No austerity for Spain's $3 bln "El Gordo" winners

Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:53am EST
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MADRID (Reuters Life!) - Spain's "El Gordo," one of the world's biggest lotteries, gave out 2.3 billion euros ($3 billion) in Christmas prizes on Wednesday with Spaniards spending almost the same as last year on tickets.

The top prize this year was 3 million euros, going to the series of tickets with the number 79,250. Because the tickets are sold in a series of 10, only those who paid 200 euros for the whole strip get the full prize.

Newspaper photos showed one winner, a bar owner in Barcelona, spraying champagne in the street after winning a fraction of El Gordo, which he said he would share among his customers.

The winning numbers were sung out by school children during a television presentation which awarded prizes to over 26,000 winners. El Gordo, Spanish for "The Fat One," is designed so as many people as possible across Spain get a win.

Crisis-hit Spaniards kept up spending on the huge Christmas lottery this year, in the hope of adding some sparkle to festive celebrations blighted by unemployment and debt, a legacy of the global financial crisis.

Long lines of ticket buyers have snaked around city centers for weeks, rivaling the benefit and welfare queues of a country where close to one in five are unemployed and household debt as a proportion of income has nearly doubled over the past decade.

The government also knows just what a draw the lottery is as its most lucrative public enterprise and plans to sell a 30 percent stake in the business next year as it battles Spain's national debt problems.

(Reporting by Itziar Reinlein and Nigel Davies, editing by Paul Casciato)