The winners of Spain’s cherished Christmas lottery – the world’s richest – celebrated around the country yesterday, a moment of joy and relief after another year of a brutal financial crisis.
Millions were glued to their televisions as 2.5billion euros (£2.09billion) in prize money was distributed. The draw is so popular that most of Spain’s 46million people watched at least part of the live four-hour show, hoping to hear their numbers as schoolchildren called them out.
Unlike lotteries that offer one large jackpot, Spain’s yuletide draw sprinkles a variety of winnings on thousands.
The top prize – known as El Gordo (The Fat One) – gave lucky winners 400,000 euros (£334,000) per ticket yesterday, while the second-best number netted 125,000 euros (£104,000).
However, this year for the first time, the taxman will claim 20% of winnings above 2,500 euros (£2,092), as the Spanish government strives to right an economy saddled with a sky-high unemployment rate of 26%.
Winning El Gordo tickets this year were sold in at least eight locations throughout the country, including Madrid, Barcelona and the northern industrial city of Modragon, where large electrical appliance manufacturer Fagor Electrodomesticos filed for bankruptcy in October.
El Gordo winner Raul Clavero, 27, a mechanic from the Madrid suburb of Leganes, said he had been watching in bed when he realised he’d won.
“We jumped out of bed and ran out,” he said, adding that he would “pay the mortgage, that’s the first thing, and then just enjoy the rest”.
Mr Clavero said he was one of five members of his family who had bought the same number ticket.
The entire lot of second-prize tickets – worth 1.3million euros (£1.09million) – was sold in the town of Granadilla de Abona, on Tenerife.
Among the audience watching the draw in person at Madrid’s Teatro Real Opera House was Jesus Lorente, who said he bought his second-prize ticket at a gas station in Granadilla de Abona.
The beaming 27-year-old caterer said he would use his winnings to “plug gaps” in his personal finances.
Before Spain’s property-led economic boom imploded in 2008, ticket buyers talked of spending their winnings on new cars or second homes by the beach or going on fancy vacations. Now many Spaniards are just hoping to avoid having their homes or cars repossessed.
“The ticket is stored in a safe place at home,” Mr Lorente said.