If you happen to be living in Spain or have even spent time there during the holiday season, then you’ll be very familiar with “El Gordo”. Translating to “the fat one” in English, this is the world’s biggest lottery, with a whopping $2.6 billion jackpot up for grabs.
Naturally, with numbers this stratospheric, the entire country gets gripped with so-called “Gordo-fever”, with lines forming outside official ticket vendors from as early as dawn throughout December. Walk down any street in Madrid or Barcelona during this time and expect to see throngs of people looking for a chance of striking it big.
With this year’s total prize pool being the biggest on record, ticket sales are also expected to be through the roof. Every year, the population of Spain spends roughly the equivalent of 2% of the country’s entire GDP on lottery tickets – by far the highest number in the world. This is in part because “El Gordo” (which is actually just the name of the first prize rather than the name of the lottery) is more than just a prize draw – it’s a unique cultural phenomenon in which the entire country takes part.
The lottery is a state-run enterprise, with 30% of the proceeds going to the Spanish government, while the rest is doled out in prize money. The lottery started all the way back in 1812 but supposedly originated even earlier, when King Carlos III brought the concept back to Spain from the Kingdom of Naples. The lottery has since been celebrated every single year without fail, even during the Spanish Civil War, when the Republicans held the draw in Valencia, as Madrid was no longer their capital.
Every year brings ever more pomp and ceremony. The draw is held on December 22 in the National Opera House in Madrid. The draws are taken from giant cages with thousands of wooden balls inside, with a choir of children singing out each of the numbers as they are drawn.
Part of the popularity of this lottery is also down to the likelihood of winning. Even non-Spaniards can attempt to win El Gordo online by betting on the results of the draw, and they too stand a whopping 1 in 7 chance of winning a prize. No-one ever wins the full amount – rather tens of thousands of people will get windfalls ranging from a few hundred to a few hundred thousand Euros.
Typically entire villages or apartment blocks will all chip in to get the same numbers, in the hope of sharing in the glory. One famous case is that of the small village of Sodeto, where the 250 residents all chipped in to buy a pool of tickets. The result was that they scooped up 100 million Euros between them, an entire village instantly made rich overnight.
The Spanish lottery is a cultural tradition, one that people all over the world are able to share in. As well as standing a big chance of winning something, there’s the opportunity to take part in one of Spain’s most enduring traditions.