* Spaniards dig deep to find Christmas lottery money in
* Record 4 mln euros prize for winning ticket
* Sales match those of 2010 despite crisis
By Judy MacInnes
MADRID, Nov 23 Millions are out of work
and a recession looms, all the more reason for Spaniards to dig
deep into their pockets to gamble on the famous El Gordo (Fat
One) Christmas lottery, the world's biggest jackpot, which will
make a record payout this year.
"Things are tough this year, but I am definitely going to
get a Christmas lottery ticket.. even if its just one decimo,"
said Raquel, a 50-year-old taxi driver. The smallest lottery
unit sold is a tenth of a ticket, or decimo, for 20 euros
This year alone the El Gordo Draw will pay out 2.5 billion
euros to over 1,202,490 cash prize winners in Spain and around
the world. First prize is worth 4 million euros, the highest
amount ever and up 33 percent from a year ago. Sales are
expected to match last year's despite the economic crisis, said
lottery operator Loterias y Apuestas del Estado (LAE).
The tickets, drawn on Dec. 22, are sold in 4,100 official
kiosks throughout the country but can also be bought in a
further 6,400 outlets such as newspaper kiosks. Local bars and
shops also sell decimos.
Even in gloomy economic times, Spain has been battered by
the euro zone debt crisis and has the highest jobless rate in
the European union, 90 percent of adult Spaniards play the
Christmas lottery pooling money with workmates or friends from
the neighborhood bar.
In the remote northern Spanish village of Sort, which means
"luck" in the local Catalan language, Xavier Gabriel, owner of
"The Golden Witch" lottery outlet, has sold out of El Gordo
tickets and is now focused on the annual Jan. 5 "El Nino" draw.
"We can't close on Saturdays for lunch... We had 200
motorbikes, 500 cars and eight coaches bringing people up here
for El Gordo ticket and it was the same thing on Sundays,"
"The Golden Witch" is the most successful lottery outlet in
Spain in terms of sales and sold the winning El Gordo number in
Gabriel has an established base of overseas clients who buy
their Christmas lottery tickets over the internet.
DEFYING THE CRISIS
Becoming a millionaire for Christmas or even having the
chance to share in one of the millions of cash prizes is
appealing to many Spaniards as they struggle to weather the
worst economic crisis in generations.
The Spanish Organisation for the Blind (ONCE), which runs a
weekly lottery, sold out in Madrid for its draw on Nov. 11 this
Spain's centre-right People's Party stormed to a crushing
victory on Sunday over the Socialists whom voters blamed for the
country's economic woes.
Prime Minister-elect Mariano Rajoy warned the country,
however, that "difficult times are coming" as the new government
tackles a steep public deficit threatening to push Spain towards
a eurozone bailout.
Since the Fat One went on sale this year queues have been
forming outside some of the most famous lottery kiosks in
Spain's capital city Madrid.
"I always buy El Gordo at Dona Manolita. They've sold
several winning numbers," said 45-year old Maria, currently
unemployed, queued up at the kiosk in Puerta del Sol square in
central Madrid, also the setting for the "Indignados" (or
Indignant) protests against austerity measures earlier this
Some cash-strapped locals have made a beeline for the few
outlets where they can use a credit card to buy their ticket.
"But there are not many of these outlets in Spain. It's cash
in hand," said Juan Gallardo, Commercial Director at the
Spain will be glued to radios and television sets on Dec.
22, listening to the monotonous chant of voices of a group of
children from the San Idelfonso college, dressed in navy blue
and grey uniforms, who sing out the winning numbers and prizes.
"It's the only draw where you really have a chance to win
something...and you can see it on TV," Raquel the Madrid taxi
In 2010, El Gordo raised 2.7 billion euros in revenues for
the state. Sales fell 0.2 percent in 2010 from 2009.
"The lottery is part of the Spanish DNA," said LAE chairman
Aurelio Martinez earlier this year at a presentation of the
planned sale of 30 percent of the lottery operator. The sale was
pulled in September due to tough market conditions.
($1 = 0.7410 euros)
(Reporting By Judy MacInnes; additional reporting by Blanca