Thousands share in Spain’s El Gordo lottery
The top prize of the lottery went to holders of tickets bearing the number 32365 while thousands of others cashed in on runner-up prizes.
MADRID – Thousands of lucky ticket holders in Spain may have found some relief from the country's economic malaise when the world's richest lottery Monday paid out more than EUR 2 billion in prize money.
Shaking off the gloom of the economic slowdown, an estimated four in five Spanish residents bought tickets for the annual Christmas lottery known as El Gordo or The Fat One.
Sales were down 2.79 percent on last year at EUR 2.78 billion but the total prize money on offer was up EUR 100 million from 2007 at around EUR 2.32 billion.
Spaniards anxiously huddled around television sets and radios in bars, living rooms and offices Monday to check their numbers in the hope of easing their financial woes.
Spain is suffering soaring unemployment and a looming recession following the end of a decade-long property boom.
Children from the San Ildefonso school, a former orphanage, dressed in their best clothes, announced the winning numbers in a Gregorian chant, in a ritual that lasts about three hours.
The top winning number this year was 32365, of which 195 "series" of tickets, each worth EUR 3 million, were bought in eight regions of Spain, including Madrid and Barcelona.
Each person with a EUR-20 ticket - corresponding to one-tenth of one of the 195 "series" - will pocket EUR 300,000.
Among the big winners were two men from Bangladesh living in the northeastern city of Barcelona, Jamal Sahid and Shalim Ahmed.
Sahid, 18, a cook, told reporters he planned to open a restaurant with his EUR 300,000 winnings.
One bar in Barcelona which sold 30 of the winning tickets offered free drinks to all customers, forcing police to close off the street as hundreds of people descended on the establishment.
"El Gordo" is a Christmas tradition in Spain dating back to 1812. It is designed to give as many people as possible a windfall just before the holidays.
A whopping 70 percent of the intake goes back into cash prizes - far more than in other state-run lotteries used to finance social projects.
Instead of a few jackpots, there are millions of cash prizes starting from EUR 20.
Although other draws around the world have bigger individual top prizes, lottery specialists rank El Gordo as the world's richest for the total sum paid out.
Tickets go on sale in July. Co-workers, friends and relatives across the country pitch in to buy them together, and cafes and bars sell shares in their tickets to their clients.
Spanish households dedicate about two percent of their budget to lottery tickets and other forms of gambling, one of the highest rates in Europe.
Since 2005, tickets have also been sold over the Internet, drawing in overseas customers.
Sandra, a 26-year-old soldier, said she spent EUR 100 this year on tickets, down from EUR 150 last year "because of the economic crisis".
"You need a lot of luck to win," said Pilar, who said she had spent EUR 33 on tickets.
[AFP / Expatica]