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Sunday, 23 December, 2001, 01:40 GMT
El Gordo brings Christmas cheer
A man holds his winning ticket in Spain
Lotteries a national obsession in Spain
The draw for the world's biggest lottery prize pool has taken place in Spain, creating hundreds of instant millionaires.

Organisers of the traditional Christmas lottery known as El Gordo, or the Fat One, said the winning ticket number, 18795, was set to win 300 million pesetas ($1.6m), while total prize money was estimated at $1.26bn.

All those with the 170 winning portions were bought in the southeastern region of Murcia and the Canary Islands.

Many were syndicates or bought by families and groups of friends.

National obsession

Lotteries are a national obsession in Spain. This year, people bought more than 100 million tickets for the draw at a cost of $1.7bn, or $41 for every person, according to the State Lottery and Betting Association.

A lottery syndicate with their winning ticket
Everyone loves a winner
This year's most popular ticket number was 11-9-01, representing the date of the attacks on New York and Washington in September.

The BBC Madrid correspondent says the morbid choice is explained by a Spanish superstition that good fortune often follows tragedy.

The draw for El Gordo brings Spain to a virtual standstill each Christmas, with crowds huddling around television sets in bars and living rooms to see if their lucky number is a winner.

Tradition

The lottery is run according to a 189-year-old tradition, with wooden balls pulled from a golden tumbler.

The winning amounts are then sung out by children at a Madrid primary school, formerly an orphanage.

But with the Spanish peseta due to be replaced by the Euro next year, this was the last time pupils' chants were referring to the national currency.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Michael Dobie
"The money will not go to just one ticket holder"
See also:

17 Dec 01 | Europe
Morocco visit divides Spain
10 Dec 01 | Europe
Terror tops Spanish agenda
29 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Four NI men questioned in Spain
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