Cash-strapped Spaniards bet on Christmas lottery win

Wed Nov 23, 2011 1:19pm EST
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By Judy MacInnes

MADRID (Reuters) - Millions are out of work and a recession looms, all the more reason for Spaniards to dig deep into their pockets to gamble on the famous El Gordo (Fat One) Christmas lottery, the world's biggest jackpot, which will make a record payout this year.

"Things are tough this year, but I am definitely going to get a Christmas lottery ticket.. even if it's just one decimo," said Raquel, a 50-year-old taxi driver. The smallest lottery unit sold is a tenth of a ticket, or decimo, for 20 euros ($26.99).

This year alone the El Gordo Draw will pay out 2.5 billion euros to over 1,202,490 cash prize winners in Spain and around the world. First prize is worth 4 million euros, the highest amount ever and up 33 percent from a year ago. Sales are expected to match last year's despite the economic crisis, said lottery operator Loterias y Apuestas del Estado (LAE).

The tickets, drawn on December 22, are sold in 4,100 official kiosks throughout the country but can also be bought in a further 6,400 outlets such as newspaper kiosks. Local bars and shops also sell decimos.

Even in gloomy economic times, Spain has been battered by the euro zone debt crisis and has the highest jobless rate in the European union, 90 percent of adult Spaniards play the Christmas lottery pooling money with workmates or friends from the neighborhood bar.

In the remote northern Spanish village of Sort, which means "luck" in the local Catalan language, Xavier Gabriel, owner of "The Golden Witch" lottery outlet, has sold out of El Gordo tickets and is now focused on the annual January 5 "El Nino" draw.

"We can't close on Saturdays for lunch... We had 200 motorbikes, 500 cars and eight coaches bringing people up here for El Gordo ticket and it was the same thing on Sundays," Gabriel said.

"The Golden Witch" is the most successful lottery outlet in Spain in terms of sales and sold the winning El Gordo number in 2003.   Continued...

<p>People queue up to buy "El Gordo" lottery tickets in downtown Madrid November 16, 2011. REUTERS/Susana Vera</p>