Huge Spanish Christmas lottery provides distraction from virus

MADRID – Spaniards seeking respite from the gloom of the pandemic turned their attention on Wednesday to a rite that for more than two centuries has marked the start of the holiday season: the country’s exceptional Christmas lottery, known as “El Gordo” or “Le Gros.”

The raffle, held annually since 1812, has distributed a total of 2.4 billion euros ($2.7 billion) in prizes this year, or 70% of ticket sales proceeds.

The holder of the highest number – number 86148 this year – receives 400,000 euros ($450,000) or approximately 328,000 euros after tax ($370,000).

Javier Moñino Paniagua, a lottery ticket seller at a stand in Madrid’s Atocha central station, said his outlet sold tickets that brought in a total of 520 million euros ($588 million ).

The winners of those tickets are likely scattered across the country as the stand is right next to the platform where high-speed trains depart from to many parts of Spain, he said.

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He said he bought tickets himself but missed the top prize.

People queue for hours on the days leading up to the lottery to snatch their 20 euro tickets from the most popular vendors.

Some buy them for themselves or as gifts for others. Co-workers, relatives or friends also pool money to buy them, with their eyes on the prize-sharing.

Other lotteries have larger individual prizes, but the Spanish Christmas Lottery, held annually on December 22, is ranked as the richest in the world for total prizes at stake.

Despite a growing number of coronavirus cases – Spain marked its pandemic record for new infections on Tuesday, with nearly 50,000 reported in one day – spectators returned to Madrid’s Teatro Real opera house for the draw after last year’s break.

In keeping with tradition, children at Madrid’s San Ildefonso school shout out the winners’ numbers, followed by jubilant street and bar scenes where the winners celebrate with bottles of sparkling wine.

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The lottery is run by the state and supports several charities.

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