MADRID – Countless people across Spain dropped everything on Saturday morning to listen to the radio, look at a television screen or check their cell phones to see if luck had chosen them by making their ticket a pathway to some of the 2.38 billion euros ($2.7 billion) showered on the nation by the country’s popular Christmas lottery.
As 03347, the number for the top prize, reverberated around Spain, elated locals in many of the 50 Spanish provinces – including Cuenca, Huesca, Madrid, Zaragoza, Caceres, Cadiz, Cantabria, Ciudad Real, Cordoba, Lugo, Malaga, Murcia, Navarra, Salamanca, Segovia, Pontevedra and Valladolid – began to congregate outside to pop open the bottles of champagne and celebrate their share of the 4 million euros that come with El Gordo (“The Fat One”).
El Gordo winners are set to receive 400,000 euros for each tenth of a ticket.
Spain’s El Gordo lottery, the richest in the world, is one of the few things that helps unite the country at a time when separatism is on the minds of many.
Other lotteries around the world have larger jackpots, but El Gordo’s system keeps the top prize smaller by spreading winnings out among a larger number of tickets.
For example, the second prize amounts to 1.25 million euros per series of 10, or 125,000 euros for a one-tenth ticket, and the third is 500,000 euros to the series with 50,000 euros to the tenth.
A modern innovation has allowed foreigners and Spaniards living abroad to also get a chance to snag the sweetest of unexpected bonuses, as the lottery’s management now sells tickets online.
The taxman also benefits, as any prize over 2,500 euros in value is liable to 20-percent taxes.
Spain established its national lottery as a charity in 1763, during the reign of King Carlos III, but its purpose gradually shifted toward filling state coffers.
El Gordo itself dates from 1812 and today its standard ticket (one-tenth) costs 20 euros ($23.7).
People tend to chip in together and buy tickets along with friends, family members or workmates.
Long lines form outside lottery stores, particularly those which have established a reputation as lucky ones, weeks ahead of the draw.
The prize ticket numbers are sung out by pupils of a public elementary school in Madrid, Saint Ildefonso, during a nationally-televised event held in the city’s luxurious Teatro Real opera house.
The children first sang out the winning numbers in 1771, when the school was still an orphanage, as orphans were seen as less likely to cheat.
Ticket sales have reached a total of 2.819 million euros this year.