El Gordo, the Fat One, to most Spanish people, represents two things: the ex Brazilian footballer Ronaldo and, much more importantly, the Spanish Christmas Lottery. Almost unbelievably there have been lotteries in Spain since the first was established by King Carlos III as far back as 1763. Indeed, the first ‘Christmas edition’ of the lottery was in 1812. The actual title, Sorteo de Navidad, was initially used in 1892.
The Spanish as a nation are lottery crazy; many kiosks can be seen selling various forms of lottery ticket and you will often be approached in the streets or bars by people selling tickets. But it’s at Christmas they really does go overboard!
It was estimated last year that 98% of all Spanish adults participated in El Gordo, which meant that the total amount of the prize pool was an incredible €2.25 billion, which equates to 70% of the sales of tickets. The probability of picking up some sort of prize is about 15%, which makes it quite a worthwhile gamble in the scheme of things. You can play the Spanish Christmas Lottery online.
So, How Does El Gordo Work?
Well, firstly, the tickets go on the sale any time from July or August onwards so it’s not necessary to make sure you’re in Spain for Christmas to be able to participate. The organizers clicked on to the idea that people on their holidays might have a bit of spare money or think that they were ‘feeling lucky’ because they were so relaxed and decided to exploit it.
Secondly, the tickets themselves are expensive. The good news is that you don’t have to buy a complete ticket. Most tickets are usually sold in decimos, or tenths and often people club together to buy one of those. It is very common for organizations and sports clubs to raise funds for themselves by arranging their own competitions to be part of the lottery ticket consortium. It can become very complicated! Some families, though, have been playing the same numbers for decades passing them down through the generations.
Because of the phenomenal number of tickets sold, and because the tickets only have 5 digit numbers, there are quite a few winning tickets. Obviously, it’s quite common for families or work colleagues to club together to buy a ticket – or even regulars at a local bar. You’ll frequently see signs proclaiming ‘Jugamos con el numero’ … and inviting you to participate with them. This type of communal gambling can mean that whole villages or groups of workers can suddenly become wealthy. In 2005, the town of Vic, north of Barcelona, shared 500 million euros amongst its inhabitants. Imagine how those people felt who decided there was no point in buying into the tickets!
Not every one wins a fortune, though. Those who just about get their initial stake back tend to spend it by buying a ticket for El Niño, the second largest draw of the year which takes place on January 6th. Those who win nothing will probably tell you that they’ve got their health, which is the most important thing.
However keen you might be to have a share of the winnings, however, you will almost certainly be close to despair should you ever have the misfortune to watch the draw itself on television. Or, even worse, listen to it on the radio. For between four and five hours every December 22nd, Televisión Española and Radio Nacional de España will enthrall the nation by broadcasting the whole event live from Madrid where little boys from the San Ildefonso Orphanage will draw out the wooden balls and sing the numbers out to the waiting world. To watch this for five hours and end up winning nothing must be the most depressing scenario imaginable … unless you win of course 🙂 Tickets for this year’s lottery are available online.