The man who won the lottery 14 times (2023)

Note: This is the full version of a two-part series. Already read part one? Click here to skip to part two. If you’d prefer to listen, you can also scroll to the bottom of this post for an audio version.

Just after 11 PM on February 15, 1992, a janky ball machine at the Virginia State Lottery HQ spit out 6 winning numbers on live television: 8… 11… 13… 15… 19… 20.

In the coming days, officials would find out that one “person” had secured not only the $27,036,142 jackpot, but 6 second prizes, 132 third prizes, and 135k minor prizes collectively worth another $900k.

What unfolded next was the strangest, most improbable lottery tale in history — one involving thousands of international investors, dozens of complex computer systems, and a mathematical savant who’d masterminded the entire operation from the other side of the world.

This is the story of the man who “gamed” the lottery by buying every possible combination.

The man who won the lottery 14 times (1)

In the late 1960s, a young Romanian economist named Stefan Mandel was struggling to get by.

At the time, Romania was under oppressive Communist rule, a period marred by poverty, job and food shortages, and “profound misery.” Mandel’s salary of 360 lei (US $10) a month was not enough to make ends meet, and, as he later told Planet Money, he needed a way to “get some serious money, quickly.”

Many Romanians in Mandel’s predicament had, out of necessity, turned to lives of crime. But Mandel, a self-described “philosopher-mathematician,” saw another way out: The lottery.

The man who won the lottery 14 times (2)

Let’s take a step back here: What kind of idiot banks on winning the lottery? You’re literally more likely to win an Olympic gold medal, have identical quintuplets, or get crushed by a vending machine.

Well, Mandel wasn’t just any guy — he was a natural with numbers who spent every spare minute analyzing theoretical probability papers written by the 13th-century mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci. And, after years of research, he wrote a “number-picking algorithm” based on a method he dubbed “combinatorial condensation.”

“I’m a weekend mathematician, an accountant without too much education,” he later told a Romanian magazine. “But mathematics properly applied can guarantee a fortune.”

Here’s how it worked.

If a player picked 6 numbers in a 49-ball lottery, his odds of winning were 1 in 13,983,816. If he selected 15 numbers (which required purchasing 5,005 games — one for each possible combination), his odds of winning increased to 1 in 2,794. Mandel claimed that his algorithm could reduce these 5,005 combinations to just 569.

If the 6 winning numbers fell among his 15 picks, he’d be guaranteed to win at least a 2nd prize and hundreds of smaller prizes — and he’d have a 1 in 10 chance of winning the grand prize.

Mandel banded together with 4 friends, each of whom bought 228 tickets per draw.

Miraculously (and with a lot of luck), he won the first prize of 72,783 lei (about US $2k, or $16.8k adjusted for inflation). After expenses, he walked away with enough to bribe foreign ministry officials and flee Romania for a new life — and a bigger jackpot.

Turning lottery wins into a business

After 4 years of roaming around Europe, Mandel settled in Australia and he set out to game the lottery in a different way.

(Video) Man Beats LOTTERY 14 Times And Becomes Super Rich!

In the typical lottery, a set of numbers within a certain range (say, 1-50) are randomly selected; if yours match in any order, you win the jackpot. The chances of winning are based on the number of possible combinations of these numbers, often in the millions.

But Mandel caught on to something: In certain lottos, the jackpot would climb to an amount more than 3x the cost of buying every combination.

For example, let’s say a lottery required 6 picks of numbers between 1 and 40. This would yield 3,838,380 possible number combinations (calculator here). Now, let’s say that same lottery had a $10m jackpot. In theory, Mandel could buy a ticket for every single combination at $1 each and be guaranteed a win — and, after taxes, a decent profit.

Mandel maintained that “any high school math student could calculate the combinations.” But this method came with some major logistical setbacks. How would he get the capital? And how could he possibly fill out hundreds of thousands of tickets, number by number?

The man who won the lottery 14 times (3)

Over a period of years, Mandel convinced hundreds of investors to pool their money together and create a “lotto syndicate.” He then developed a full-fledged automation system: A room full of printers and computers running on an algorithm that pre-populated tickets with every combination.

