Ticket number 78294 draws top prize in Spain’s $3 billion El Gordo lottery

By Ciaran Giles, AP
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Spanish lottery hands out more than $3 billion

MADRID, Spain — The top prize of Spain’s Christmas lottery — billed as among the world’s richest, went Tuesday to holders of tickets bearing the number 78294.

The number appears on 1,950 tickets, and each holder stands to win €300,000 ($430,000). Organizers said the tickets bearing that number were sold in a Madrid city center lottery office.

Thousands of other people won smaller prizes in the lottery known as “El Gordo” (The Fat One) that is held each year on Dec. 22. The lottery dishes out €2.32 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.

The lottery starts at 9 a.m. (0800 GMT) and people throughout the country typically turn on the radio, television or Internet to find out if their numbers are called for a prize.

This year, it sold an estimated €2.7 billion euros nationwide — nearly 3 percent down on last year, the state lottery agency said.

The agency estimates per-capita spending of some €60 ($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.

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