Spain's El Gordo lottery brings respite from political worries

MADRID, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Lottery fever gripped Spain on Tuesday as thousands celebrated wins in the El Gordo lottery draw with prizes totalling 2.24 billion euros ($2.45 billion), bringing relief from political woes after an inconclusive election.

Winners from across the country flocked to local lottery outlets to celebrate their good fortune in the traditional Christmas lottery draw, the world’s largest.

This year’s biggest winner of the top prize, known as El Gordo, or The Fat One, is in the coastal tourist town of Roquetas de Mar, in the southern region of Almeria, where a group of residents will now share out a 4-million-euro prize.

Every year millions of Spaniards club together with friends and family to vie for a possible slice of the over 200-year-old lottery, which pays out 400,000 euros for every 20 euros spent on a number.

This year’s lottery, like others a huge collective affair involving offices and communities across the country, provided a distraction from worries over Sunday’s vote which ended almost four decades of two-party rule and transformed the political landscape.

Pools of office workers and friends often split each number with the final prize being shared out accordingly.

People were glued to TV screens for hours as schoolchildren plucked lottery balls from a rotating drum, singing out the resulting numbers in a chant that filled offices and homes.

Spaniards spent close to 2.6 billion euros on tickets this year, according to the government agency that runs the draw, with many people waiting for hours in queues that snaked around city blocks.

Ticket sales were higher than last year, a sign that Spaniards are loosening their purse strings as the economy rebounds from a crisis that left nearly one in four workers out of a job.

$1 = 0.9145 euros Reporting by Angus Berwick; Editing by Paul Day and Richard Balmforth