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The Romanian mathematician who gamed the lottery

Mandel: filled a warehouse with printers and generated 1.4 million tickets

Ever wondered whether it’s possible to buy enough lottery tickets to cover every combination of winning numbers? That’s what Romanian-born economist Stefan Mandel did, says Zachary Crockett in The Hustle. The self-described “philosopher-mathematician” developed a “fully-fledged automation system” in Australia: a room full of printers churning out pre-filled tickets. And it worked. Over the 1980s, he and his syndicate won no fewer than 12 lotteries, including one jackpot of $1.1m. Eventually, the Australian authorities cottoned on and outlawed his strategy. So Mandel set his sights on an even bigger target: the lottery in the US state of Virginia.

Still based in Melbourne, he hired 16 full-time workers to print out tickets, and shipped the “one-tonne of paper weight” over to a contact in the US. Of course, each of the tickets still had to be taken to an authorised lotto retailer, paid for in person and processed, so Mandel notified big retail chains in advance that his team of 35 couriers would be buying them in bulk. The plan all went smoothly – until one of the chains refused to process any more tickets, leaving 700,000 combinations unaccounted for. It meant that Mandel’s “fool-proof” plan would “ultimately come down to luck”. He proved a lucky man. One of his 6.3 million combinations came up, securing him a $28m jackpot – not bad, for a $5.5m outlay. “You could not have written a script as good as this,” said Anithalee Alex, who ran the ticket-buying operation in Virginia. “This is one time real life was better than fiction.”