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Wednesday, 30 October, 2002, 09:22 GMT
Spaniards gorge on festive lottery tickets
Lottery players loiter outside a shop
Tickets are selling out fast as Christmas nears

It is called El Gordo - The Fat One - and is the world's biggest lottery, rivalling Christmas at this time of year in Spain.
Not even torrential rain and flooding can keep the lottery addicts at bay.

It is raining cats and dogs in the cities of Barcelona and in Tarragona on the Costa Brava but tickets to Spain's Christmas lottery draw are selling out fast.

Despite being on the go for two centuries, Spain's love affair with the lottery shows no signs of flagging.

Superstitious Spaniards are flocking to buy tickets where there has been extreme weather on the grounds that after such misfortune, it's time for a run of good luck.

Bad luck never comes without a good reason, so the old saying goes.

Record draw

"Tickets are selling fast and we have taken a lot of advance orders from people wishing to reserve numbers," says Francisco Martin-Albo, spokesman for the Loteria Nacional.

A couple fill in a lottery ticket
The odds of winning a prize are one in six
"All the signs are that this is going to be the richest lottery ever."

It is already the world's biggest single gambling event and this time Spaniards are expected to spend 1.4bn (2.2bn euros) on tickets for the nation's 190th Christmas lottery.

The lure is the prospect of winning a share of tax-free prizes totalling 980m.

The state-operated Loteria Nacional in Madrid is predicting a 10% increase on last year's sales, which saw the equivalent of 30 being spent by every man, woman and child.

The odds of buying one of the 17,712 prize tickets are one in six. No other lottery comes close.

Festive flutters

The three-hour draw is played out live on national television on 22 December and the country grinds to a halt.

Crowds huddle around television sets in bars, living rooms and social clubs, waiting to see whether if five-digit number could be the lucky one.

The fellows at work bet, their neighbours and friends do too so they feel left out if they don't join in

Jose Ramon Torregrosa
Universidad de Complutense
A group of children from San Ildefonso primary school in Madrid, formerly an orphanage, sing out the winning numbers.

This will be the first year that the children will sing the word euro rather than peseta when announcing the prizes.

But to dismiss El Gordo as a festive frenzy of greed is missing the point.

The popularity lies in the fact that, rather than creating one or two millionaires, its winnings are so widely spread that almost half of the country goes home with something.

Lottery bonding

The standard 200 euro unit of "decimos" is often bought and divided up in to tiny shares among neighbours, sports clubs, churches, shops, bars and nightclubs.

Price list for lottery tickets
Ticket units are divided between neighbours
The complicated share-the-wealth scheme means the top prize worth 1.14m can be shared by up to 1,700 people.

"The motivation is more social than financial," says Jose Ramon Torregrosa, professor of social psychology at the Universidad de Complutense in Madrid.

"It is related to a process of social tradition in which people feel compelled to do as others do.

"The fellows at work bet, their neighbours and friends do too so they feel left out if they don't join in."

Money spinner

The Spanish lottery was begun by King Carlos III in 1763. The Christmas lottery followed in 1812.

Today, the various state-operated lotteries have an annual turnover of 4bn and generate more than 1% of the government's income.

Prizes account for 70% of the money created by El Gordo with the remaining 420m going into the state's coffers.

The UK's National Lottery, with its huge individual prizes, must look with envy at El Gordo's popularity.

In contrast to the "fat cat" bonuses paid to Britain's lottery bosses, the head of the state lottery in Spain earns 37,000 plus a fixed bonus of 10,000.

Urban regeneration

Last year one of the big winners was a music and dance company in Tenerife.

Lottery wins can boost consumer spending
Its members collected 76.9m after buying 500 tickets.

In 1999, El Gordo brought 200m in prize money to a shoe-manufacturing town in the east called Elche.

About a tenth of the 200,000 population won something, crowds danced in the street and consumer spending rocketed.

In the year following Elche's windfall, more than 600 new businesses were registered at the town hall, while local builders reported a 25% leap in house sales and prices.


However, Ronaldo Martinez, a Madrid metro driver who scooped 100,000 last year, says: "It is enough to make a difference to your life, but not to really change it.

"I paid off some of the mortgage and took my wife on holiday to Paris and the money was gone."

Tickets cannot be bought abroad but they are available through banks and online betting firms.

"Here in Spain they say that Christmas begins with the draw," adds Martin-Albo.

"Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without El Gordo."

See also:

28 Oct 02 | Business
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09 Oct 02 | England
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