When North Carolina resident Marie Holmes won $188 million in the Powerball Lottery, it seemed like all of her troubles were behind her. But she soon discovered that money was not necessarily the answer to life’s problems. A series of poor decisions and personal betrayals landed her in hot water — yet Marie still saw a glimmer of hope thanks to an unexpected friend.
In 2015, Marie was a single mother in her mid-20s working two jobs in order to provide for her four children. She was in fact employed by both Walmart and McDonald’s. But Marie was then forced to quit those jobs when doctors revealed that one of her kids was suffering from cerebral palsy.
Her one shot
So Marie was living in a trailer, struggling day-to-day to take care of her family, when the single parent gave her mother, Fontella, money to buy her a lottery ticket from a local gas station. And when the winning numbers were announced sometime later, Marie was understandably shocked. She later told TV news channel WECT, “I thought I was going to have a heart attack when I saw the ticket and checked it.”
Then Marie was given a choice. She could receive her winnings in one of two ways: $188 million paid out in installments over 30 years, or a smaller lump sum of $127 million (or $88 million, according to some differing reports) paid immediately. Marie knew that decision could make all the difference.
There are, of course, different schools of thought when it comes to Marie’s options. What would you do? Some observers believe that it would be better to take the installments — as you are paid more manageable amounts over a period of time, perhaps discouraging frivolous spending. The installments are also contractually guaranteed and therefore deliver a regular income stream upon which you can always rely.
The big windfall
Yet others believe that it is a better option to take the lump sum and then use it wisely — usually with the help of a financial advisor. Theoretically, then, sound investments and a lack of overly extravagant expenditure could lead to you making more money over a 30-year period than the initial prize amount, due to compound interest.
And given how Marie’s life would proceed over the next few years, she may have been better off choosing the installment option. For one thing, according to the financial advice website The Balance, “When someone wins the lottery and takes a lump sum, it’s tempting to help out family and friends who come knocking.” But that lump sum was just too tempting to the struggling woman.
Her inner circle
The Balance actually argues that a lottery winner who is receiving installments is “less likely to make the impulse mistake of generosity… [he or she] can’t really afford.” Unfortunately for Marie, then, after she received the full amount of her win, many of her spending decisions when it came to family and friends were highly questionable.
Wrong side of the law
A few weeks after she received her money, for instance, Marie used $3 million to bail her boyfriend, Lamarr “Hot Sauce” McDow, out of jail. Then, just a few months later in August 2015, she paid $6 million to post his bond. He had at that time broken the rules of his pre-trial release program.
Millions in bail money
Then, on New Year’s Day 2016, she paid $12 million to bail him out again after he was involved in an illegal street race. So all in all, Marie paid out an incredible $21 million of her entire lottery win simply by dealing with Lamarr’s run-ins with the law. Yet he defended her decisions to the Daily Mail newspaper in a 2016 interview.
Sticking by him
He said that it was Marie’s desire to “stand by her man” and that this meant she had no regrets about spending such huge amounts on him. He said, “We are a couple, and I am the father of her youngest child. This is what people do for each other.”
The boyfriend’s view
Lamarr, whom Marie had also gifted a pick-up truck and a $15,000 Rolex watch encrusted with diamonds, maintained, “If I had that money then I would do the same for her. People are just jealous because of how much she won, and people want to see me locked in jail.”
Regardless of whether or not Marie was happy to spend her money on Lamarr, though, what can’t be argued was that he was one of the main recipients of her generosity. Her level of financial responsibility can, however, be debated. And Lamarr’s belief — “she has the money, and she can do what she wants with it” — doesn’t stand up to scrutiny for many observers.
Lamarr also spoke in his 2016 Daily Mail interview about how Marie had felt burdened by her lottery win. He revealed that she had told him, “When money comes, there are more problems.” And one such problem was the icy welcome the couple had received when they had moved to a new five-bedroom property in Shallotte, North Carolina.
