Spanish Christmas Lottery
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The Spanish Christmas Lottery (officially Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad Spanish: [sort'eo eɣstraorðin'arjo ðe naβið'að] or simply Lotería de Navidad Spanish: [loter'ia ðe naβið'að]) is a national lottery. It is organized every year since 1812 by a branch of the Spanish Public Administration, now called Loterías y Apuestas del Estado. The name Sorteo de Navidad was used for the first time in 1892.
The Spanish Christmas lottery is the second longest continuously running lottery in the world. This includes the years during the Spanish Civil War when the lottery draw was held in Valencia after the Republicans were forced to relocate their capital from Madrid. After the overthrow of the Republican government the lottery continued uninterrupted under the Franco regime.
As measured by the total prize payout, the Spanish Christmas Lottery is considered the biggest lottery worldwide. In 2012, if all of the tickets were sold, the total amount payout of prizes would be worth €2.52 billion (70% of ticket sales). The total amount of all prizes of the first category called El Gordo ("the big one") is €720 million which is distributed among 180 winning tickets (billetes) that win €4 million each.
Ticket numbers and prizes
The Christmas Lottery is based on tickets (billetes) which have 5-digit numbers, just like the regular drawing of the Spanish national lottery. Due to the enormous popularity of the game, each ticket is printed multiple times, in several so-called series. A unique 5-digit number is printed on each ticket and on the subsequent series of that ticket. For example, the ticket with the number 00001 is printed 180 times under different series numbers. Each ticket costs €200. Because this may be too expensive, the tickets are usually sold as tenths (called décimos). The price of a décimo is €20 and the payout is 10% of the published prize.
Serie - Each billete is printed up many times as with different serie numbers.
Billete - €200 each - An entire ticket of a 5-digit number, which consists of 10 décimos (tenths of a ticket).
Décimo - €20 each - One tenth of a billete. Most people purchase décimos.
On a private basis, or through associations and other organizations, it is also possible to buy or be given even smaller portions of one ticket, called "participations". Many organizations buy tickets and divide them up and sell them as participations to their customers or employees. Usually, the price of those portions is incremented by a supplement that is paid as a donation to the intermediary organization. Participations are made by writing the number and the amount paid, and signing it as proof of participation. If the ticket is a winner, anyone holding a participation will be entitled to the corresponding amount, depending on the amount they paid.
Most Spanish people hold at least a small portion of a lottery ticket in the Christmas Lottery each year, even if they do not gamble during the rest of the year. This includes tickets exchanged with family and acquaintances, or participations sold by one's employer.
In 2012 there were 180 series of 100,000 billetes (from 00000 to 99999) at €200 each. If all of the tickets were sold, ticket sales would be €3.6 billion, and prize payout would be of €2.52 billion (70% of ticket sales). For a single serie the prize structure was the following:
|1||€4,000,000||El Gordo (First Prize)||€4,000,000|
|2||€20,000||For the two numbers before and after the First Prize (approximations)||€40,000|
|2||€12,500||For the two numbers before and after the Second Prize (approximations)||€25,000|
|2||€9,600||For the two numbers before and after the Third Prize (approximations)||€19,200|
|99||€1,000||For the 99 numbers with the same first three digits of the First Prize||€99,000|
|99||€1,000||For the 99 numbers with the same first three digits of the Second Prize||€99,000|
|99||€1,000||For the 99 numbers with the same first three digits of the Third Prize||€99,000|
|198||€1,000||For the 99 numbers with the same first three digits of each of the Fourth Prizes||€198,000|
|999||€1,000||For the 999 numbers with the same two last digits as the First Prize||€999,000|
|999||€1,000||For the 999 numbers with the same two last digits as the Second Prize||€999,000|
|999||€1,000||For the 999 numbers with the same two last digits as the Third Prize||€999,000|
|9,999||€200||For the 9,999 numbers with the same last digit as the First Prize (refund)||€1,999,800|
|Total per serie||€14,000,000|
|Total for the 180 series||€2,520,000,000|
In 2012 the €4,000,000 of El Gordo were for the number 76058. The numbers 76057 and 76059 obtained the corresponding €20,000 approximation prizes. Additionally, all numbers between 76000 and 76099 (excluding El Gordo but including approximations) obtained the €1,000 prize for the numbers within the same hundred of El Gordo. All numbers ending in "58" (excluding El Gordo) obtained €1,000, and all numbers ending in "8" (excluding El Gordo) obtained a refund of €200.
The exact quantity of tickets and series, and their prices, may be different each year. For example, in 2004, there were 66,000 different numbers in 195 series. In 2005, there were 85,000 numbers in 170 series, whereas in 2006 the number of series was increased to 180. Since 2011 the are 100,000 different numbers in 180 series. Distribution of prizes can change also, as in 2002 with the introduction of the Euro, or in 2011, when El Gordo increased from €3,000,000 to €4,000,000, the Second Prize increased from €1,000,000 to €1,250,000, the Fifth Prizes increased from €50,000 to €60,000, and 20 more pedreas of €1,000 were added.
