Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas begins

The first day of winter and the Christmas lottery draw, "El Gordo" - the fat one.

In every bar in Spain, and from nearly every window and car comes the odd, Gregorian chant like sound, of the Spanish Christmas lottery.

For weeks, nay months, before Spaniards have been buying lottery tickets. They send friends to distant parts of the country to buy particular numbers or to buy from particular offices with successful prize giving histories. They share tickets, or usually tenths of tickets, with friends, family and colleagues. Everyone has a system for choosing their numbers and the average spend per adult is in the region of 70€.

It's quite an odd lottery. The tickets are odd. For a start each one costs €200 and that's why they are sold as tenths - decimos - at 20€ a go. Organisations, charities and what not, often buy a few full tickets and sell them on at 23€ with the 3€ going to the charity. Even stranger is that there are lots and lots of the same number because each number is sold with a series number alongside. There are 85 series so there are 850 decimos with the same number. Someone told me that everyone in her company had been given a decimo, with the same number, as part of their Christmas bonus by the management. She wondered if the bosses had thought about the impact of everyone in the firm winning and whether they would have a workforce on Monday morning! I asked her if the bosses had the same tickets and, if so, whether they would care?

The draw is odd. For a start the numbers are not made up by drawing individual balls to make up a number, the draw is of whole numbers. So if I bought a tenth with the number 35005 then that number is actually engraved on one of the little wooden balls that roll around inside the big tombola type drum - el bombo. The number rolls out of the big drum and is collected by a child from the San Ildefonso school in Madrid. It's a tradition like the "Barnardo Boys" being the ball boys at Wimbledon. That child then chants the number. Meanwhile another engraved wooden ball has rolled out of a smaller bombo to be collected by another child. That ball has the amount of the prize. The children go like the clappers chanting numbers and amounts for nearly 3 hours. There are relays of children. The majority of the prizes are for 1.000€ but there are 13 big prizes. El Gordo is 3 million euros, 2nd is 1 million, 3rd is half a million and then there are two 4th prizes of 200,000 and five 5th prizes of 50,000.

So the first child chants the number, the numbers are five figures and the children chant the number in the ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine format rather than 99999. They practice from October to make sure they can do that quickly and accurately. A second child then chants the amount and, if it's one of the first five prizes they walk over to show the "judges" who are there to confirm that everything is carried out properly. The children chant the number and the prize as they walk. They walk with one hand pushed into the small of their back and the other holding the winning ball in front of them. The children have good posture.

Bear in mind that El Gordo is only 3,000,000€. That means that, unless you bought all ten decimos of a number your winning ticket is only worth 300,000€. Not exactly a fortune. But the reason this draw is so popular is because lots and lots of people can win 300,000€. If all the winning tickets were sold (85 full tickets made up of of ten coupons) then there would be 850 people with 300,000€ in their hands and the fifth prizes of 50,000€ or just 5,000€ per decimo could go to 6,800 people if all the tickets in all the series were sold. What's more there are supplementary prizes for having part of the winning number (I got my stake money back because El Gordo was 60381 and my number was 01001, I had the last figure) and Maggie won 50€ because she had a half share in a ticket that had won 1,000€ (100€ per decimo)

The payout is set at 70% of the money collected though I suppose that the organisers run the risk that the tickets drawn could represent a larger proportion if the unsold tickets were the losers or they could have a good year and not sell too many of the winners.

It's quite an event though in a strangely non event sort of way.

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