Not fitting in
The house had been worth $294,000 and is a million miles away from the small mobile home that Marie had lived in before her win. But what should have been a happy experience had been the exact opposite, according to Lamarr. He said, “We were the only Black family on the estate, and they did not like it.”
He went on to describe an example of the distrust that he said they’d faced while living there. He lamented, “One neighbor set up a camera to record everything we were doing. If I was driving down the road and going at the speed limit, they would wave at me for going too fast.” This made life there untenable, according to Lamarr.
Lamarr’s final statement on the matter was, “They did not want us there. They were prejudiced.” One anonymous female neighbor who apparently gave the Daily Mail a comment didn’t deny that the family was not welcome there, either. She said, “If they are gone and never come back, many people will be happy.”
Perhaps the neighbors hadn’t been fond of the family living there for reasons of a more criminal nature, though. The newspaper reported that, one time, police had gone to the house to check an alert from Lamarr’s GPS ankle monitor, which he had been wearing due to a prior arrest. During the visit, however, the officers had apparently smelled cannabis in the house.
And after the officers subsequently served a search warrant at the property — which they believed to be housing money made from the selling and distribution of other narcotics — Marie found herself arrested on possession of contraband. Lamarr also found himself in hot water once again.
A dire situation
And while Marie’s charge was eventually dismissed, the situation led her to pay the $6 million bond in an attempt to limit Lamarr’s time in jail. So while there is little doubt that Marie herself wasn’t involved in illegal activity, she was still surrounding herself with people of dubious natures.
Even when Marie tried to do something selfless with her money, it still went wrong. It seems that Marie made a verbal promise to Kevin Matthews, the pastor of her local church, to give him $1.5 million to purchase an area of land. He had apparently wanted to use this land to open a retreat facility.
Instead, in February 2016, Marie found herself on the receiving end of a lawsuit from Pastor Matthews — one whistling to the tune of $10 million. In the suit, the pastor claimed that Marie had gone back on her verbal agreement. And even though she had paid him $700,000, Matthews wanted her to be held accountable for the original amount they had discussed.
Pastor Matthews also claimed that he had suffered emotional distress and was forced to increase his dosage of antidepressants due to the argument between himself and Marie. He told Centric TV, “I just want her to do what she said she was going to do… I want peace and to do what God told me to do. I really feel like a warrior for Christ.”
A big claim
Matthews seemingly believed someone came along and discouraged Marie from donating the entire amount to the church. He said it may have been her aunt, who had been appointed the chief executive of The Marie Holmes Foundation, an organization formed to pay grants to worthy groups and individuals with ambitious and creative goals.
Spending obscene amounts on her boyfriend’s legal bills and becoming embroiled in legal battles with her church weren’t the only trials Marie faced, however. An appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Network show Iyanla: Fix My Life in October 2016 gave the host, Iyanla Vanzant, the chance to think of possible reasons behind Marie’s skewed attitude to money. Iyanla argued that it may have been born out of Marie’s troubled relationship with her mother and what she described as an overall immaturity.
A professional opinion
Before Iyanla, a life coach, was able to dig into these factors, though, she first made an interesting observation about Marie’s house. While Iyanla said the property was beautiful and sprawling, she also immediately noted something that gave her pause.
The home had a history as a plantation. “I believe that every location has an energy,” explained Iyanla. “So it was important for me to help Marie recognize and understand that as a Black woman living on a plantation, there was an energy she was dealing with… in addition to what was going on in her personal life.”
Significance of the numbers
Iyanla then delved into Marie’s relationship with her mother, Fontella, and it yielded some shocking revelations. Firstly, even though Marie believed the winning lottery numbers had been picked at random, Fontella told her that they weren’t. Fontella had, in fact, carefully picked the numbers based on the birthday and age of her third child — Marie’s brother — who had died.
Fontella said she let her daughter think the numbers were random because she “just wanted [her] to better [herself], for the babies.” Unfortunately, Marie’s response was that she would rather have known her mother had picked the numbers, due to the pressure that the money had put on her. “Then it would be her and not me,” she admitted.
