News · TV

Mark Walhberg Will Also Tackle the Story of the McDonald’s Monopoly Game Scam

Wahlberg’s version will be a documentary series.
Mark Wahlberg The Gambler
By  · Published on August 13th, 2018

Wahlberg’s version will be a documentary series.

Settling on only one definitive adaptation of the McDonald’s Monopoly scam would have been very unlike Hollywood. When Jeff Maysh’s gripping exposé “McScam: How an Ex-Cop Rigged McDonald’s Monopoly Game and Stole Millions” hit The Daily Beast last month, the article ended up trending worldwide at breakneck speed. Soon enough, studios and producers absolutely scrambled to turn the story into a movie.

All manner of famous dudes clamored after this unbelievable story. Names such as Steve Carell, Robert Downey Jr., and Kevin Hart were part of competitive bids through various big-name companies like Warner Bros., Netflix, and Universal. Vulture has even since reported that Martin Scorsese was interested in making a “McScam” film with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead. However, in the end, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and 20th Century Fox prevailed in the fiery bidding war, and finally picked up the rights to Maysh’s piece for a whopping $1 million.

As it turns out, fellow Boston boy Mark Wahlberg and his newly minted production company Unrealistic Ideas will also be bringing “McScam” to the screen, albeit the small one. According to Deadline, Wahlberg will produce the documentary series McMillions, which has yet to be picked up by cable or network broadcasters. Nevertheless, considering the intense popularity of the show’s source material, I can’t imagine that finding a distributor for this true crime affair would be a particular problem.

McMillions is set to recount the ins and outs of the scam that swindled McDonald’s of $24 million. McDonald’s Monopoly — a game spawning from a joint effort of advertising between the Golden Arches and the toy company Hasbro — has been going on since the late 1980s. Per the rules, a selection of McDonald’s menu items affords customers with game pieces that correspond with Monopoly properties. Accumulating certain combinations of them could then win hopefuls prizes like cash and food items, with the jackpot being $1 million.

Maysh’s article describes how a man known as “Uncle Jerry” defrauded this system by accruing the help of a very unlikely crime ring that included psychics, drug traffickers, members of the mob, and many more. It wasn’t until the FBI caught wind of these suspicious winnings in 2000 that this mystery man — who was really the ex-law enforcer turned security expert Jerome Jacobson — and a bunch of others were caught. Finally, a meticulously planned sting operation led to multiple arrests, including Jacobson’s.

Deadline notes that Wahlberg’s series will actually rely on first-person accounts from the real-life participants of this intriguing case, including prize winners, a former police officer, and the FBI agents who were directly involved in capturing Jacobson. Archival footage from the Bureau’s operation will be utilized too.

Being able to helm the “definitive non-scripted version” of Maysh’s article is certainly a feat for Unrealistic Ideas as a whole. The company only formed in February. Thus far, Wahlberg has announced a commitment to bring back the children’s educational series Captain Kangaroo with a younger and “cooler” host to get kids psyched about science. While that project is still floating around in early development stages, McMillions undoubtedly remains a promising venture in Wahlberg’s producorial slate that encourages viewership of a wider audience cross-section. It’s a better nonfiction undertaking than the Wahlburgers reality show, at any rate.

In its serial format, McMillions will importantly have an appropriate amount of time to unspool the fascinating intricacy of both Jacobson’s original plot and the FBI’s attempt to bring him down. At the center of these fraudulent operations was a walking contradiction. Jacobson was in charge of a theft-proof system to protect McDonald’s assets, but he ended up subverting his own rules (“to see if [he] could do it”) and leading a deftly organized ring that stole millions.

Then there were these characters from all walks of life that stretched far beyond Jacobson’s own social circle who wanted to cash in, which is a definitive starting point for a discussion about “the needy and the greedy.” And finally, the FBI sting itself was a painstaking effort that included fake rounds of the promotional game which were used to garner evidence against the syndicate.

David Klawans, the producer who developed “McScam” alongside Maysh for two years before it was published by The Daily Beast, first caught wind of the story in 2014. As he told Vulture, the story only got bigger and bolder as it unfolded and he believed it would make a good feature:

“What catches my eye is this paragraph where the FBI went undercover doing a fake promotion, filming it, giving the guy a fake check. And there was a Ronald McDonald there. And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this is crazy!”

To imagine watching all of this unfold and hearing about the plot directly from several of the people involved is an exhilarating prospect, too. Yes, Maysh’s article is full of vivid imagery and high-stakes tension that’s perfect for Affleck and Damon’s heist film. The duo definitely has the chops to pull off a good Hollywood heist after years of experience within the genre.

Nevertheless, this particular scandal is far too elaborate and bizarrely uncanny to be contained in a single movie, because the scandal that rocked McDonald’s Monopoly is beguiling as a case, first and foremost. A holistic dramatic retelling definitely has merit, but there’s definitely no harm in looking for some other avenue to get the facts of this case out on screen somehow. McMillions could be the great nonfiction companion to whatever big studio picture is being cooked up by Affleck and Damon at Fox.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)