El Gordo

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It’s Spain’s Santa Claus for adults, delivering sack-loads of cash to thousands of lucky winners three days before Christmas and transforming pauper pueblos into millionaires-villes overnight.

Belinda Beckett discovers why there’s more than a fat chance of a payout in El Gordo, the democratic lottery that reflects the true spirit of Christmas.

If you thought the Spanish didn’t celebrate Christmas you’re overlooking El Gordo, the biggest prize pool in the world worth a staggering €2.38 billion this year.

In a country where lotteries are almost a religion, the ‘Big One’ – literally, ‘the fat one’ – is more greatly anticipated than the chubby chap in the red suit for its democratic jackpot payouts which reward the many rather than the few.

Tickets go on sale in July and with 170 jackpot prizes worth €4 million each, 170 second prizes of €1.25 million each and an avalanche of smaller prizes (see How it Works), El Gordo is Spain’s own secular miracle at Christmas, although these days it’s taxed.

That miracle is steeped in ritual and pageantry with a format that has barely changed in over two centuries. Spain started lotteries in 1763 as a means of financing wars and helping the poor.

El Gordo, the first Christmas edition which began as a fundraiser for orphans, was established by Spain’s Cortes parliament in 1812 while it was based in Cádiz.

That makes it the second oldest lotto in the world, after the Dutch Staatsloterij, continuously played through three years of Civil War and 35 years of dictatorship. Indeed, Franco’s brother won fourth prize.

Today the December 22 payout continues to offer cash-strapped families hope of prosperity. Although each ticket costs a whopping €200, most people chip in with friends and workmates to buy a decimo (one tenth of a ticket).

Every ticket is perforated into 10 tear-apart sub-tickets, each entitling the holder to 10 per cent of the prize money. An outlay of €20 for the chance of a €400,000 windfall if your number wins the jackpot can’t be bad!

The chances of hitting that jackpot – El Gordo, from which the lottery takes its nickname – are 1 in 100.000 (0.001%) compared to 1 in 116,531,800 (0.0000000086%) of winning top prize in the EuroMillions (source: Wikipedia). No wonder some 98 per cent of Spanish adults indulge in a flutter.

How it Works
It’s complicated!
As jackpot prizes go, €4million doesn’t sound like a big deal until you realise there’s more than one…

Words Belinda Beckett

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