Ticket sales for Spain's annual Christmas lottery, the world's richest in terms of prize money, which was drawn on Tuesday fell for the second consecutive year due to the recession.
Sales for "El Gordo", or "the Fat One", were down around 3.0 percent on last year at 2.7 billion euros (3.9 billion dollars) but the total prize money remained the same at 2.32 billion euros, the state lottery agency said.
AdvertisementWhile other lotteries have bigger individual top prizes, "El Gordo" is ranked as the world's richest for the total sum paid out.
Instead of a single jackpot, the lottery -- which is always held on December 22 -- is designed so that as many people as possible across Spain get a windfall in time for the holidays.
The top prize this year went to the 1,950 tickets bearing the number 78294. Each holder of a ticket with this number won 300,000 euros.
All of the tickets bearing this number were sold in a lottery office in the working-class residential district of Tetuan in central Madrid which is home to many Latin American immigrants.
Sabino Calderon, a 50-year-old unemployed bricklayer from Ecuador, was one of the lucky holders of a winning ticket.
"With the money, the first thing that I am going to do is visit my wife and my children who live in Ecuador," he told reporters at the lottery office that sold the winning tickets, adding he had not seen his family in three years.
Just as excited was Manuela Romero, an unemployed publicist whose mother Visitacion Mayordomo also bought one of the winning tickets.
"We are very happy and want to spend all the money, we are not going to save anything!" she said through tears.
The winning numbers are drawn by pupils of Madrid's Saint Ildefonso School, a former orphanage, who take turns to sing out the winning numbers and the amount won in a nationally televised draw lasting over three hours that brings Spain to a virtual standstill.
Co-workers, friends and relatives pitch in to buy tickets together are then glued to the television and radio as the prize numbers are called out.
Shops, bars and cafes sell shares in their tickets to their customers. The state lottery agency estimates each Spaniard spent around 60 euros on the lottery this year. Tickets cost 20 euros each and they go on sale in July.
The lottery has been held since 1812 and it is considered the kickoff to the Christmas season.
According to national statistics, 80 percent of Spaniards play "El Gordo", using half their annual lottery spending on the festive draw.
Spaniards often choose lottery numbers matching significant dates. One of the most requested ticket numbers this year was 25609, which corresponds to June 25, 2009, the day pop star Michael Jackson died.
The number proved to be unlucky as it was not drawn in the lottery.
Spain's unemployment rate has doubled over the past two years to hit 19.3 percent in October, the second highest rate in the 27-nation European Union behind Latvia.
The Spanish economy, Europe's fifth biggest, entered into its worst recession at the end of last year as the international credit crunch hastened a correction which was already under way in its key property sector.
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