"MadridMan: Spain Christmas lottery – El Gordo"

MadridMan: The Fat One – Spain's Christmas lottery

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Spain's Christmas lottery 'El Gordo' is an annual tradition that attracts long queues at 'lucky' ticket outlets, but understanding the lottery system takes a little more explanation.

It's that time of year again. El Sorteo de Navidad, Spain's Christmas Lottery, and El Gordo, is upon us – which, frankly, makes it a bit hard to breathe. It's hard to breathe because the lottery is on everyone's lips and constantly in the news, probably the last few years more than most.

While some people are spending less on lottery tickets because of Spain's economic crisis, others are spending more on lottery tickets with hopes that they'll be whisked away on a magic carpet ride to fortune.

One time, I was in Puerta del Sol to buy my décimos at the famed 'Doña Manolita' lottery locale on the Calle del Carmen. This lottery stand has existed since 1904, albeit not in the same location. For this reason, it has been the seller of more winning lottery tickets than any other – and so it's considered lucky.

where to buy Christmas lottery tickets in Spain

Question: But what did I find at Doña Manolita?
Answer: A line about 100 meters long and lasting about 45–60 minutes.

Needless to say, I didn't wait in line. A lot of people do stand in line for hours and hours, particularly on the first day that the El Gordo Christmas Lottery tickets are sold, in order to garner the tickets with the most luck. Ooooookay! (See below a video of the 250+ metre line to buy Christmas Lottery Tickets at Doña Manolita.)


Instead, I bought mine at my neighbourhood lottery stand where there was absolutely no line and, in my opinion, has exactly the same luck as any other lottery stand. Then again, luck has no logic. (Yeah, I just made that up. Call me Confucius.)

The price for each individual ticket is EUR 20. It does sound like a lot, right? (Particularly for what little you win!) Each ticket represents one-tenth of the series. Each series has 10 tickets and the 5 numbers on each of those 10 tickets are identical. If you match those five numbers in order, you win one-tenth of the total winnings for that number. If you possess all 10 tickets in that series and your number comes up, you win the whole prize. El Gordo – 'The Fat One' – is the top prize of all.

The prize depends on a random selection of 85,000 wooden balls which roll out of a huge tumbler, and also nearly 2,000 wooden balls which roll out of a smaller tumbler. The smaller tumbler balls determines the amount of money won by the 5-balls which roll out of the big tumbler. Confused?

Spanish Christmas Lottery ticket

The single big lottery prize is minuscule compared to any bi-weekly, USA state lottery. But, they say, the total payout of thousands of individual prizes is far greater. The most I've won was about EUR 120 for matching 3 of the 5 numbers. But since I'd spent EUR 100 in (five) tickets, I actually lost money – lost money because I'd 'gifted' any possible winnings with a number of friends, something I might do this year, too – but buying fewer tickets.

Still, the big lottery is fun to look forward to, fun to do, and fun to talk about 'what if' you win with friends. The winnings of nearly any prize won't afford anyone to retire, but might buy a new house or a nice vacation.

The lottery drawing begins at 8am on 22 December, when a pair of uniformed school children (from the elementary school El Colegio de San Ildefonso) sing-out the numbered balls tumbling out of the tumblers. You can see a video below – it's quite a spectacle, one I look forward to every year. 

Good luck to everyone!

Watch live online at: www.rtve.es.

Check lottery ticket numbers at: www.elgordo.com.


Reprinted with permission from MadridMan.

MadridManMadridMan is the online persona of an American living in Madrid since 2005. He started his Spain Travel & Tourism company, Martin Media, in 2006 and enjoys living - and sharing - life as a tourist on a daily basis. 



Photo credit: Álvaro Ibáñez (lottery ticket photo).

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1 Comment To This Article

  • LInda posted:

    on 9th December 2015, 04:01:57 - Reply

    Hi! With reference to your article on the Spanish Christmas Lottery/El Gordo held on 22nd December every year I have a couple of questions and I do hope that you could clear it for me. Are foreigners living abroad allowed to buy tickets online. A couple of websites have mentioned that residents of Spain are only allowed to play.
    Do let me know if this is true. Please do let me know if online ticket selling sites are legit.

    Thank you.
    Have a great day.

    Warm Regards,

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our forums.]