Vertically challenged Lottery street vendor - Cartagena, Spain
The Spanish love lotteries.
Many kiosks can be seen selling various forms of lottery ticket and you will often be approached in the streets or bars by people selling tickets for various smaller lotteries throughout the year.
Three of the most common legitimate Spanish lotteries are “El Gordo,” one of the largest lottery drawings in the world, and “La Primitiva” and “El Niño.”
El Gordo however is the mother of all lotteries.
These really are lotteries, not sweepstakes, and are a part of Loterías y Apuestas del Estado, meaning that they are government endorsed.
To enter and win “El Gordo,” you must be a resident of Spain and purchase your ticket within the country unless that ticket is bought via legitimate internet agency (who then does the claiming for you).
There are MANY mail and on-line scams. Do not hook up with anyone who claims they want to be your partner and then wants you to send them money to buy lottery tickets. If that person happens to win and they meet eligibility requirements, they don’t legally have to give you a dime, even though they promised you the moon. There are legitimate agencies however that you can deal with. Just do your homework first, before shelling out money.
After the drawing be very leery of anything that comes from anybody but that agency saying that you won the Spanish lottery.
There have been lotteries in Spain since the first was established by King Carlos III as far back as 1763. Indeed, the first ‘Christmas edition’ of the lottery was in 1812. The actual title, Sorteo de Navidad, was initially used in 1892.
Government sanctioned lotteries are a way of raising government revenues without all the different kinds of taxes we have in the USA.
It was estimated last year that 98% of all Spanish adults participated in El Gordo, which meant that the total amount of the prize pool was an incredible €2.25 billion, which equates to 70% of the sales of tickets.
The probability of picking up some sort of prize is about 15%, which makes it quite a worthwhile gamble, in the scheme of things. The thing that makes this lottery really really big is the fact that The Spanish lottery does not tax any of its prizes.
You don't pick numbers in the traditional way; instead you buy ready printed tickets with numbers already on them. Tickets themselves are expensive - €200 each ( about $275. US).
Each ticket number however is available in 10 'series' - that is, 10 lots of the same ticket number. El Gordo tickets are roughly the size of a sheet of paper, and are also split into 10 smaller tickets called 'decimas'. You are allowed to buy either the ticket of 10 decimas, or you can buy just part of the ticket.
The prize you win depends on how many decimas you bought, so if you only bought 5, you win half the ticket prize. But what this means is you would need to buy 100 decimas to hold the entire ticket number outright. At 20 Euros for a decima this is not cheap.
It is very common for families and friends, even entire Spanish villages to pool their lottery money together, even just to buy a single decima. It's also common to spread your purchase by buying a single decima across multiple different lottery ticket numbers (better chances of winning in exchange for a smaller piece of the prize).
The tickets for El Gordo go on the sale any time from July or August onwards so it’s not necessary to make sure you’re in Spain for Christmas to be able to participate. Because of the phenomenal number of tickets sold, and because the tickets only have 5 digit numbers, there are quite a few winning tickets.
During four and five hours every December 22nd, Televisión Española and Radio Nacional de España will capture the nation’s attention by broadcasting the whole event live from Madrid, where little boys from the San Ildefonso Orphanage will draw out the wooden balls and sing the numbers out to the waiting world. To watch this for five hours and end up winning nothing must be the most depressing scenario imaginable.
I live in Spain for 5 years (a long time ago) and my wife was a Spanish citizen. We therefore were able to play El Gordo, and some of the others, without having to contract with a middle-man. We won a number of times, but unfortuantely there were always pretty small amounted because we could never afford to buy whole tickets.
Not everyone wins a fortune, though. Those who just about get their initial stake back tend to spend it by buying a ticket for El Niño, the second largest draw of the year which takes place on January 6th, as do most people who play the lottery anywhere.
In 2006, for example, there were 180 first prize winners – each one taking 3 million Euros. So, even if you had a decimo of a winner, it would still be worth €300,000. Obviously, it’s quite common for families or work colleagues to club together to buy a ticket – or even regulars at a local bar.
You’ll frequently see signs saying "Jugamos con el numero"… inviting you to pool your money with them. As a tourist or visitor, I would not be inclined to try this!
The word the Spanish use for winning the lottery is "tocar" (touch) so they may say "Esperamos que toce aquí" ("We hope it touches here").
This type of communal gambling can mean that whole villages or groups of workers can suddenly become wealthy.
In 2005, the whole town of Vic, north of Barcelona, chipped in and bought many whole tickets, and won! They ending up sharing 500 million Euros amongst its inhabitants.
As the wealth is often spread out among a group of people rather than a single person, a win in a small community can have a profound effect on the local economy.