The Spanish lottery game, El Gordo roughly translates as ‘the big one’ and is considered to be the biggest and richest lottery in the world. It has earned its name from the huge volume of prizes that are awarded in the El Gordo de Navidad (the Spanish Christmas Lottery). The Navidad game is played annually in Spain on the 22nd December and has become one of the most popular lotteries, growing into a tradition amongst Spanish players.
One of the reasons for the El Gordo de Navidad’s popularity is the sizeable jackpot sums, which are renowned as the largest lottery prize funds available on the globe. In 2012 Spanish Lottery officials announced that if all tickets were sold the total amount of ticket sales would be €3.6 billion, with prize pay outs for the Christmas draw amounting to €2.52 billion. This meant that for the first prize category, aptly named El Gordo, there would be a total of €720 million in prize money. This was distributed amongst the 180 winning tickets, awarding €4 million to each one.
The El Gordo de Navidad tickets differ from those sold in other world lotteries. In a raffle like style, each ticket will have a five digit number printed on it, similar to the regular Spanish National Lottery. However, the El Gordo de Navidad tickets will have the same number sequence printed multiple times due to the popularity of the game. Each 5 digit number will be printed on a different series of the ticket, meaning that the same number will appear up to 190 times under different series numbers.
The way the tickets are sold is also rather unique. There are two different types of Navidad tickets that can be purchased. Players can choose between the full ticket, known as a billete, which features the full five digit number sequence, or the decimo which is one tenth of a full ticket. Most players buy the decimo tickets which cost €20 and pay 10% of the published prize amount. Billete tickets cost €200.
Due to the expensive cost of the billete tickets many people in Spain are likely to play the El Gordo de Navidad as part of a syndicate. It is common for large groups, families or organisations to purchase a ticket and divide any winning amounts between themselves. The majority of Spanish residents will hold some portion of a Spanish Christmas lottery ticket.
Traditionally Spanish people will also gather to watch the Navidad draw in Madrid. The numbered balls are chosen from machines known as bombos. Following this, children from a local school will announce the draws results and prizes in song. The draw can take up to five hours to complete.
The odds of receiving the ticket cost back by matching the final number are 10% whilst the odds of winning any additional money are 5.3%. The chances of winning the huge El Gordo pay-out are 1 in 100,000, which works out to 0.001%. These are significantly better odds than those of winning the EuroMillions jackpot, which stand at 0.0000000086%.
The El Gordo de Navidad is not limited to Spanish residents, and players from around the world are also allowed to participate.