Computers revolutionized Mandel’s process. Before, he’d been limited to writing out millions of combinations by hand, where a single mistake could ruin 8 months’ worth of work; now, he could outsource the work to a machine.

Throughout the 1980s, Mandel’s syndicate would wait until a jackpot was 3x bigger than the cost of covering all possible combinations, then “move to buy” thousands of tickets. They managed to win 12 lotteries (and rake in 400k smaller prizes) across Australia, including a $1.1m haul in 1986.

“Everyone said to me: You can not, you will not succeed! ” Mandel told a Romanian newspaper at the time. “Now, the voices that have long [cast me as] a dreamer have been silenced.”

But Mandel’s system soon attracted negative attention.

His repeated wins prompted Australian lottery authorities to change the law, disallowing a single person from covering every possible combination.

So, he set his sights on much bigger feat — one that would make international headlines and boggle the minds of lottery officials around the world.

Virginia or bust

Mandel began by identifying lotteries where the jackpot had risen to at least 3x the cost of buying all possible combinations.

Ultimately, he printed out tickets for 6 US lotteries, including Massachusetts ($37m jackpot to 9m combinations), Arizona ($11m to 5.1m), and Virginia.

Virginia’s lottery offered several advantages. It was fairly new, and allowed buyers to purchase tickets in unlimited quantities and print them at home. But most importantly, its numbers only ranged from 1 to 44 (other states went as high as 54). This meant that with 6 picks, there were “only” 7,059,052 possible combinations, compared to the usual 25m+.

The man who won the lottery 14 times (4)

Mandel set up an agency with a major insurance company. Under the shell corporation Pacific Financial Resources, he established a trust called the International Lotto Fund (ILF) and convinced 2,560 people to buy a 10-year whole life insurance policy, with a $4k annual premium. Mandel then used this money, legally, to buy each person a stake in the lottery.

In a Melbourne warehouse, he set up 30 computers and 12 laser printers, and hired 16 full-time employees to print millions of tickets pre-populated with every combination — a process that took 3 months. He then shipped the one-tonne of paper weight to a point-person in the US at a cost of $60k.

With the tickets secured in Virginia, Mandel had to wait until the jackpot hit a number that would make financial sense after taxes, overhead, and paying off investors.

(Video) How This Man Won The Lottery 14 Times

A state lottery prize typically begins in the low millions and increases every time a drawing goes by with no winner. (When you see those insane $758m jackpots, it means nobody has won in quite some time.) Mandel had to anticipate when to strike, and had to hope for the best that there wouldn’t be multiple winners to dilute the pot and ruin his margins.

On February 12, 1992, the Virginia Lottery jackpot hit $15.5m. Mandel’s team on the ground was given a simple directive: Go.

And nobody — not even Mandel — could’ve anticipated the the madness that would ensue.

The man who won the lottery 14 times (5)

As Mandel knew, the “buy all combinations” method of winning the lottery was more of a logistical than a financial challenge. The hard part was yet to come.

Tickets could be legally printed at home, but they still had to be taken to an authorized lotto retailer in the US, paid for (at $1 each), and processed. Waltzing into a gas station with 1.4m tickets and a truckload of cash wasn’t an option.

Mandel hired the accounting firm Lowe Lippmann to transfer $9m in investor funds to Crestar Bank in Boston, where it was cut into $10k cashier’s checks. He then lined up advance deals with Virginia-based retail chains to buy the tickets in bulk. All he needed was a point-person on the ground to orchestrate the mayhem.

For this task, Mandel turned to an esteemed associate by the name of Anithalee Alex.

The man who won the lottery 14 times (6)

Perennially outfitted in a gold rolex and a safari suit, Alex was a sweet talker who could “make the world seem like a bed of roses.” An ex-paratrooper turned Rolls Royce salesman turned oil prospector, he could often be seen gallivanting around his small town of Teutopolis, Illinois, in a t-shirt that read: “Please Lord, let me prove to you that winning the lottery won’t spoil me.”

When his old pal, Mandel, rang, Alex was fresh out of bankruptcy court, with $400k in debt and 16 maxed-out credit cards. He was ready for action — any action.

