The Christmas Lottery in Spain is the largest in the world with a total payout of over 2.24€ Billion. I know you think --- that's a typo. It's not. Nicknamed “El Gordo” because of the “fat” or “fatty” payouts, it's been going on for over 200 years and every year hundreds of thousands of tickets are bought. And you can buy them everywhere - the grocery store, the post office, little ticket stands set up in random location, they're everywhere.
That said, many people don't care that you can walk 10 feet and buy a ticket, because they are superstitious about a specific number or a specific selling location. Some Spaniards will take trips and stand in crazy long lines to get the exact Christmas Lottery ticket they want.
A reason for its popularity is that unlike many traditional lotteries, over 15,000 tickets win and each winning number is announced on national television (you can watch online here). In a lot of ways it's much more like a raffle than a lottery, but I've never seen raffle prizes so big. For the last 4 years the largest payout was 4,000,000€.
How it works
For a lottery, the distribution of the tickets is actually a bit confusing at first. Here are the basics:
- Each lottery ticket has one 5-digit number.
- Each of these tickets is more like a lottery sheet or “billete” of tickets with 10 “décimos” or tenths within it.
- Each 5-digit ticket number is printed on a pre-set number of series which varies year to year. Typically there are 120-180 series.
Every ticket holder that matches the 5-digit number is a winner. In other words, if number 42345 wins and there are 120 series, 120 people will win the prize. To make it even more complicated, if you only purchased a décimo and only have a 10th of the ticket, you get a 10th of the payout. This is the case for many since a full lottery sheet (the billete) is 200€, and the “décimo” is 20€. Taking it yet another step further, many families, offices, and communities will buy portions of a “décimo” called “participaciones” to spread their odds out over more ticket numbers. The average Spaniard has 70€ invested in the Christmas Lottery.
9AM is the moment of truth (well, the 3-hours of truth, anyway). Every year in a national live television broadcast event choir boys pick the winning lottery numbers out of a big golden drum and sing the winning numbers. Remember, there are 15,000 prizes, so this takes most of the morning. There are 13 “big” prizes (60,000€+) and everyone is on the edge of their seat until these are announced. What's interesting is that these aren't specifically saved until the end. There are two large pots of numbers: one contains the 5-digit lottery ticket combinations and one contains the prizes, so theoretically all of the large prizes could be announced early on. No matter what, it's an exciting event that almost every Spanish household tunes in for.
Getting your Cash
If you win less than 1000€, you can cash your ticket in at a local lottery office. Spanish banks such as Banco Popular, BBVA, CaixaBanc, and Santander will also issue payouts. A fair warning: scams have started popping up more and more, so know that any winnings under 2500€ are tax free and anything above that is subject to a 20% flat tax rate. If you're ever unsure about information you receive regarding the lottery, check official media outlets before taking any action.
The best part about the lottery is that it's a community event where the winnings are typically shared even if won by an individual. There's a cute animated promotional video that highlights just that.
So, are you feeling lucky? You can buy your ticket here and if you win, you can claim your prize by mail. Only a few days left to play :)!
Bon Sort (good luck)!