• Merrick Wells

The Spanish Christmas Lottery

A "Beginners" Guide to a Spanish cultural behemoth

The Spanish Christmas Lottery (Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad) is a special Christmas draw of the State Lottery that takes place every year on the 22nd of December. The Spanish State Lottery is the second longest running lottery in the world, having been drawn since March 1812, continuing uninterrupted through the Spanish Civil War, being drawn in Valencia. The Christmas draw first took place in December 1812.

It is considered the biggest prize payout lottery in the world with 70% of ticket price being returned as winnings and is often referred to as "El Gordo" (The Big One or The Fat One) but this name refers to the top prize in any Spanish lottery.

The way the lottery numbers work often leaves foreigners a little confused, when a day of national media coverage is given over to school children singing numbers, (no seriously), so here is a handy breakdown to getting to grips with lottery mania.

How does it work?

Lottery tickets since 2011 have 5 digit numbers. As this only produces 100,000 individual numbers each ticket number is printed multiple times. These are called Series. Each series has a unique number which means 150 series of the 100,000 numbers means 15,000,000 tickets available at €200 each. Because a €200 price tag can be pretty prohibitive each ticket is a perforated sheet of 10 identical fractions sold at €20 each. These fractions are known as a décimo (one tenth) and each décimo is entitled to 10% of the prize.

Lottery outlets normally sell a ticket number in all series which would mean all winners would have purchased their ticket from the same location. This is what often leads to an entire village collecting major prizes. Winning outlets often become subject to Lottery pilgrimages as people will travel to a specific location to buy a "lucky" décimo.

Some workplaces, charities, associations etc. even divide décimos into fractions. Because of this nature of ticket structure, the lottery is often "played" by staff at one office or factory, groups of people invested into the same number. This will explain why you see bars and workplaces displaying a lottery number in their window. Effectively, every lottery player is part of a syndicate come the big day. This means that the first prize, which can be around €4,000,000 is divided by ten with a tax payment as well. Exact quantities of tickets and series and therefore payouts vary each year, but the prizes work roughly as follows:

(For 170 series at €200 each)

1 First prize (El Gordo) €4,000,000

1 Second Prize €1,250,000

1 Third Prize €500,000

2 Fourth Prizes €200,000

8 Fifth Prizes €60,000

1,794 La Pedrea €1,000 (the "pebble avalanche" or "stoning")

2 2 numbers just one unit above and below First Prize €20,000

2 2 numbers just one unit above or below Second Prize €12,500

2 2 numbers just one unit above or below Third Prize €9,600

99 for 99 numbers with same first three digits as first prize €1,000

99 for 99 numbers with same first three digits as second prize €1,000

99 for 99 numbers with same first three digits as third prize €1,000

198 for 99 numbers with same first three digits of each fourth prize €1,000

999 for 999 numbers with same last two digits as first prize €1,000

999 for 999 numbers with same last two digits as second prize €1,000

999 for 999 numbers with same last two digits as third prize €1,000

9,999 for the 9,999 numbers with same last digit as first prize €200 (refund)

The Draw

T.V and Radio is consumed by the draw on the 22nd of December. It is broadcast from the Teatro Real in Madrid. The children of San Ildefonso school draw the numbers, announcing the results in a short song. It is a tradition that the winners donate some of their prize to the school. Two large cages contain the balls to be drawn. One contains 100,000 balls each with a unique 5 digit ticket number and the smaller cage contains 1,807 balls for the prizes.

Single balls are released from the revolving cages at the same time and one child sings the winning number and another sings the prize. Due to the numbers of prizes, this process takes several hours.

10% of tickets get their money back and many simply reinvest their "winnings" in "El niño", Spain's second most important lottery, held on Epiphany, 6 January, better known as "Reyes". The draw works in a similar way just the prize money available is not as impressive.


The draw consumes the Spanish media and social eye on the 22nd. It dominates virtually all T.V and radio stations with effectively rolling news coverage of winners and losers reacting. There is an annual battle between news rooms to get the magic coverage of the winners, with teams strategically placed throughout the country. Without question, a news story will need to be of stratospheric importance to get a look in on December 22nd in Spain.

The fever builds with the annual Christmas lottery advert being as eagerly awaited as a film premier. The adverts usually revolve around the generosity of friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family buying a décimo for each other to avoid missing out on the potential big prize

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