The job was harrowing: He was to coordinate the drop-off, payment, and processing of 1.4m lottery tickets at hundreds of stores all over Virginia.

The jackpot hit $15.5m on a Wednesday; the next draw would be on Saturday. This meant that he and his team had just 72 hours to pull it off.

A logistical nightmare

On February 12, 1992 — 3 days before the draw — Alex checked into a Holiday Inn in Norfolk, Virginia and set up a “command center” at the Koger Center, a nearby business park.

In the “88-acre “maze of buildings,” Alex met with a team of 35 couriers hired by Mandel (most of whom were certified accountants) and distributed cellophane-wrapped bundles of 10k tickets with stacks of $10k cashier’s checks.

“Think of it like an office pool,” he reportedly told the CPAs, “except a larger office pool.”

For 2 straight days, the couriers methodically descended on 125 gas stations and supermarkets. At Farm Fresh, Miller Mart, and Tinee Giant locations throughout the region, flummoxed store clerks were asked to buy and process 1.4m algorithmically-generated lotto tickets.

The man who won the lottery 14 times (7)

“We thought they were nuts,” Rick Miller, a local gas station proprietor, later admitted. “But if someone comes up and says they want to buy 700k lottery tickets, we’re not going to chase them away.”

A representative at Farm Fresh, who sold a portion of tickets to Mandel’s team, had a more spirited take: “For someone to try to do this ticket-by-ticket is a very chancy proposition,” he said. “But that’s what lotto’s all about.”

(Video) 14 time lottery winner always prayed this prayer to win the lotto jackpot

By Saturday evening, the team was nearing completion. Then, disaster struck.

One of the chains who’d sold tickets in bulk got overwhelmed and quit in the final hours, leaving 140k tickets (700k combinations) on the table. When the deadline for entry arrived, around 1.24m of Mandel’s 1.4m tickets (of 6.4m of 7m combinations) had been processed. Mandel’s “fool proof” plan, which relied on securing every single possibility, was in jeopardy.

Like a regular lottery, winning the jackpot would ultimately come down to luck.

“The most incredible thing in the world”

Mandel knew that without 100% of the combinations secured, his strategy was reduced to a multi-million dollar game of chance.

He was aware of other ill-fated attempts to game a US lottery by bulk-buying tickets: In a 1990, a Sacramento retiree bought 30k tickets with a diaper bag full of cash and walked away empty-handed; months later, a computer engineer known as “The Phantom” purchased 80k combinations at a Jacksonville, Florida bar and only won minor prizes.

Even if Mandel were to win, there was the possibility of multiple winners — a scenario that could significantly dilute the jackpot.

At 11:20 PM on February 15th, the numbers were drawn on live television. I nearby warehouse, Alex and his team waited with baited breath.

Then, a victorious shout: They’d won.

The man who won the lottery 14 times (8)

“When the $27m ticket came up, everybody was 6 feet off the ground,” Alex later said. “It was the most incredible thing in the world.” Purchased at a Farm Fresh in Chesapeake, the ticket had been processed in the twilight hours. Alex’s diligence had paid off.

From his home in Australia, Mandel sent out a short message to his 2,524 investors: “One of our target lotteries did jackpot to our required level,” he wrote. “We entered and won.”

The $27,036,142 jackpot (and $900k in secondary prizes) was to be paid out in 20 annual installments of $1.03m. But Virginia’s lottery czars had other plans.

What would Thomas Jefferson say?

Although completely legal under both US and Virginia state law, the Australian group’s feat was interpreted as an effort “cheat” the traditional system.

“We might remember Thomas Jefferson’s view of a lottery,” Virginia Lottery director Ken Thorson pled to the press. “It is an opportunity for the common man to spend a small sum for the possibility of a higher prize… We never anticipated a group trying to make such a large purchase.”

Mandel was subjected to an investigation involving 14 international agencies, including the CIA, FBI, IRS, National Crime Authority, and Australian Securities Commission.

The man who won the lottery 14 times (9)

In the end, neither Mandel nor the ILF was found guilty of any wrongdoing. “I will live to be 150,” he proclaimed. “I am not the type of person who lays down and dies because some glorified clerk doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

Meanwhile, in his home country of Australia, he became something of a folk hero: A n article inPeople magazine described him as a kangaroo hopping out of the US with a pouch full of cash — defiant, victorious, and full of life.

