Friday, December 24, 2010

El Gordo

El Gordo, the big Spanish Christmas lottery was held on the 22nd of December and broadcast on TV with little children singing out the numbers as usual.  I meant to tune in for a few minutes that morning to hear the little ones do their strange chant, but I forgot all about it until I heard them on a radio in the village.  I definitely tuned into the news at midday to see if I had won.  After all, I, together with about 98% of the population, had a ticket.

The Spanish National Lottery seems very complicated to me, compared to what I knew in the U.S.  There, when you buy a ticket you have a unique number, and if you win, you take the pot.  What does it say then about the Spanish that there is no such thing as a unique number or a unique winner?  There are hundreds.

A Spanish lottery ticket has a five-digit number and costs 200 euros.  This same number is printed 195 times, each one with its own series number, but all 195 of them are equal.  If all 195 series of, say, the winning number were sold, the bearer of each of the 195 tickets would win 3 million euros, which was the first prize this year.  There is also a second prize, a third, two fourths, and eight fifths, plus many lesser prizes based on partial numbers of the bigger winners.

You can buy a whole ticket or the more popular decimos – a tenth share of a ticket, costing 20 euros – at an official State Lottery office.  Every city has several of these and even the tiniest village seems to have at least one.  Those decimos are sometimes also divided into smaller portions called participations.  This is done by private buyers – organizations and charitable groups, or businesses that give the participations as gifts to their employees or perhaps to clients.  The participations are given or sold, sometimes with a little extra added to the actual price, to benefit the organizing group if it is a non-profit.  These are privately printed and stamped and have the name of the group, the value of the participation and, if there was a surcharge, the amount that went to the charity or group, the value of the actual ticket, and of course, the all-important 5-digit ticket number. 

The payoff for a full (200-euro) ticket of the winning number this year was 3 million euros.  However, most, if not all of those who won held smaller shares.  A decimo of the first prize this year paid 300,000 euros; for smaller participations it translated to 15,000 euros for each euro wagered.  And that is what makes the Spanish lottery so interesting.  There are many tickets with the same number and most tickets are broken up and bought, shared, or given as gifts.  For instance, my participation was organized by the Catalan political party that I would vote for if they would let me.  I paid 3 euros for the participation; 2.40 was the actual value and .60 went to the political party.  The ticket number was 79741.  The first prize paid 15,000 euros per euro wagered.  If my number had won first prize, I would have won 36,000 euros.  But it didn’t win first or anything else

Many bar owners buy one or more tickets and then break them up into decimos or smaller participations.  Everyone who frequents the bar – neighbors, people who work nearby, a soccer team that practices in the area, and so on, all buy in.  That happened this year in Cerdanyola, a town near Barcelona.  The owner of the bar bought 60 series of the same number, broke them down to smaller participations and sold them to all his customers.  That number was 79250, the same number he has been buying for years.  On Wednesday morning, the street in front of that bar was packed with people celebrating.  79250 won first prize, and all of these people were winners.  This was a whole neighborhood of people who won thousands of euros each; some might even have become millionaires.  A group that works for a company in the fruit and vegetable wholesale warehouse of Barcelona – Mercabarna –  also won.  They all celebrated together and then went back to work.  Virtually the same story repeats every year – only the locations, the bars and the factories change.  There is never one winner; there are always hundreds, and I am very sorry to say that I wasn’t one of them.

Some people chose this year’s winning number because it ended in 50, which was the score of Barcelona Futbol Club’s recent triumphant defeat of Real Madrid.  Because the winning ticket ended in 50, other tickets that ended in 50 also won something.

Second prize paid 1 million euros for a winning (200-euro) ticket, paying 5,000 euros per euro wagered.  Third prize paid 500,000 or 2500 per euro wagered, fourth (with two different winning numbers) paid 200,000 or 1,000 per euro wagered, and fifth (with eight winning numbers) paid 50,000 or 250 per euro wagered.  Having partial digits also won money – I’ve read that there were over 13,000 prized tickets.  Unfortunately mine didn’t win even a centime.

In Cerdanyola, where that bar owner bought his tickets, 390 million euros were won in first prize money.  The week when I passed my driving test I thought maybe my good luck would hold and I bought a 2-euro ticket for La Primativa, a smaller lottery that runs weekly.  I won 9 euros.  Not El Gordo, but still a nice surprise and better than nothing.


  1. It amazes me how you can take a tiny slice of life in Spain and turn it into an interesting
    story. Too bad on the lose -maybe you'll have better luck next time!

  2. Com es diria a Espanya : "mal de muchos, consuelo de todos" (pain of many, the comfort of all), Dvora.
    A tu no t'ha tocat "El Gordo", a mi tampoc, però no passa res.

    Probably next year we will have more luck.

    Happy new year! :)

  3. Thanks Evie, for your support!

    And yes, Trini, maybe we will both win next year. Isn't there another lottery for New Year or Kings? El Nino?