Millions are out of work and a recession looms, all the more reason for Spaniards to dig deep into their pockets to gamble on the famous El Gordo (Fat One) Christmas lottery, the world’s biggest jackpot, which will make a record payout this year.
“Things are tough this year, but I am definitely going to get a Christmas lottery ticket ... even if its just one decimo,” said Raquel, a 50-year-old taxi driver. The smallest lottery unit sold is a tenth of a ticket, or decimo, for €20.
This year alone the El Gordo Draw will pay out €2.5-billion ($3.5-billion) to over 1,202,490 cash prize winners in Spain and around the world. First prize is worth €4-million, the highest amount ever and up 33 per cent from a year ago. Sales are expected to match last year’s despite the economic crisis, said lottery operator Loterias y Apuestas del Estado (LAE).
The tickets, drawn on Dec. 22, are sold in 4,100 official kiosks throughout the country but can also be bought in a further 6,400 outlets such as newspaper kiosks. Local bars and shops also sell decimos.
In the remote northern Spanish village of Sort, which means “luck” in the local Catalan language, Xavier Gabriel, an owner of a lottery outlet, has sold out of El Gordo tickets and is now focused on the annual Jan. 5 “El Nino” draw.
“We can’t close on Saturdays for lunch ... We had 200 motorbikes, 500 cars and eight coaches bringing people up here for El Gordo tickets and it was the same thing on Sundays,” Mr. Gabriel said.
Becoming a millionaire for Christmas or even having the chance to share in one of the millions of cash prizes is appealing to many Spaniards as they struggle to weather the worst economic crisis in generations.
The Spanish Organization for the Blind (ONCE), which runs a weekly lottery, sold out in Madrid for its draw on Nov. 11 this year.
Since the Fat One went on sale this year, queues have been forming outside some of the most famous lottery kiosks in Spain’s capital city Madrid.
“I always buy El Gordo at Dona Manolita. They’ve sold several winning numbers,” said 45-year old Maria, currently unemployed.
Some cash-strapped locals have made a beeline for the few outlets where they can use a credit card to buy their ticket. “But there are not many of these outlets in Spain. It’s cash in hand,” said Juan Gallardo, commercial director at the state-owned LAE.
Spain will be glued to radios and television sets on Dec. 22, listening to the monotonous chant of voices of a group of children from the San Idelfonso college, dressed in navy blue and grey uniforms, who sing out the winning numbers and prizes.
“It’s the only draw where you really have a chance to win something ... and you can see it on TV,” said Raquel, the Madrid taxi driver.
In 2010, El Gordo raised €2.7-billion in revenue for the state.
“The lottery is part of the Spanish DNA,” LAE chairman Aurelio Martinez said earlier this year at a presentation of the planned sale of 30 per cent of the lottery operator. The sale was pulled in September due to tough market conditions.
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