Madrid: Spain`s beloved Christmas lottery
sprinkled 2.3 billion euros (USD 3 billion) in holiday cheer
across the country today, handing out winnings eagerly
welcomed by a nation facing 20 per cent unemployment.
One of the most awaited days of the year in Spain
served up merry moments for people struggling to make mortgage
payments and pay bills, or those seeking jobs.
One lottery vendor said he had hired a medium to lure
The government-run lottery billed as the world`s
richest has no single jackpot but operates a complex
share-the-wealth system in which thousands of five-digit
numbers running from 00000 to 84999 win at least something. It
is known as "El Gordo" (The Fat One) and dates back to 1812.
Tax-free winnings range from the face value of a
20-euro (USD 26.31) ticket, in other words, you get your money
back, to a top prize of 300,000 euros (USD 394,650).
The sweepstakes, which goes on for three hours,
informally ushers in the Christmas season.
Many Spaniards spend the day glued to TV sets, radios
and computers, waiting to see if they are among the lucky.
People often team up to buy shares of tickets sold by bars,
sports clubs and business offices.
One bar in Palleja, a town near Barcelona, sold 600 of
the top-prize tickets, that top-fetching number was 79250,
worth a cool 180 million euros (USD 236.8 million).
Its owner, Jose Antonio Maldonado, was ecstatic over
being able to help people in need during hard economic times.
He sprayed a bottle of sparkling white wine in the air as a
jubilant crowd roared.
"I know a lot of people who are drowning in the
economic crisis and who bought a ticket in my bar. I feel like
Robin Hood," he said. "In my entire life I have never cried as
much as I did this morning."
In Alcorcon, a town just outside Madrid, lottery
office manager Augustin Rubia said he hired a medium to cast a
magic spell over his outlet, and set up altars outside with
religious statues, candles and tarot cards, and it all worked:
he sold 10 top-prize tickets to the tune of 3 million euros.
The government agency that runs the lotteries, known
as LAE, usually diverts to prize money about 70 per cent of
the total amount that people gamble, and keeps the remaining
30 per cent.