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Tips for winning McDonald’s Monopoly

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(Credit: McDonald's via Facebook)

Since 1987, McDonald’s Monopoly has lured fast-foodies into plunking down extra bills in the hopes of winning big. This year’s model, which wraps up August 12, is no exception, offering a slew of prizes to anyone dedicated (and hungry) enough to go on a Morgan Spurlock-style summer McDiet.

But is it all just a matter of dumb luck, or is there actually a way to game the fake game?

First, the basics: McDonald’s Monopoly slaps stickers modeled after Monopoly properties on menus items, including most of the traditional sandwiches, sides and drinks. The most typical win is the standard instant-win prize like free food, gift cards, consumer electronics, and small cash payouts. The odds of landing an instant-win food prize are actually fairly high – 1 in 4 – though those increase exponentially when you’re talking about any of the other prizes.

Most of the really big prizes include vacations, free flights, a new car, and cash prizes ranging from $1,000 all the way up to a cool million dollars, but those do NOT come easy.

Each color group has one piece that’s much rarer than the others. For almost all the groups, it’s the alphabetically last property…except the blue group, where it’s Boardwalk. Snagging the less-rare properties is generally pretty easy, so you can think of the odds of winning each prize as roughly the same as the chance of finding the rarest piece. Courtesy of Wikipedia, the odds of doing that are as follows:

  • Mediterranean Avenue (20 prizes): $1,000. Odds: 1 in 30,124,503.
  • Vermont Avenue (15 prizes): $5,000. Odds: 1 in 40,166,004.
  • Kentucky Avenue (40 prizes): A Delta Vacations Trip for two to any Delta Vacations Destination worth $7,500. Odds: 1 in 15,062,252,
  • Pennsylvania Avenue (15 prizes): A 2014 FIAT 500L car worth $22,345. Odds: 1 in 40,166,004.
  • Short Line Railroad (4 prizes): $2,350 worth of Shell fuel. Odds: 1 in 150,622,515.
  • Virginia Avenue (3 prizes): $10,000. Odds: 1 in 200,830,020.
  • Ventnor Avenue (2 prizes): $20,000. Odds: 1 in 301,245,030.
  • Boardwalk (2 prizes): $1 million in cash. Odds: 1 in 602,490,060.
  • Tennessee Avenue (1 prize): A trip for two to the Super Bowl worth $7,000. Odds: 1 in 602,490,060.

In other words, this isn’t a cakewalk. Indeed, if you’re serious about hitting the big money, you’re much better off playing the lottery instead. The odds of hitting the Powerball jackpot are about 1 in 175,000,000 -- some three-and-a-half times more likely than landing a Boardwalk, and the prize (almost $200 million this week) makes Boardwalk’s look miserly in comparison.

But then again, you don’t get the food, and you don’t get the fun of trying to match up all the properties…and if nobody finds one of those Boardwalk pieces, all that money goes to waste. Can you really live with that thought? Try these tips and you might find yourself a McWinner after all.

Hash it out.

The best starting place is a simple matter of economics.

The cheapest Monopoly-token item on the menu is the Hash Brown, which you can score for just one dollar (many locations will even do $1.50 for two.) With those 1 in 4 food prize odds working in your favor, you can reliably expect to win more McDonald’s food for every $4 spent. Alas, the food items you win do not come with tokens, so don’t expect to set up an endless winning cycle.

Mail it in

If stocking up on hash browns (sodium count: 310 mg per serving, 13% of the recommended daily allowance) isn’t a lovely thought, you can always opt for the much healthier route of scoring tokens by mail. You know, that whole ‘no purchase necessary’ thing.

McDonald’s will send game tokens to anyone who requests them by mail, though there are a few caveats. Requests must be handwritten, self-addressed stamped envelopes -- no mass printing allowed, sadly -- which can be both time-consuming and, at 92 cents in total postage, rather costly as you up the number of entries.

The good news? Do it correctly and McDonald’s will indeed honor your request with 2 game tokens and no damage done to your waistline. Just send your envelopes to:

2013 MONOPOLY Game at McDonald’s Game Piece Request
P.O. Box 49419
Strongsville, OH 44149-0419

And cross your fingers.

Hop online

New to this year’s version is a third way to play: online. Each game token comes with an 11-digit code that you can enter on the McDonald’s Monopoly game site. Unfortunately, the code itself isn’t what determines your win status. Instead, it’s time-based: enter the code at the right time of day (a computer randomly determines this) and boom, you’re a winner.

Sounds dubious, to be sure, and the odds themselves aren’t much better than the other ways to win. However, it takes some effort to actually bother inputting game token codes into a website – more effort than most players are willing to exert. And that’s just what you want. The smaller the player pool, the higher the odds.

Whatever you do, DON’T CHEAT.

The easiest way to win, of course, is to cheat. And believe it or not, that’s exactly what happened between 1995 and 2000, when an employee of the company McDonald's used to administer the promotion swiped the prize-winning pieces and distributed them to his co-conspirators. He netted a cool $24 million in cash and other prizes, winning almost all the big-ticket items…and was caught in 2001, whereupon he went -- where else -- directly to jail.

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