El Gordo lottery

STANDFIRST: Next Thursday, all eyes in Spain will be focused on the El Gordo (The Fat One) draw! With more than €2.5 billion to be won, Jane Plunkett and Jennifer leighfield take an inside peep at the biggest lottery in the world.

WITH 180 jackpots of €4 million each (€400,000 per ticket), 180 second prizes of €1.25 million each, 1,794 prizes of €1,000 each, and a further €1.25 billion in cash prizes, it is easy to identify why El Gordo is nationally and globally called The Fat One.

With tickets priced at €20, not just in the present recessionary times, it is common for families, friends – even villages – to buy tickets together, split the cost and share the winnings.

With tickets on sale from July until the day of the draw, some keen followers try to buy tickets from various parts of Spain, with one Andalucia family ensuring each year that they buy individual tickets through a network of friends in various areas including Galicia, Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, Sevilla and San Sebastian.

Each year the lottery organisation pays back 70 per cent in prize money resulting in El Gordo offering the best lottery odds of a win worldwide… even though lottery games are high risk!

Odds and evens Tickets are sold in the street as well as online – according to some reports leading to sales in 140 countries – and as well as winners benefiting, a whopping €60 million plus of money collected goes to charities, including the Red Cross.

A recent study of the gambling habits of Spaniards revealed that people will spend an average of €71 on lottery tickets this year, €3 more than last year.

According to the same study, while women prefer even numbers, men prefer odd. Popular endings this year are 13, 69 and 666, while by province tickets ending in five are favourite in Madrid, seven in Barcelona and nine in Valencia.

One number which has almost sold out is 51011, the date the Duchess of Alba got married, and 20101, coinciding with ETA’s announcement of ending violence and Ghadafi’s death is also popular.

El Gordo was introduced in 1812 by the Cortes de Cadiz, the country’s legislative body, to increase state income. Almost 50 years earlier, lotteries were initially introduced to Spain by King Carlos III to raise finances in general, including for the nation’s Napoleonic War. El Gordo prize money has touched people from all walks of life.

In 1930, as the world sank deeper into the Great Depression, part of the year’s main 30 million-peseta prize went to a garage owner and his mechanics, who had each chipped in 22 cents to gain today’s equivalent of about €1,200 each. In the same year, a portion of the fourth prize was won by Ramon Franco, whose brother Francisco later became Spain’s long-reigning dictator.

In 2008, a bar in Soria, north of Madrid, sold all 1,950 of the third prize tickets, spreading €97 million among customers, family and friends. Television images showed the bar owner, Ricardo Jimenez, being showered with sparkling wine by celebrating clients.

“I’m still shaking,” said Jimenez, who personally bought 15 tickets leading to prize money of €750,000. “But I’ll keep on working. I’ll share this with my three children.”

With the familiar saying ‘you’ve gotta be in it to win it’, more than 30 million people are estimated to be lined up for this year’s draw.Big fat nothing.

As schoolchildren draw numbers from two large gold drums in the Grand Salon of the Spanish National Lottery in Madrid on December 22, the nation’s eyes will be watching… and their hearts will be hoping!

But, remember that El Gordo will come to a big fat nothing for the majority of ticket buyers with mathematicians putting the probability of breaking even at less than 6 per cent.

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