‘The Fat One’ sings: Spain’s Christmas lottery rolls out millions in prizes

Known as ‘El Gordo’, the world’s richest lottery is set to pay out close to $3bn in prizes.

People across Spain tuned in to watch the televised draw of the Christmas lottery known as “El Gordo” (‘The Fat One’), as pupils from Madrid’s San Ildefonso school began singing out the prize-winning numbers.

A total of 2.6 billion euros ($2.86bn) in prizes will be distributed this year, most in small amounts, as Friday’s announcements were sung out, as is the tradition.

Most people buy fractions of full tickets, with the most common purchase a 20-euro ($22) share, called “decimo”, offering a top prize of 400,000 euros ($440,000).

The lucky number turned out to be 88008. Those who bought 20-euro tickets with that number each won 400,000 euros, or about 325,000 euros after tax, it was announced later on Friday.

The two-centuries-old tradition kicks off the festive season and was televised from Madrid’s Teatro Real opera house, with tens of thousands of people tuning in to radio stations and watching online.

Purchasing and sharing tickets in the run-up to Christmas is a much-loved tradition among families and friends, and is celebrated in bars, sports clubs and on the streets.

Children at the school in the Spanish capital picked the numbers from among 100,000 small wooden balls drawn from two large golden rolling drums, showing the ticket numbers and their corresponding prizes. They sing out both figures, that cadence well-known across the country.

The event lasted close to four hours as ticket holders waited in anticipation for the jackpot known as “El Gordo” to be called out.

Spain lottery
People in costumes wait before the start of the draw of Spain’s traditional Christmas lottery ‘El Gordo’, at Teatro Real, Madrid, Spain, on December 22, 2023 [Susana Vera/ Reuters]

While other lotteries may have bigger individual top prizes, El Gordo, held each year on December 22, is ranked as the world’s richest for the total prize money involved.

Tickets went on sale in July and many people like to buy a “decimo” in the seaside resort or town where they spend their summer holidays.

Last year, Spaniards spent an average of 67.11 euros ($74) on tickets, according to the state lottery firm that organises the draw.

Spain established its national lottery as a charity in 1763 during the reign of King Carlos III. Its objective later became to shore up state coffers.

The December 22 lottery began in 1812 and children have been singing the prizes since the beginning.

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