Despite this, Marie did then thank her mother for what she had done, and Fontella explained that she’d do the exact same thing again if it came to it. On the TV show, Fontella stated, “If I could do it all over again, I’d have still did [sic] it the same way I did it. I want you to better yourself and be the better mom than I was.”
Iyanla was able to dig further into the relationship between the two women as well. Marie even revealed that she felt like her siblings were treated with more love and care than she was. She couldn’t understand, for instance, why Fontella had gotten physical when disciplining her — as she hadn’t done that to her other children.
Marie poured out her heart and soul, saying, “None of them ever got hit in the face, and it made me feel like there was a problem with the relationship we had, like it wasn’t strong enough.” She added, “I never understood; like, why did I get treated that way?”
Fontella responded by saying she regretted those actions and hadn’t ever thought about the effect it would have on her daughter’s mental health. This prompted Iyanla to explain how devastating corporal punishment can be. She said it was “the ultimate act of humiliation because your face is how you show up in the world. It’s who you are.”
Iyanla continued, “So when someone [lashes out], what they’re saying is, ‘I am degrading you. I am diminishing you. I am humiliating you.’” This issue was seemingly something that the mother and daughter needed to work through, as Iyanla claimed it had contributed to Marie being emotionally immature as an adult.
This immaturity turned Marie into someone who needed lots of help and guidance — that she wasn’t getting — in order to deal with her newfound wealth, according to Iyanla. The life coach pointed out the state of the property, which had dirt bikes abandoned around the grounds and a filthy pool, and told Fontella that both she and her daughter needed her to step up.
So much sadness
“You the mama. Correct her and direct her, and stand with her and for her,” Iyanla proclaimed. “She don’t have a clue! Your daughter needs you so badly.” Iyanla then identified a deep sorrow at Marie’s core. She told Fontella, “The depth of her sadness is heartbreaking to me as a mother, and some of that sadness is about you.”
Iyanla then sat down with Marie herself and told her some uncomfortable home truths. “I see the result of someone who has no concept of what it means to be an adult,” she said. She added, “Mature individuals do not behave this way, no matter how much or how little money they have.”
An unusual exercise
And in an effort to illustrate the true cost of Marie’s supposedly immature attitude to her money, Iyanla instructed Marie to put bricks in a small red wagon. Each brick identified something that she had bought for other people. She then told Marie to drag the heavy wagon around, with the exercise notionally demonstrating the emotional “weight” of her purchases.
So, after analyzing Marie’s situation and behavior, Iyanla’s ultimate diagnosis was that her problems were not caused by her windfall. Iyanla believed the money itself was not to blame and was not what was derailing Marie’s life. Rather, the core issue was “a problem of maturity, of self-respect, and of dignity.”
Forging her future
“A lot of this doesn’t have anything to do with money,” concluded Iyanla. “It has to do with broken people, with broken hearts, with broken minds… that leads to choices and decisions and consequences.” All in all, the life coach expressed that money isn’t a solution to life’s problems – especially if those problems are buried deep within a person’s psyche.
The final betrayal
And it’s a good thing that Marie has learned to become her own person because the man by her side stuck a metaphorical knife in her back. Lamarr, furious that Marie had given away so many of the gifts he’d received, filed a lawsuit against her from prison. His case has failed to gain much traction, but it’s clear that he and the lottery winner have no future together. After all her trials, Marie shouldn’t feel too many regrets, however.
Great when you win…
When it comes to the lottery, everything is a gamble. Even the best-laid plans fall apart, which was the case for Marge and Jerry Selbee. The Michigan couple thought they had a brilliant scheme in place — it seemed like they couldn’t lose.
Playing the game
After reading the rules of a new lottery game named “Winfall” back in 2003, Jerry put his method into practice. Both he and Marge were soon winning vast sums of money – changing their lives forever. In the end, the pair brought home over $25 million during an unforgettable nine-year period.
