You may have noticed that the Spanish are obsessed with lotteries. Apart from the blue shops that specialise in lotteries (Loterias y Apuestas del Estado), sellers roam the streets and bars offering tickets.
There are four different games to play throughout the week: La Loteria Nacional is played every Thursday and Saturday; the Bonoloto, is drawn every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; la Primitiva, is drawn every Thursday and Saturday and the large jackpot, El Gordo de la Primitiva, is drawn every Sunday.
Then there is the ONCE (Organizacion Nacional de Ciegos Españoles) lottery. Tickets for this are sold in the green kiosks. This is drawn daily with a larger jackpot on Fridays and Sundays. There are also special tickets for a monthly draw. The good thing about this lottery is that sale of the tickets provides useful income for thousands of disabled Spaniards.
Of all the different lotteries though, the best known is 'El Gordo' - the fat one at Christmas. El Gordo is a national obsession - with an incredible 98% of the population taking part in the draw which takes place on December 22nd. Numbers for El Gordo are prized, even reserved and passed down through generations.
Part of the reason so many play El Gordo , and the reason for it being one of the most famous lotteries in the world is due to the massive prize fund. Normally this is well over a billion Euros, with a jackpot of 20 million Euros. And you do have around 1-in-3 chance of picking up a prize as there are so many smaller prizes paid out, 30 to 40 thousand of them!
El Gordo tickets are confusing to those used to e.g. the National Lottery in England. You don't pick numbers in the traditional way, instead you buy ready printed tickets with numbers already on them.
Each ticket number is available in 10 'series' - that is, 10 lots of the same ticket number. El Gordo tickets are roughly the size of a sheet of paper, and are also split into 10 smaller tickets called 'decimas'. You can buy either the whole ticket of 10 decimas, or you can buy just part of the ticket. The amount of the prize you win obviously depends on how many decimas you bought. To win the entire prize allocated to any particular number you would need to have bought the whole 100 decimas. At 20 Euros for a decima this would not be cheap. It is therefore common for families and friends, even entire Spanish villages to pool their lottery money together to buy up their decimas and then share the prize money. Each person may have a one or two euro stake in the tickets.
It's also common to spread purchases buying a single decima across multiple different lottery ticket numbers which gives a better chances of winning in exchange for a smaller piece of the prize.
The draw, when it take place, is a very elaborate affair; broadcast on TV and watched by millions in homes and bars. Balls for all the numbers are placed in a huge machine and are drawn one by one with children singing the numbers as they come out. A second machine is used to allocate the prizes. With thousands of prizes to be won and about 85,000 numbers to be drawn from, this is a long process. When the big prizes keep people waiting until late in the draw, the suspense becomes electrifying.
For those who don't "touch" on El Gordo, there is a smaller second draw, El Niño, held on 6th January with a top prize in each series of 2 million €.