And what became of the mastermind?

When the dust settled, each person who’d bought into the lottery through Mandel’s life insurance policy — small business owners, machine operators, housekeepers, and doctors — made out with around $1.4k.

(Video) 14-Times Lottery Winner Finally Reveals His Secret

Some were not pleased with this outcome. “Stefan Mandel is not only irrelevant,” a disgruntled investor later quipped. “He’s toxic”

Meanwhile, Mandel paid himself a one-time “consultant’s fee” of $1.7m, and purportedly sold the annuity on the 20-year payout to a US insurance company for a lump sum of $14m. After overhead fees ($5.5m for the tickets, and $500k in expenses), he was left with a princely sum.

Records show that he funneled this cash into the Pacific Basin Fund, a Hong Kong-based account managed by his brother-in-law. “What we calculated to be the reality has changed,” he wrote in a 1994 letter to investors. “It may not seem such a hot investment now.”

After that, his investor updates went cold.

The man who won the lottery 14 times (10)

Just a few years later, in 1995, Mandel declared bankruptcy. He then spent the next decade running various investment schemes — one of which earned him a 10-month jail sentence in Israel for the “alleged non-publication of a prospectus in a cooperative society.” [UPDATE: Mandel’s attorney wrote to tell us that this convinction was recently overturned, and that Mandel never spent a single day in prison.]

Today, Mandel spends his days at a beach house on a remote tropical island in Vanuatu, a country off the coast of Australia. He lives a quiet life and reports being “retired” from the lottery.

Anithalee Alex, his one-time associate, also dropped off the grid, and keeps a low-profile life somewhere in Illinois. “You could not have written a script as good as this,” he reminisced, years later. “This is one time real life was better than fiction.”

Though we were able to piece together the logistics of Mandel’s 20-year lottery career, he’s never revealed the minute details of his algorithm. As he told an enquiring AP reporter in 1992, “That would be like Coca-Cola revealing their recipe.”

His legacy lives on in US legislation: All 44 states that run lotteries have enacted laws preventing the profitable replication of Mandel’s strategy. In effect, this secures him a title as the first and last man to ever successfully game the lottery by buying every possible combination.

Reflecting back on wilder times, he played off the riskiness of his gambit.

“I’m a man who takes risks, but in a calculated way,” he told the Romanian paper, Bursa. “Trimming my beard is a lottery: There is always the possibility that I’ll cut myself, get an infection in my blood, and die — but I do it anyway.”

“The chances,” he concluded, “are in my favor.”

NOTE: This story has been updated (3/2/2020) with information and figures provided by Stefan Mandel’s attorney.

Prefer audio? You can listen to the full story below, courtesy of our friends at Curio.

Get the 5-minute roundup you’ll actually read in your inbox​

Business and tech news in 5 minutes or less​

(Video) THIS IS HOW YOU WIN THE LOTTERY! Best Strategies

100% free. We don’t spam. Unsubscribe whenever.


What would you do if you won the lottery sample answer? ›

I might start my own NGO, or donate the money to some existing NGOs. Of course I'd buy a nice house and car and whatever, and maybe spend 1 million for myself. But the rest I will give away, and I definitely won't quit my job. Spending money can be fun, but it won't bring you real happiness.

Is the lottery a paradox? ›

In the lottery paradox, it is assumed that a ticket is purchased from a large number of tickets, one of which is assured of winning. Given the large number of tickets, it seems reasonable to accept of any given ticket that it will not win.

How can I solve the lottery? ›

To find the odds of winning any lottery, divide the number of winning lottery numbers by the total number of possible lottery numbers. If the numbers are chosen from a set and the order of the numbers doesn't matter, use the formula. r ! ( n − r ) !

What did you even say about the possibility of winning the lottery ticket? ›

In a lottery in which you pick 6 numbers from a possible pool of 49 numbers, your chances of winning the jackpot (correctly choosing all 6 numbers drawn) are 1 in 13,983,816. That's 1 shot in almost 14 million.

