Imagine going out for a burger and coming home with $1 million. That’s the tantalising prize McDonald’s offered its US customers in the 90s, and who could resist, right? But when you play and play and never seem to win big, it can start to feel like the game is rigged. Of course, you know it isn’t. Or is it?
In 1989, McDonald’s decided to do something fun with their marketing strategy. To pull off their ambitious plan, they brought in marketing experts Simon Marketing, who developed a Monopoly game with a lucky ticket system that put customers in line to win anything from free food to $1 million.
It was the fast food mega-franchise’s most successful promotion ever and ran for years in countries across the world. But in the US, from the game’s inception to 2001, there were almost no legitimate winners. And yet, McDonald’s paid out million$ in prizes.
McMillion$ is the story of the biggest scam in the history of fast food. It ran for over a decade, had links to organised crime and netted $24 million worth of illegal profits. But it wasn’t until the FBI received an anonymous tip-off in 2001 that anyone began to suspect something was rotten over at McD’s.
When the FBI started their investigation, they had no idea how big the case would become, but as connections between the prize winners turned up one after another, they began to seem less and less coincidental. And one name kept cropping up: Uncle Jerry.
Dogged and unorthodox investigative work … turned up a network of co-conspirators from ordinary folks to psychics, strip club owners, shifty ex-cons and even the Mafia.
Jerry Jacobson, an ex-cop turned security officer and the head of security for Simon Marketing, seemed to be at the centre of it all. Of course, pulling off a scam on this scale takes at least a few accomplices, but finding an “associate” or two – or even 53 – isn’t too hard when you’re dangling a guaranteed prize-winning ticket.
Dogged and unorthodox investigative work, undercover sting operations and fake interviews turned up a network of co-conspirators from ordinary folks to psychics, strip club owners, shifty ex-cons and even the Mafia.
But despite the numbers involved, the trial was less sensational than it might have been, and received relatively little publicity. That was because of its start date – 10 September 2001, just one day before the 9/11 attacks, which would dominate the news in subsequent months.
Now, McMillion$ constructs a detailed account of the scam and how it was uncovered. The story is told by the participants in the case, with archival footage and exclusive firsthand accounts from the FBI agents who brought down the scheme, as well as McDonald’s execs who were themselves defrauded, the lawyers who tried the case, and the culprits and prizewinners who profited from the complicated scam, as well as the people who were often unwittingly duped into going along with the ruse.
“McMillion$ tells a quirky and frequently hilarious tale filled with enough twists and turns that you’ll swear it came from the keyboard of a Carl Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard,” says Hollywood Reporter, also praising the “wild and wacky story“ for its “cast of unbelievable real-life characters.”
IndieWire calls it “immensely entertaining,” saying, “Directors James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte balance compassion and levity in this bonkers true story.”
The series is exec produced by Mark Wahlberg and Emmy nominee Stephen Levinson, who produced Ballers, and Archie Gips, who’s produced celeb doccies like Wahlburgers, Braxton Family Values, Katy Perry: Part of Me, and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. The hit series is #26 on Rotten Tomatoes’ Best TV of 2020 So Far list, with an 87% critics rating – making the highest rated true-crime series of the year.