Since December 18, 1812, the Christmas Lottery drawings are held according to exactly the same procedure each year. In the past it took place in the Lotería Nacional hall of Madrid, while in 2010 and 2011 it was celebrated in the Palacio Municipal de Congresos de Madrid, and in 2012 in Teatro Real in Madrid. Pupils of the San Ildefonso school (formerly reserved for orphans of public servants) draw the numbers and corresponding prizes, singing the results aloud in front of the public. Until 1984 only boys from San Ildefonso participated in the drawing; that year Mónica Rodríguez became the first girl to sing the results, including a fourth prize of 25 million Spanish pesetas. It is a custom that the winners donate some of the money to the San Ildefonso school. The public attending the event may be dressed in lottery-related extravagant clothing and hats. The state-run Televisión Española and Radio Nacional de España, and other media outlets, broadcast the entire draw, which currently takes place on December 22 each year.
Two spherical vessels are used. The big one contains 100,000 small wooden balls, each with a unique 5-digit number on it, from 00000 to 99999. The small vessel contains 1,807 small wooden balls, each one with a prize in Euros on it:
- 1 ball for the first prize, called el Gordo.
- 1 ball for the second prize.
- 1 ball for the third prize.
- 2 balls for the fourth prizes.
- 8 balls for the fifth prizes.
- 1794 balls for the small prizes, called la Pedrea, literally "the pebble-avalanche" or "stoning".
Inscriptions on the wooden balls are nowadays made with laser, to avoid any difference in weight between them. They weigh 3 g and have a diameter of 18.8 mm. Before being thrown into the vessels, the numbers are shown to the public for anyone to check that the balls with their numbers are not missing.
As the drawing goes on, a single ball is extracted from each of the revolving spheres at the same time. One child sings the winning number, the other child sings the corresponding prize. This is repeated until all the prize-balls are connected to a number. Due to the sheer number of prizes, this procedure takes several hours. The children work in about eight to nine shifts, equal to the number of frames of numbers to be drawn.
The balls have holes on them so they would be slotted into wires in frames for later presentation. When a major prize is drawn, both children repeat their singing multiple times, and show the balls to a committee, and then to a fixed camera with two Phillips screwdriver heads mounted at the front, all before being inserted into a frame as the others. Although the drawing is by chance, the children who draw the higher prizes are applauded. Apart from the prizes drawn from the vessel, some prizes are calculated from the winning numbers (view the table with prizes above).
The two-vessels system was the traditional one in Spanish lottery, but now it is only used in the Christmas Lottery. The rest of the weekly and extraordinary draws during the year use five vessels with ten balls each (numbered 0 to 9), from where the five digits of the winning numbers are drawn.
The odds of just evening out the costs are of 10% (by matching the final digit), while chances of winning more money are about 5.3%. The prize structure makes it easier to win some money compared to other lotteries, and it is common saying that the prizes of the Christmas Lottery are well distributed all around Spain. Chances of winning El Gordo are 1 to 100,000, that is 0.001%, while chances of winning the top prize of EuroMillions are 1 in 116,531,800 or 0.0000000086%.
Non-winners will make the commonplace comment that "it's health that really matters". Those who just get their money back will often re-invest the prize in a ticket for Sorteo de El Niño, the second most important draw, held before the feast of Epiphany of Jesus on January 6.
The climax of the drawing is the moment when El Gordo is drawn. Lottery outlets usually only sell tickets for one or two numbers, so the winners of the largest prizes often live in the same town or area or work for the same company. In 2011, El Gordo was sold entirely in Grañén, Huesca, a town with about 2,000 people. In 2010, €414 million from the first prize were sold in Barcelona, and the rest of the €585 million of El Gordo was distributed between Madrid, Tenerife, Alicante, Palencia, Zaragoza, Cáceres, and Guipúzcoa. In 2006, the winning number was sold in eight different lottery outlets across Spain, while the second prize number (€100,000 per décimo) was only ever sold from a kiosk on the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. In 2005, the winning number was sold in the town of Vic in Catalonia (population 37,825), whose inhabitants shared about €500 million (€300,000 per winning décimo).
As a misconception in many non-Spanish speaking countries[where?], it is often assumed that the term El Gordo is specific for the Christmas Lottery; some even think that El Gordo is in fact the name of the lottery. However, the real meaning of El Gordo is simply "the first prize" (literally "the fat one" or more accurately "the big one"); other lotteries have their Gordo as well. To add to the confusion, there is a relatively new weekly Spanish lottery game called El Gordo de la Primitiva, which has nothing in common with the Christmas lottery, except the fact that it is organized by the Spanish public lottery entity Loterías y Apuestas del Estado.
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- (Spanish) Official 2012 site
- Rural Spanish housewife clubs win "El Gordo" lottery Reuters. 22 December 2011.