Jerry and Marge used the profits from their winnings in a fairly meaningful way. The retired couple ensured that their family was well taken care of, but they did spend some of the money on themselves, too. And as we will discover later, they finally revealed the intricacies of the “lottery loophole” when they sat down for an interview in June 2019.
For those of us who like to gamble, there are few better feelings than scoring a winning hand or bet. Away from the slot machines and card games, though, there’s an additional activity that can bring in a lot of money if you’re lucky enough. Of course, we’re talking about the lottery.
In the United States, the lottery is a very popular game. For instance, back in 2016 the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries claimed that over $73 billion was splashed on traditional tickets. That number gets even bigger when taking electronic lottery games into account – reaching about $80 billion.
A unique story
After taking a closer look at the rules of the lottery, those figures begin to make a bit more sense. As a simple game of chance, it has the potential to transform your world in an instant – just ask Jerry Selbee and his wife Marge. However, their success story was also incredibly unique.
A mind for math
We’ll explore just how the couple managed to win the game a little later, but first, let’s a bit more about them. Residents of Evart, Michigan, Marge and Jerry first became a couple during their high school years. After that, the latter looked to continue his studies and subsequently enrolled at Western Michigan University. And he focused his attention on one subject in particular: mathematics.
Raising a family
The decision to study math paid off in the end, and Jerry walked away from college with a degree in the subject. His life back at home, meanwhile, proved to be just as rewarding. For you see, he and Marge started a family together – welcoming six children into their lives.
To help support the family, Jerry later took on a job in Battle Creek, Michigan. He was hired by the famous breakfast brand Kellogg’s, and the role proved to be very interesting. The math graduate was actually responsible for devising the packaging of the cereal during that period of time.
Maximum shelf life
Jerry tried to make the cereal last longer through his specially designed packages. And that extended to some of Kellogg’s other products too – suggesting that he had a lot of responsibility. Following his stint there, the Evart resident then decided to start his own business with Marge back in their hometown.
Jerry and Marge eventually opened a convenience store in the local area – running it for 17 years. The couple each had their own assigned roles during the day, as they dealt with different aspects of the business. And given how long the shop stayed open, the dynamic seemed to work.
Marge was responsible for making sandwiches, while also keeping watch over the store’s finances. As for Jerry, he was in charge of the cigarettes and alcohol inside the shop. In the end, though, the owners made a big decision once they hit a certain age, as we’re about to find out.
Selling the business
Speaking with 60 Minutes in June 2019, Jerry and Marge looked back on that period of their lives. The former said, “[We’d had the shop for] 17 years. I was 62. Marge was 63. And I thought it was a nice time to sell and see what we could do after that. We were gonna enjoy life a little bit.”
Popping back in
The couple then retired from work in 2003 and left their old business behind. The store was subsequently taken over by someone else, and it continued to run in the couple’s absence. However, later that year, the Western Michigan University graduate popped back into the shop to grab some supplies.
A new game
As Jerry strolled around his old store, he caught sight of an interesting advert for the state lottery. At that point in 2003, a new game had been devised for the residents of Michigan, named Winfall. Intrigued, Marge’s husband went on to pick up one of the pamphlets and began reading the details.
Discovering a ‘special feature’
Before long, Jerry believed that he could score a major profit from the Winfall game. He told 60 Minutes, “I read [the pamphlet]. And by the time I was out here, I knew what the potential might be. [It took me] three minutes. Three minutes. I found… a special feature.”
Basic lottery 101
As we mentioned earlier, the lottery is a fairly simple game that offers great rewards to the winners. More often than not, players pick various numbers between one and 49 ahead of a draw, where six numbered balls are pulled out. And should your six numbers match them, you earn a sizable cash prize.
The matching of all six numbers is usually referred to as the “jackpot,” but due to the odds, there isn’t always a winner after the draw. When that happens, the money rolls over into the next game – making the prize even bigger. Under normal circumstances, this process continues until someone finally has the correct numbers.
