Spanish Christmas lottery dishes out billions

By Ciaran Giles

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 22 2011 3:40 a.m. MST

People dressed in costumes arrive to watch the Spain's Christmas lottery draw known as "El Gordo" or "The Fat One" in Madrid, Thursday Dec. 22, 2011. Economic gloom is taking a back seat in Spain as the lottery billed as the world's richest dishes out some euro 2.52 billion ($3.29 billion) to winners across the nation. The top prize of euro 720 million, dubbed "El Gordo" was split Thursday among the holders of tickets bearing the number 58268. The number appeared on 1,800 tickets.

Paul White, Associated Press

MADRID — Days before Christmas, a tiny town of 2,000 in cash-strapped Spain found itself richer by €720 million ($940 million) Thursday after scooping the top prize in the nation's famed Christmas lottery.

Billed as the world's richest, the lottery dishes out some €2.52 billion ($3.29 billion) to winners across the nation.

The top prize — dubbed "El Gordo" (The Fat One) — was split among the holders of tickets bearing the number 58268. The number appeared on 1,800 tickets, giving winners €400,000 for their €20 ticket.

The state lottery agency said all 1,800 tickets with that number were sold in the town of Granen, located in the arid and barren northeastern Los Monegros area.

Spain is struggling to emerge from a near two-year recession that has left it with a eurozone-high 21.5 percent unemployment rate.

The Gordo lottery aims for a share-the-wealth system, rather than a single jackpot, and thousands of numbers yield at least some kind of return. Lots of people chip in together and buy shares of several or many tickets, meaning it is common for multiple prizes to go to the same town.

Other lotteries have larger individual top prizes but El Gordo is ranked as the world's richest for the total sum paid out.

The winning number was picked and announced by pupils of Madrid's Saint Ildefonso School in a nationally televised draw.

Since it began in 1812, the Dec. 22 lottery has become a favorite holiday tradition. This year, it sold an estimated €2.7 billion in tickets and the state lottery agency estimated per-capita spending of about €70.

Spain holds another big lottery Jan. 6 to mark the Feast of the Epiphany. It is known as "El Nino" (The Child), in reference to the baby Jesus.

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