From 1989 to 2001, one man managed to defraud McDonald’s out of $24 million in prize money by rigging the fast-food chain’s popular Monopoly promotional game. By stealing game pieces before they ever went out to the public, Uncle Jerry handpicked winners among family and friends to receive various prizes, including the coveted $1 million prize. But what started out as an opportunity to make a quick buck spiraled out of control as the crime ring expanded to include ex-cons, ties to the Mafia and unsuspecting co-conspirators before it was shut down by the FBI.
Nearly two decades later, the story is the subject of a six-part HBO documentary from directors James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte. McMillions chronicles the fraud from beginning to end as they sit down with people on all sides of this unbelievably true story about greed, deception and revenge.
After learning about the scam, Hernandez and Lazarte teamed up to figure out how to bring the story to the screen. “We started talking through what this could be. Is this, you know, a feature doc?” Lazarte tells ET. “We were also thinking that maybe there was a scripted possibility in this story early on. This was a year or so before the [Daily Beast] article came out.”
The article he is referring to is the one written by Jeff Maysh -- “How an Ex-Cop Rigged McDonald’s Monopoly Game and Stole Millions” -- that quickly became a viral sensation and the subject of a bidding war as various studios vied for the rights to turn it into a movie. Within days of it being published, Ben Affleck was set to direct with Matt Damon to star, marking a reunion between the two stars who first teamed up on the Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting. “It was an incredible proof of concept because we always thought this story was great,” Lazarte says.
“When you hear the story, you can't believe that it's actually true and this had happened,” executive producer Mark Wahlberg says about what makes this story so intriguing, adding that it’s filled with a “fascinating cast of characters.”
Ultimately, Lazarte and Hernandez decided to move forward with a docuseries, capturing the larger-than-life personalities involved on camera -- and telling the story in a way that the Daily Beast couldn’t. “We did approach it like a movie because it played out like a movie in our heads. We were hearing these stories and it’s all very cinematic,” Lazarte adds of the series' style, which recalls Steven Soderbergh films like The Informant or the Ocean’s franchise.
While the McMillions team is not associated with the scripted project, Wahlberg says that he’s curious to know what Affleck and Damon will think of the documentary. “It’d be interesting to see if they kind of take some of this stuff,” he says, adding that he might get “involved with them” if they wanted to draw from the series.
Meanwhile, the film version is still moving forward. Affleck tells ET that they just got a new draft of the script, adding that McMillions being a hit on HBO can only help generate support for it. “It’s a tricky one. We gotta find the right tone,” he says. “But, like, everybody knows that game, everybody knows McDonald’s, everybody knows the Monopoly game -- and the fact that it was a huge scam is amazing.”
Although the film is still in early stages, that hasn’t stopped people from suggesting who should be cast, especially as the documentary’s breakout star FBI Agent Doug Mathews. The internet has offered up people like Sam Rockwell, Chris Pratt and Matthew McConaughey. As for McMillions executive producer Archie Gips? “Mark [Wahlberg] would play Doug Mathews, who is the rookie agent that basically takes on the case,” he says of his co-EP.
McMillions: The True Story of the $24 Million McDonald’s Monopoly Game Fraud airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. Previous episodes are available to stream on HBO Go/Now.