Spanish Christmas lottery hands out USD 3 billion
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Last Updated: Thursday, December 23, 2010, 00:26
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 good luck.

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.


First Published: Thursday, December 23, 2010, 00:26

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