How do you answer why should you win this competition? ›

How to Answer "Why Should You Win This Pageant?"
  1. Talk About What You've Already Done. Do your past accomplishments make you a great candidate for the title? ...
  2. Talk About What You Plan To Do. Do you have special plans for the title? ...
  3. Tell Them What Sets You Apart.

What would you do if you won 1 million dollars? ›

What Should You Do If You Win The Billion-Dollar Mega Millions Jackpot?

What is the lottery problem philosophy? ›

Lotteries and the Lottery Paradox. Lotteries pose a problem for the theory that a high probability for a true belief suffices for knowledge. Given that there are a million tickets and only one winner, the probability of 'This ticket is a losing ticket' is very high.

What is the lottery ticket hypothesis? ›

Abstract: The lottery ticket hypothesis states that a randomly-initialized neural network contains a small subnetwork which, when trained in isolation, can compete with the performance of the original network.

What is the lottery effect? ›

The enthusiasm for 'meme' stocks that gain cult-like social media followings has thrown a spotlight on the 'lottery effect' in investing. This refers to people's willingness to accept extremely poor odds in return for the remote possibility of hitting the jackpot.

› blog › if-youve-got-a-feeling-you... ›

Car mechanic and racing driver Neil Trotter, with partner Nicky Ottaway, predicted his win. PHOTO: Telegraph. A car mechanic from Britain revealed he had predic...
What would you do if you won a lottery? Sample interview answers. Show me a single person who has never dreamed of picking the right numbers, and winning a lott...
At Least He's Got It All Planned Out!Guy's Brutally Honest Answer To "What If You Won The Lottery?"

What would you buy if you won the lottery? ›

Use between 10% (and) 30% of your winnings to buy a back-to-back life annuity and life insurance policy. This way, no matter what happens, you have income for life and you leave something behind.” He also said lottery winners should make an estate plan if they don't have one and also redo existing wills.

What would you do if you won the lottery interview question Bitlife? ›

What would you do if you won the lottery? Spend more time with family.
  1. Do I have to pick just one?
  2. I have a strong work ethic.
  3. I have no weakness.
  4. I'd have to think about it more.
  5. I'm a good communicator.
  6. I'm great with technology.
  7. I'm not sure I have strengths.
  8. I'm usually on time.

What would you do if you won 10 million? ›

How To Spend 10 Million Dollars
  1. 1) Do nothing. I'd first sit on the $10 million for three months to let the initial excitement wear off. ...
  2. 2) Bolster up weaknesses. ...
  3. 3) Pay down some debt. ...
  4. 4) Help family and friends. ...
  5. 5) Create a perpetual giving machine. ...
  6. 6) Live a little. ...
  7. 7) Build more passive income with real estate.

What is the type of sentence I won the lottery? ›

4 Types of Sentences Matching
exclamatory - sentenceI won the lottery!
imperative - sentenceGo clean your room.
declarative - sentenceSally decorated her house for the holidays.
exclamatory - sentenceWow, I got a 100!
19 more rows


1. Stefan Mandel, the Man Who Won the Lottery 14 Times - His Number Strategies Revealed
(Luxury Trend Hub)
2. Mathematician explains the 'simple' loophole used to win the lottery | 60 Minutes Australia
(60 Minutes Australia)
3. Probability 20, Hints Behind the Man who Won the Lottery 14 Times Stefan Mandel Episode 1
(Vivid Math & Physics)
4. MATH Teacher CRACKS LOTTERY And Makes MILLIONS! Jerry Selbee
(Millionaire Post)
5. The man who won the lottery 14 TIMES
6. How To Win The LOTTERY | The Man Who Win The Lottery 14 times | Stefan Mandel
(Martina Minova)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Foster Heidenreich CPA

Last Updated: 25/07/2023

Views: 5635

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (76 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Foster Heidenreich CPA

Birthday: 1995-01-14

Address: 55021 Usha Garden, North Larisa, DE 19209

Phone: +6812240846623

Job: Corporate Healthcare Strategist

Hobby: Singing, Listening to music, Rafting, LARPing, Gardening, Quilting, Rappelling

Introduction: My name is Foster Heidenreich CPA, I am a delightful, quaint, glorious, quaint, faithful, enchanting, fine person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.