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WHAT IS THE SPANISH CHRISTMAS LOTTERY?

Every year just before Christmas the Spanish Christmas Lottery (often mistakenly called “El Gordo”) makes international headlines with its unrivalled €2 billion + pay out and colourful pictures of families and friends celebrating their wins in the streets of cities, towns and villages across Spain. Read on to find out everything you ever wanted to know about Loteria de Navidad, the world famous Spanish Christmas Lottery!

WHAT IS THE SPANISH CHRISTMAS LOTTERY AND EL GORDO?

Many foreigners make the mistake of calling Spanish Christmas Lottery “El Gordo”, however this is a misnomer. El Gordo translates into English as “the Fat One” or “the Big One” and in fact only refers to the jackpot. Calling the jackpot “El Gordo” is not exclusive to the Spanish Christmas Lottery (Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad), in fact it’s also used to describe the grand prize for a number of weekly local and regional Spanish lottos.

HOW DO I PLAY THE SPANISH CHRISTMAS LOTTERY?

The Spanish Christmas Lottery is a bit different from the lotteries you are probably used to playing. It is a true “lottery” as opposed to a “lotto” like EuroMillions, EuroJackpot, Mega Millions, Powerball or most national or state lotteries. A true lottery is very similar to what we now usually call a raffle – there is a set number of allocated winning numbers, there is only one draw and there are no rollovers.

Different “Series” of the same numbers are sold in cities, towns and villages across Spain by licensed dealers in a variety of locations. Even small villages will usually have a designated lottery seller who will go door to door to ensure everyone remembers to buy their share of a ticket. This is how there are multiple winners of each prize: one El Gordo ticket from one series might be sold in Madrid and another one with the same winning numbers from a different series might be purchased in Cadiz for example – both players will have the same numbers but from different series and win the same prize. The number of series which is printed changes each year depending on how many total tickets are sold. In Spain superstitious lottery players will often queue for hours to buy tickets from kiosks which are selling “lucky numbers” and these providers often sell out weeks or even months before the draw.

You can buy a full ticket or billet for €200 but most Spanish prefer to buy multiple decimos (1/10th shares) for €20 each. Not only does this increase their chances of winning a prize but it lets them play with different groups of family, friends, colleagues, club members, team mates and more. Participations are sold in even smaller denominations and are often given away as Christmas gifts to employees, customers and children. When you play the Spanish Christmas Lottery online you can buy full tickets, half-tickets, quarter-tickets, decimos or smaller participations without needing to find anyone to share with. However if you want to hunt the El Gordo like a true Spanish player undoubtedly the best way to participate is as part of several groups.

Whether you buy your entry you will be assigned a 5 digit number. However when you play the Spanish Christmas Lottery over the internet you have the freedom to choose whichever number you like as online sellers are not allotted a specific series of tickets. There are many more ways to win with the Spanish Christmas Lottery than most lottos – prizes are awarded not just for matching the numbers but also for having tickets with numbers which proceed or follow the winning digits. That means a single winning lottery number can pay out in multiple ways!

HOW OLD IS THE SPANISH CHRISTMAS LOTTERY?

The Spanish Christmas Lottery has been running every year since 1812 making it the world’s 2nd oldest continuously operating lotto (behind the Dutch state lottery - Staatsloterij). Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad was officially created to fund an orphanage for the children of civil servants although it is believed that much of the revenue initially went not to the orphans but to fighting the soldiers of Napoleon Bonaparte in the Peninsular War!

WHEN IS THE SPANISH CHRISTMAS LOTTERY DRAW?

The Spanish Christmas Lottery draw takes place every year on December 22nd although tickets go on sale many months earlier. Ticket sales officially end at 15:00 UCT/16:00 GMT on December 21st although if you buy online you can still participate right up to the day of the draw. There are a limited number of tickets printed in multiple series each year, so it very possible for ticket providers to “sell out” and popular kiosks which have sold winning numbers in the past are often completely sold out weeks or even months before the draw. Again, this is not an issue playing online as tickets are digital you may choose any numbers you like without having to wait in line or risking having your lucky number sell out.

WHERE DOES THE SPANISH CHRISTMAS LOTTERY TAKE PLACE?

The Spanish Christmas Lottery has usually been held in the Loteria Nacional in Madrid, however in recent years it has taken place in different venues including the Palacio Municipal de Congresos de Madrid and the Teatro Real (“Royal Theatre”) where it will be held again in 2014. Although the televised program lasts 3 to 3 1/2hours the festivities go on all day and last well into the night after the draw is completed.

IS THE SPANISH CHRISTMAS LOTTERY THE BIGGEST IN THE WORLD?