This game was different
That wasn’t the case with Winfall, though. For you see, if this particular game didn’t have any winners after a draw, the jackpot wouldn’t roll over like you’d expect. Instead, when the prize money hit a total of $5 million, a “roll-down” came into effect for the players.
The roll-down effect
But how did Winfall work at this point, exactly? Well for instance, when a game didn’t have an outright winner, the jackpot would roll down to the players who matched fewer numbers. People were also informed about this prior to the draws, and that would encourage them to purchase a ticket.
Devising a plan
Jerry saw an opening to exploit the roll-down draws after reading the Winfall pamphlet. And in those aforementioned three minutes, he managed to devise a method that would help him and Marge take home some of the jackpot. The former math student went on to describe his plan in more detail with 60 Minutes.
Doing the math
Jerry revealed, “Here’s what I said. I said if I played $1,100 [on the lottery], mathematically I’d have one four-number winner – that’s $1,000. I divided 1,100 by six instead of 57 because I did a mental quick dirty and I come up with 18. So I knew I’d have either 18 or 19 three-number winners and that’s $50 each.”
“At 18 I got $1,000 for a four-number winner, and I got 18 three-number winners worth $50 each, so that’s $900,” Jerry continued. “So I got $1,100 invested and I’ve got a $1,900 return. It’s just basic arithmetic.” Believing that the method would work, the Evart resident dived into the game at that stage.
The big bucks
Jerry kept his ears open for the next roll-down draw, which was soon made public by Winfall. From there, he purchased around $3,600 worth of lottery tickets – hoping to score a nice profit. Incredibly, his plan worked almost immediately, and the father-of-six took home $6,300 in prize money.
Doubling his wins
Fresh off his success, Jerry played the game again, but this time he spent about $8,000 on Winfall tickets. Thanks to his method, the retired store owner brought in almost twice as much cash after that draw. Given everything that was happening, he then decided to tell Marge about the idea.
Marge wasn’t that shocked when she started to think about what her husband was doing, however. She admitted to 60 Minutes, “[Jerry] just, you know, it didn’t surprise me. No, I wasn’t surprised. Because as long as nobody wins [the jackpot outright] and you win money, you could see the numbers.”
Raking it in
So with Marge on board, Jerry began to splash even more cash on tickets. In fact, some of their spending sprees reached into the hundreds of thousands, as they were now playing for really big money. And due to those numbers, the retired couple eventually devised another plan to help them along the way.
Starting business #2
Jerry and Marge subsequently started their second business together, which they named G.S. Investment Strategies. Under that banner, the Selbees continued to buy tickets in bulk. In addition to that, they also offered their friends and family the chance to buy into the organization as well – costing them $500 each.
To give you an idea of just how much money was flying around at the time, Jerry provided a jaw-dropping example in his interview. He told the TV show, “Here’s one that was pretty successful. We played $515,000 and we got back $853,000. That was a good return.”
Putting kids through college
And those who invested in G.S. Investment Strategies also enjoyed the riches from the roll-down draws. Dave Huff was one such individual, and he explained how far the money went for him. He revealed to 60 Minutes, “It helped me put three kids through school and one through law school.”
The state’s realization
As a result of Jerry and Marge’s staggering success, there were said to be 25 investors in their organization by 2005. Incredibly, it’s believed that they’d won millions of dollars at that stage. Yet their profitable venture appeared to come to an end later that year, as the state canceled Winfall.
Playing a different game
But Jerry then received an intriguing message. He recalled, “One of our players emailed me and he said, ‘Massachusetts has a game called Cash Winfall. Do you think we could play that?’ I looked at the game and once I [had] researched it, I got back with him and I said, ‘We can play that game.’”
Buying in bulk
Despite Jerry and Marge’s advancing age, they came up with a truly remarkable schedule to make that happen. Over a six-year period, the pair drove to and from Massachusetts around seven times every 12 months. That’s a 900-mile journey each way, but it didn’t stop them from grabbing Cash Winfall tickets in bulk.
