World's richest lottery spreads wealth and dreams in Spain

22nd December 2011, Comments 0 comments

The world's richest lottery showered prizes of up to 2.5 billion euros ($3.3 billion) on crisis-hit Spaniards in an annual draw of the "El Gordo" or "The Fat One" on Thursday.

The jackpot went to number 58268, which is split into a total of 1,800 "decimo" tickets each paying out 400,000 euros.

The winning number was reportedly sold in the small town of Granen, population 2,000, in the area of Huesca in northeastern Spain.

Pupils from former Madrid orphanage San Ildefenso sang out the winning numbers plucked from a huge globe, an event played to bars and homes across the country on television.

The vast number of prizes meant the children were only half way through the task nearly three hours after the colourful ceremony began in Madrid's Palacio de los Congresos convention centre.

At the draw, many people dressed up to celebrate the occasion.

Carmelo Pradas, a 36-year-old Madrid resident, who paid for a house based on the architect's plans but never saw it built, came dressed in polysterene headgear shaped as a white and red house.

"It represents a lot, most of all the dream, no? Let's see if we can win something and start to pay for our homes," said Pradas, who claimed to have won 100,000 euros himself three years ago.

Another man, dressed as Bugs Bunny, 44-year-old Lenin Vascones from Ecuador who has spent 12 years in Spain, said the atmosphere at the draw was "incredible".

Everyone is very helpful. We all think we are going to win some kind of prize, as much those in here as those outside," he said. "I have come as Bugs Bunny, the rabbit of luck, to spread dreams, much hope and many prizes."

Wearing a red dress and make-up to look like one of Spain's wealthiest women, the Duchess of Alba, 78-year-old man Enrique Vilches de Cerebros said he was a regular at the draw.

"I come every year, and I come like this," he said.

Undeterred by a 21.5-percent jobless rate and the prospect of recession, four out of every five Spaniards were estimated to have spent money a ticket for the lottery.

The lottery said on Thursday it had sold 2.68 billion euros in tickets by its preliminary estimates. An official confirmed that the value of the prizes on offer amounted to 2.52 billion euros.

The sales, well below the national lottery's declared hopes of raking in 3.6 billion euros this year, were down 0.49 percent from last year -- a sign perhaps of the grinding economic crisis forcing wallets to close.

According to Spain's federation of independent consumers and users, Spanish households will spend an average 560 euros on Christmas -- 114 euros less than last year.

"Consumption is fragile, frugal and tired," said a report by the Spanish business school ESADE, which predicted a 40-percent decline in Christmas spending.

"But we will always keep some room for the little pleasures," said the report's author, Gerard Costa.

"And we won't forget traditions like the lottery."

Spain's outgoing Socialist government had planned to sell a 30-percent stake in the lucrative lottery to rake in up to 7.5 billion euros ($10 billion) for the state's depleted coffers.

But the government abandoned the sale in September, blaming plunging markets that would have slashed the sale price.

The national lottery posted a net profit of 2.99 billion euros in 2009, up 3.5 percent from the year before despite an economic crisis.

Spain traces its fascination with the lottery back to the creation of the royal lottery in 1763, which used profits for social causes such as hospitals. The national lottery held its first draw in 1812.

© 2011 AFP

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