The Spanish Christmas Lottery is the world’s biggest lottery based on the number of participants and the total amount of money paid out (expected to be over €2.5 billion in 2014!). The El Gordo jackpot awards players holding winning tickets €4 million each - which is not relatively high compared to super lottos like EuroMillions or Eurjackpot. However, since this smaller is amount is not awarded to just one lucky winner but to thousands of players it improves your chances of winning drastically – in fact no other jackpot on earth comes close to giving you as good odds at becoming a millionaire as El Gordo!

WHY IS EL GORDO SO POPULAR?

The Spanish Christmas Lottery isn’t just a lotto, it is a national institution! In Spain the drawing is one of the most highly anticipated social events of the year with family and friends gathering in homes, taverns and plazas across the country to watch the results. In fact, surveys show that over 90% of the Spanish population buy tickets to take part in the celebration!

Some Spaniards look forward to Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad all year long as a chance to spend time with family and friends watching the drama of the lottery draw unfold! Revellers will often dress in their finest clothes or colourful costumes to watch the live draw while raucous El Gordo parties often carry long into the night as winners celebrate their new found fortunes! Therefore you should view the Spanish lottery as more than a simple lotto – it is a national celebration and its popularity comes not only from the prospect of winning money but from sharing the excitement of winning with loved ones.

The Spanish Christmas Lottery is also appealing because it is undoubtedly the most egalitarian lottery in the world. Because tickets are usually bought as “decimos” (1/10th) and even smaller “participations” everyone can afford to take part. And with a 1 in 6 chances of having a winning ticket most Spanish children have experienced being a lottery winner at least once playing participations they receive as early Christmas presents before they are teenagers!

10 MORE FUN FACTS ABOUT EL GORDO:

  • Although the official line is that the Spanish Christmas lottery was created to help pay for the orphans of civil servants in Madrid the real reason for its inception may not have been quite so benevolent. In 1812, Spain had been embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars for 5 years and was trying to resist an invasion by the French Grande Armée under Napoleon Bonaparte. The lottery was likely created as a clever/devious way to raise funds for the Treasury which at the time was almost completely depleted by military spending, under the guise of a charity. It’s suspected that very little if any of the money from the first Christmas lottery was actually given to the orphanage although after the war was over donating to the San Ildefonso School became an important tradition.
  • In Spain it’s traditionally considered good luck for people to rub their lottery tickets against the belly of a pregnant woman, the back of a hunchback or the door knob of a previous winner.
  • Certain kiosks have been famous across Spain for selling winning tickets for the Spanish Christmas Lottery. For example, every year Spanish people line up around the block to buy their tickets at La Bruxia d’Or which has become renowned for producing lottery winners.
  • El Gordo has happened every year since 1812. Even when the country was torn apart by the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939 the Christmas Lottery took place although it was held by the Republican government in Valencia, their legal government headquarters after November 1936 during the height of the conflict.
  • There have been two winning ticket numbers which have been the El Gordo twice: 20297 in 1903 and 2006 and 15640 in 1956 and 1978.
  • In 2011, all 250 members of the small village of Sodeto bought several winning El Gordo tickets which paid each of them between 100,000 and 1,000,000 Euro each. All that is except for Costas Mitsotakis, a Greek film maker who had been living in the village for 7 years after falling in love with a local seniorita. As a Greek, Costas did not share the Spanish obsession for the Christmas lottery and because his house was on the outskirts of town none of the village door-to-door sellers had come to his residence. However don’t feel too badly for Mr. Mitsotakis. When he saw the enormous celebrations erupting on the streets of Sodero he grabbed his video camera has produced a popular feature documentary called "Cunado Toco" – "When Touched" – about the people of the village and their amazing turn of good fortune! Watch the trailer for the documentary here.
  • There are many superstitions surrounding El Gordo. Every year 66666, “El Diablo’s number”, is an oddly popular choice for the normally conservative Roman Catholic Spaniards. In 2009, 25609 was the number most in fashion as it was the date of Michael Jackson’s death the previous summer. Certain villages and towns seem to produce a surprising amount of winning tickets while some places never seem to win anything at all. The results of the Spanish Lottery are often interpreted by the superstitious as an indicator of a town’s good or bad fortunes for the coming year.
  • In 1812, the first year of the Spanish Christmas Lottery, the El Gordo jackpot would have paid out roughly 500 years of an average Spaniards annual wages at the time!
  • All football teams in Spain will have a set of official El Gordo numbers each year. Playing the same numbers as you favourite football club is immensely popular amongst many Spanish footie fans with Real Madrid being the most successful team to date.
  • To help accommodate the thousands of Spaniards who are jobless due to the current economic crisis and therefore cannot afford to participate in the Christmas Lottery, the Spanish government has proposed a special online lottery specifically for the unemployed. Called the “Star of Fortune” the lottery would be free to enter and take place a week before the Spanish Christmas Lottery on December 15th with the top prize being 36,000 euros and a trip for two to the Caribbean. The proposed lottery has been designed specifically so that Spaniards who are having a tough financial time and cannot partake in the celebrations of the Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad will not “lose hope”.