How to Play El Gordo, the Spanish Christmas Lottery

Spanish lottery ticket for lesson on Spanish numbers

Álvaro Ibáñez/Flickr/CC By 2.0

The Spanish Christmas lottery, El Gordo or 'The Fat One', is the biggest lottery in the world and also one of the oldest, having started in 1812. While the first prize is currently 'only' 4 million Euros, El Gordo has the biggest prize pool of any lottery in the world, last year totaling over two billion euros.

How the El Gordo Spanish Christmas Lottery Works

The Spanish Christmas Lottery is different from most lotteries in the world. Tickets are very expensive, but you don't have to buy the entire ticket. However, if you don't buy the whole thing, you can't get the whole prize.

Tickets cost 200 Euros each, but they can be split into "decimos" - tenthsIf you only buy a single decimo then you can only win a tenth of the prize that the ticket wins. There are 160 series - each series has a jackpot of 4 million Euros and around 15,000 smaller prizes. Each series has 100,000 tickets - numbered 00,000 to 99,999.

Unlike with most lotteries, there are a number of ways to play El Gordo, and some are very sociable. You don't need to be in Spain at Christmas time - tickets go on sale in the summer.

  • On Your Own - If you are in Spain before December 7th, go into an official 'Loteria Nacional' office - every town will have one. You don't need to buy a whole ticket, but if you don't and your ticket wins, you'll be sharing your winnings with a stranger! Tickets go on sale in the summer.
  • With Friends - Buy a whole ticket with friends and share out the decimos amongst yourselves. As everyone gets their own decimo, there can be no cheating - everyone gets their share!
  • At a Bar in Spain - If you see a number written in a window, enquire to see if they have any tickets left. Then chat with your new found friends over a beer about how you would all spend your winnings!
  • On the Internet - There are a number of organizations offering tickets online. 
  • As Part of a Syndicate

How the Drawing Takes Place

El Gordo is drawn every December 22nd. The process is long (taking in excess of three hours) so you will see people sitting by their radios for much of the day, waiting for the results.

The draw uses two huge spheres, one holding wooden balls with the 5 digit numbers on them and the other holding balls with the prize amounts.

As the draw takes place, two children stand next to the spheres. One picks out the ball with the prize amount, while the other picks the ball with the ticket number.

They then take the balls over to a table where the official lotto observers are, and the members of the lottery commission take note of the winning number and corresponding prize. Then the balls get placed into a special rack for the records.

This repeats for hours until all prizes are given out.

What Is the Loteria Del Niño?

A second draw takes place on January 5th. You will need to buy new tickets for this draw. This is the same day as the processions for Three Kings Day in Spain.

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