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Episode 676: The First Lottery & How To Beat The Odds

Planet Money tries to hit the jackpot.
Shane McKeon
/
NPR
Planet Money tries to hit the jackpot.

A version of this episode originally ran in January 2016.

Tonight's Mega Millions jackpot is the largest in history at $1.6 billion. And we've got lottery fever again.

Today on the show, the story of the first known lottery. It goes back to Queen Elizabeth in 1567, involves poems, gold plates, and petty criminals. It didn't go well. And we have the story of lottery legend Stefan Mandel. He created a system to take the luck out of the lottery and won jackpot after jackpot. He tells us how he pulled it off. (Think bank heist but legal.)

Music: "Zoom In Zoom Out."

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David Kestenbaum is a correspondent for NPR, covering science, energy issues and, most recently, the global economy for NPR's multimedia project Planet Money. David has been a science correspondent for NPR since 1999. He came to journalism the usual way — by getting a Ph.D. in physics first.
Alex Goldmark is the senior supervising producer of Planet Money and The Indicator from Planet Money. His reporting has appeared on shows including Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Radiolab, On The Media, APM's Marketplace, and in magazines such as GOOD and Fast Company. Previously, he was a senior producer at WNYC–New York Public Radio where he piloted new programming and helped grow young shows to the point where they now have their own coffee mug pledge gifts. Long ago, he was the executive producer of two shows at Air America Radio, a very short term consultant for the World Bank, a volunteer trying to fight gun violence in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, and also a poor excuse for a bartender in Washington, DC. He lives next to the Brooklyn Bridge and owns an orange velvet couch.
Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.
Robert Smith is a host for NPR's Planet Money where he tells stories about how the global economy is affecting our lives.