Big time tickets
Every time Marge and Jerry went to Massachusetts, they spent around $600,000 on tickets. And while they continued to bring home big money, the couple opted to keep all of their losing efforts, too. In terms of a figure, the passionate mathematician claimed that the aforementioned stubs had cost a whopping $18 million.
Dozens of tubs
“We had the upstairs of the barn,” Marge informed 60 Minutes. “I stored [the tickets] in one end and at the other end. And then I thought, ‘Oh no, this floor is gonna fall through.’ So then we stored them down in the pole barn. And we had probably 60 [to] 65 tubs of tickets.”
Not the only ones…
By the time 2011 rolled around, though, Jerry and Marge’s efforts were noticed by a very famous newspaper. The Boston Globe found out that Cash Winfall tickets were being bought by the bucket-load in specific locales. And when the publication did some digging, it then unearthed another group using the same strategy.
No illegal activity
As it turned out, a number of MIT students were also trying their luck. Following that, Massachusetts state inspector general Greg Sullivan launched an investigation into the game to see if any foul play was involved. In the end, he realized that wasn’t the case, as Marge and Jerry weren’t doing anything illegal.
Cutting their losses
After the investigation concluded, Cash Winfall was replaced by another lottery game which didn’t offer the same money-spinning opportunities. So Jerry and Marge went back to enjoying their retirement in Evart and called it a day. As for their business, it brought in around $26 million from roll-down winnings.
No one could catch on
Personally, Marge and Jerry earned an $8 million profit themselves too – spending some of that cash on their grandchildren’s schooling. But while Hollywood executives are looking to adapt this unbelievable tale into a movie, the latter played everything down. He told 60 Minutes, “The only thing I found really remarkable is nobody else really seemed to grasp [my method].”
- 1 Cash-strapped
- 2 Her one shot
- 3 Two choices
- 4 Long-term play
- 5 The big windfall
- 6 What if?
- 7 Her inner circle
- 8 Wrong side of the law
- 9 Millions in bail money
- 10 Sticking by him
- 11 The boyfriend’s view
- 12 Big-spending
- 13 New problems
- 14 Not fitting in
- 15 Paranoid neighbors
- 16 Facing prejudice
- 17 Warning signs
- 18 Under arrest
- 19 A dire situation
- 20 Would-be philanthropist
- 21 Vengeful pastor
- 22 Emotional distress
- 23 A big claim
- 24 TV intervention
- 25 A professional opinion
- 26 Grim history
- 27 Significance of the numbers
- 28 Second thoughts
- 29 High hopes
- 30 Past demons
- 31 Physical violence
- 32 Deep regrets
- 33 Emotional scars
- 34 Falling apart
- 35 So much sadness
- 36 Immaturity
- 37 An unusual exercise
- 38 Finding dignity
- 39 Forging her future
- 40 The final betrayal
- 41 Great when you win…
- 42 Playing the game
- 43 Winning big
- 44 All luck?
- 45 Huge sums
- 46 A unique story
- 47 A mind for math
- 48 Raising a family
- 49 Packaging designer
- 50 Maximum shelf life
- 51 Mom-and-pop business
- 52 Breaking out
- 53 Selling the business
- 54 Popping back in
- 55 A new game
- 56 Discovering a ‘special feature’
- 57 Basic lottery 101
- 58 Prize rollover
- 59 This game was different
- 60 The roll-down effect
- 61 Devising a plan
- 62 Doing the math
- 63 Diving headfirst
- 64 The big bucks
- 65 Doubling his wins
- 66 Typical Jerry
- 67 Raking it in
- 68 Starting business #2
- 69 Next-level lottery
- 70 Putting kids through college
- 71 The state’s realization
- 72 Playing a different game
- 73 Buying in bulk
- 74 Big time tickets
- 75 Dozens of tubs
- 76 Not the only ones…
- 77 No illegal activity
- 78 Cutting their losses
- 79 No one could catch on
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