every lottery, the fate of Mandel and all his investors depended on happiness.
When on Saturday night the draw was over and the winning numbers were known, Mandel’s team started to search the millions of notes. They could only hope that the winning ticket had been submitted. But then came the redemption: they had won!
The story of Stefan Mandel appeals to the imagination to this day.