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Spain's Christmas lottery, El Gordo
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Lottery ticket - El Gordo
A colleague has asked if I want to buy a ticket for El Gordo. What is this and should I take part?
Spain has many Christmas traditions, and one of the most important is the lottery, commonly called ‘El Gordo’ (the fat one) and always drawn on December 22nd. Dating back to 1812, today it is the lottery with the biggest pot in the world and three out of four Spaniards buy a Gordo ticket with the average individual spend being €70 (buying tickets with colleagues and family is very common). And for good reason: in 2007 the total payout was €2,201,500,000. However, El Gordo has a very fair distribution system: rather than one person winning a mind-blowing wad of cash, lots of people get a life-enhancing amount. Last year, over 24 million people won prizes ranging from €20 to hundreds of thousands.
Understanding how the ticket system of the Gordo works is complicated and would challenge Stephen Hawking. But basically, tickets are issued with 85,000 different five-digit numbers, and each number is issued in 195 series, meaning that almost 16 million full tickets are printed. If you want to buy one of those, it will set you back €200 but the more common, and cheaper, way to play is to buy a décimo (a tenth) at €20. This is the smallest denomination that official lottery outlets sell, but bars and shops often sell shares of tenths for just a few euros and usually for a charitable cause. Many people believe in ‘lucky’ vendors; outlets that sell winning tickets see a resulting huge increase in sales. Some towns are also seen as blessed, like the Pyrenees town of Sort: sort means luck in Catalan so hopefuls flock there to pick up what they hope will be a prize-winning ticket.
Another feature that makes El Gordo special is the traditional system used for drawing the numbers, which may be one of the highlights of your holiday season depending what you think of a three-hour extravaganza of school-children singing out the winning numbers.
And if you don’t win, don’t worry; on January 6th is ‘El Niño’, another festive lottery albeit one with a smaller amount of prize money.
First published September 2009.