Home Out & About Seasonal El Gordo – Spain’s Christmas lottery
Last update on July 31, 2019
Written by MadridMan

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.

Spanish Christmas Lottery ticket

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 €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?

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 €120 for matching 3 of the 5 numbers. But since I’d spent €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.

Photo credit: Álvaro Ibáñez (lottery ticket photo).