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Tiny village hits El Gordo lottery jackpot

Dec 23, 2006, 8:54 pm

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El Gordo

A remote Spanish farming village today became several million dollars richer after each of its 25 inhabitants won a share of the top prize in the world's biggest lottery, El Gordo.

The church bells rang in Rebollo de Duero, in the central Spanish province of Soria, as the handful of farming families celebrated their good fortune.

Soria is one of western Europe's most sparsely inhabited regions, with many villages abandoned completely by their inhabitants over the past half century.

"I don't know what everybody is going to do with it," said Mayor José María García, who admitted to being several hundred thousand euros richer after the prize draw. "We'll try not to start arguing."

With the top prize shared among the thousands of people who buy shares in the winning number, the win was being celebrated in half a dozen places around the country.

It was the biggest payment ever by the Christmas lottery El Gordo, which has been going for almost two centuries. Today it gave out more than €2.1bn (US$2.76 billion) across Spain, divided into more than 2 million prizes.

Unlike other lotteries, El Gordo creates few millionaires, as most people rarely hold more than a €20 (US$26)share in the winning number. That number pays out 15,000 times the money paid for shares in it, meaning that most of those holding the winning number will have won €300,000 (US$394,000) for a €20 (US$26) share.

The €1,200 (US$1,576) share in the winning number that was bought by villagers and visitors to Rebollo de Duero will become €18 million (US$23.6 million) in prize money.

All the shares in a winning number are usually sold in one town, but this year's winning number had been sold in many other parts of Spain.

Some of the prize money went to the eastern resort town of Benidorm, where lottery officials said British tourists could be among the winners. "A lot of tourists buy in here," said Severiano Balaguer, the lottery vendor who sold the winning number in Benidorm.

An estimated three out of four Spaniards buy tickets for El Gordo. The draw, televised live over several hours, is an essential part of the Spanish Christmas. The draw, carried out by children from a Madrid school who sing the numbers aloud as balls are plucked from a huge cage, marks the beginning of a festive season that lasts until Epiphany, on January 6.

Excitement builds up for weeks before the draw as workers and relatives pitch in to buy tickets together, while clubs, shops and bars sell shares in their tickets to clients.

Spaniards are among the biggest gamblers in Europe. "I think that Spaniards, like everyone else, need to dream," said Mr. Gabriel.

Anatomy of 'the fat one'

  • Spain's El Gordo Christmas lottery was first drawn in 1812. Only Spaniards in the parts of the country not occupied by Napoleon's French army were able to play for the prize of 8,000 pesos.
  • The lottery draw replaced an earlier system that had been operating since 1763.
  • El Gordo is run by the state lottery, which hands out €2.1 billion (US$2.76 billion) in prizes but keeps €660 million (US$867 million) profit. That money goes to the exchequer and is part of the state's annual income. (The exchequer is the government department responsible for receiving and dispersing public revenue.)
  • Spaniards spend an average of almost €70 (US$92) each buying El Gordo tickets.
  • In the north-eastern province of Lleida, the average individual spend is €133 (US$175).
  • Shares in 66,000 separate numbers are put on sale months in advance.
  • Each number is separated into at least 1,800 shares, which cost €20 (US$26) or less.
  • Winners receive 150,000 times the value of their share in the winning number. Numerous other numbers also receive smaller prizes.

Schoolchildren sing the winning El Gordo lottery numbers.
Schoolchildren sing the winning El Gordo lottery numbers.

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