Spanish lottery hands out more than $3 billion

AP News
Posted: Dec 22, 2009 9:38 AM

Spain's Christmas lottery showered hundreds of thousand of euros (dollars) in prize money on the country's capital Tuesday.

The top prize of the lottery, ranked among the world's richest, went to holders of tickets bearing the number 78294. The number appears on 1,950 tickets, and each holder stood to win euro300,000 ($430,000).

Organizers said the tickets bearing that number were sold in a lottery office in the central Madrid area of Cuatro Caminos.

Two of the lucky ticket holders were immigrant workers.

"You go to bed at night with nothing and the next day you're a millionaire!" joked telephone shop worker Rafael Lara, 24, from the Dominican Republic, who won euro300,000 ($430,000).

"When I found out, I didn't know what to do, how to react. I rang my mother and she can't believe it. I still don't know what I'll do with the money," he told The Associated Press.

Just as jubilant was unemployed 50-year-old Ecuadorean Sabino Calderon, who also won euro300,000 ($430,000).

"I rang my family in Ecuador and they can't believe it," said Sabino, who has five children.

"This is a present," he said. "I will invest the money in a business and also give some to my people in Ecuador."

Thousands of other people won smaller prizes in the lottery, which is known as "El Gordo" (The Fat One) and is held each year on Dec. 22. The lottery dishes out euro2.32 billion ($3.33 billion) in prize money.

The numbers were drawn by pupils of Madrid's Saint Ildefonso School in a nationally televised draw.

Although other lotteries have bigger individual top prizes, the Gordo is ranked as the world's richest for the total sum paid out. Rather than a single jackpot, the lottery aims for a share-out in which thousands of numbers yield at least some prize money.

The Gordo is a favorite holiday tradition in Spain. Excitement builds up for weeks before the draw as workers and relatives pitch in to buy tickets while clubs, shops and bars sell shares in their tickets to clients.

This year, it sold an estimated euro2.7 billion euros nationwide _ nearly 3 percent down on last year, the state lottery agency said.

The agency estimates per-capita spending of some euro60 ($86) on the Gordo this year.

Seventy percent of lottery sales goes out in prizes, and 30 percent goes to the state.

Spain established its national lottery system as a charity in 1763, but its objective gradually shifted toward filling state coffers.

Spain holds another big lottery Jan. 6 to mark the Feast of the Epiphany. It is known as "El Nino" (The Child), in reference to the baby Jesus.