The Christmas Lottery

Rioja, like the rest of Spain, is a gambler’s paradise.  There are slot machines in almost every bar, which are filled with people after lunch playing cards and betting on drinks or coffee, almost every city has a casino and the country has a mind-boggling array of lotteries.  We have the blind association lottery (ONCE), the Bonoloto, the lotería primitiva, the Euromillones, the Thursday lottery and the most loved of all, the lotería nacional, or national lottery.

The highlight of the lottery season is the Christmas drawing, held on December 22. Ticket sales start several months in advance.  You can either buy a 20 euro ticket at a lottery shop, bar or café or a participación or partial ticket.  Sometimes a bar will give these partial tickets away to their customers, although it’s considered bad luck not to pay for it. 

On December 22, the drawing is televised and followed either on the radio or TV by the whole country.  Unlike the weekly drawings, where each digit of the five-digit number is drawn individually, in the Christmas lottery, there are 85,000 or so little balls with numbers in one huge drum, with the prizes in a second drum.  Each number and prize are sung out by groups of two students from St. Ildefonso’s school in El Escorial and when a big prize is announced ( , a commentator tells the country where the number has been sold.  A camera crew then reports from those lottery shops, showing hundreds of screaming, happy people waving their winning tickets while drinking cava.

There are five big prizes, with the big one (el gordo) worth 300.000 euros for each 20-euro ticket.

This year, each Spaniard spent on average, 68 euros on Christmas lottery tickets, with La Rioja leading with 101 euros per person, 16% more than in 2009. This to me is an indication of the high standard of living we have here, but also a sign of how desperate some people are to win some money!

There is a lot of superstition about numbers and where you buy your ticket.  This year, one of the most popular number s was 11610, coinciding with the start date (June 11, 2010) of the World Soccer Championship, which was won by Spain. Another popular number this year ended in 33, the number of miners rescued in Chile.  My mother-in-law always bought a number ending in 13 and her brother’s bar always ordered 00001.

The most popular lottery shops in Spain are La Bruixa d’Or in Sort (which means ‘luck’ in Catalán) and Doña Manolita in Madrid.

This year my wife and I didn’t spend anywhere near the national average.  She bought a ticket from her company (ending in zero, returning her money) while I bought one fourth of a ticket with some friends (which didn’t win anything).

It’s always great to watch all those happy people celebrating having won a big prize, especially this year, with Spain suffering more than most countries the effects of the economic crisis.

You might be wondering what my wife is going to do with the 20 euros returned to her.  She’s going to reinvest them in a ticket for the lotería del niño (the Epiphany lottery), whose drawing is on January 5!


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