El Gordo brings rare smiles in a failing economy

World's largest lottery sees champagne corks popping as its spreads the winnings around

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 December, 2013, 10:16pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 December, 2013, 11:14pm


Champagne corks popped around Spain as jubilant winners celebrated scooping up prizes in the country's US$3.4 billion Christmas lottery, the world's richest.

One ticket-holder who slept in on Sunday morning said he had leapt up from his bed in surprise after hearing the television announce his ticket number for El Gordo (The Fat One) - the lottery's top prize of €400,000 (HK$4.19 million)

Raul Clavero, 27, a mechanic living in the Madrid suburb of Leganes, then realised that four other members of his family had also bought tickets with the same numbers.

Millions of Spaniards had been glued to their televisions as prizemoney was distributed in a four-hour TV show. Unlike lotteries that offer one large jackpot, Spain's yuletide draw sprinkles a variety of winnings on thousands of ticketholders.

Tales of joy and celebration were widely broadcast on television stations, providing the struggling population with a rare bit of joy after another year of a brutal financial crisis.

Pay the mortgage, that’s the first thing, and then just enjoy the rest

Before Spain's property-led economic boom imploded in 2008, ticket buyers often talked about spending their winnings on new cars, beach homes or fancy holidays in exotic places, but now many are just hoping to avoid having their homes or cars repossessed.

"We jumped out of bed and ran out," Clavero said, still looking shell-shocked two hours later. He added that he would "pay the mortgage, that's the first thing, and then just enjoy the rest".

Winning El Gordo tickets this year were sold in at least eight locations throughout the country, including Madrid, Barcelona and the northern industrial city of Modragon, where electrical appliance manufacturer Fagor Electrodomesticos filed for bankruptcy in October.

The second-biggest winning tickets were worth €125,000 each and all 10 of those were sold in the town of Granadilla de Abona on the Canary Islands resort of Tenerife.

The lottery had one change this year. For the first time, the taxman will claim 20 per cent of winnings above €2,500, as the Spanish government strives to right an economy saddled with soaring unemployment of 26 per cent and the burden of that on the state coffers.