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CHRISTMAS

El Gordo: Everything you need to know about Spain’s Christmas lottery

Every year at Christmas, Spaniards go lottery mad, queuing for hours to buy tickets for the famous "El Gordo" - The Fat One - and this year is no exception.

Spain's Christmas lottery
Winners of the El Gordo lottery in 2019. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

Spain’s Christmas Lottery has taken place every year on December 22nd since 1812 without fail, even during the Spanish Civil War years and the coronavirus pandemic. 

The 2022 prize money will total €2.4 billion, with the top prize of €680 million known as El Gordo (the Fat One), being shared between all those with the winning numbers. It works out as a top prize of €400,000 per décimo (more on that later). 

The second prize per décimo is €125,000 and the third is €50,000.

Then there are two fourth prizes (€20,000 per décimo), eight fifth prizes (€6,000 per décimo) and 1,794 prizes of €100 per décimo

All in all, there will be 172 million décimos up for sale in total in 2022.

Spain's El Gordo Lottery ticket

This year’s ticket features ‘La Virgen de la Granada’ by Fra Angelico in the Museo del Prado.
 

With the odds of winning at least something put at one in six, no wonder the Christmas lottery has a whole nation gripped.

According to the latest stats, around seven in 10 residents aged between 18 and 75 play the Spanish Christmas lottery.

Data from the State Lottery and Betting Society of the State (SELAE) shows Spaniards will invest €63.82 on average in buying lottery tickets for the Christmas draw on Thursday December 22nd. 

READ ALSO: Is there a science to winning Spain’s Christmas lottery?

History

El Gordo is a Spanish institution and the second oldest lottery in the world.

The first Christmas lottery took place on 22nd December 1812 in Cádiz and the event has been taking place on the same day every year since.

Some of the winners from last year’s El Gordo. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

Not even the Spanish Civil War could stop the Christmas lottery, which moved to Valencia when the Republican government had to relocate their capital from Madrid.

After the war, the lottery moved back to Madrid and continued under the regime of the dictator Francisco Franco.

READ ALSO: Where to find traditional British Christmas food in Spain

How it works 

Because so many people in Spain take part in El Gordo, the ticketing system is complicated.

Unlike in the UK, for example, you don’t go into a newsagent and shade in the numbers you want on your lottery card. Instead, lottery shops have certain numbers available. 

This is why the big winners of the Christmas Lottery are usually from the same area: many people have bought tickets from the same shop which holds all the winning tickets.

This assigning of numbers to certain shops means if you want to ‘play’ a particular number, you might have to travel quite a way — or buy your tickets online.

It’s also possible to track down where to buy your preferred number using online search tools like this one from El Mundo.

People queue to buy tickets at the popular “Dona Manolita” lottery outlet in Madrid. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

In terms of prizes, because so many people take part, numbers are repeated up to 172 times. That means if you do win ‘the fat one’, you will be sharing your prize with at least 171 others.

This explains why the top individual prize in the biggest lottery in the world comes in at a ‘mere’ €4 million.

One ticket (billete) costs a whopping €200, but many people choose to buy a tenth of a ticket (un décimo) for €20.

Even smaller portions of tickets are sold: it is common for businesses to buy a ticket then sell small portions, or participaciones, of that ticket to their patrons for €1.

Where to buy them

You can purchase a ticket in a lottery shop but they are also available at local bars, restaurants and through syndicates at workplaces, social clubs etc.  You can also purchase them online.

Sometimes it means shelling out for several just so you are not left out of the group in case of a win! 

Tickets are on sale in the lottery shops until 10pm on December 21st or online until 11.45pm.

The advert 

Every year the Christmas lottery releases a suitably schmaltzy advert, and the campaign for 2022 is not exception. This is one of three wonderfully produced ads, which focuses on a Ukrainian refugee adapting to life in Spain.

 
 
Most sought-after numbers
 
The most requested numbers tend to be connected to an important date over the year that’s about to end. 
 
In 2021, it was 80121 – the date on which Storm Filomena brought Madrid to a snow-covered standstill. In 2020, tickets numbered 140320, the number that symbolised the start of the Covid State of Emergency, sold out.
 
Spaniards also check numbers that have won previously. Tickets with numbers ending in ‘5’ are also popular as numbers that end in a ‘5’ have won a total of 32 times. 

The day itself

Pupils of the San Ildefonso school singing numbers during the draw of Spain’s Christmas lottery. Photo: Handout / SOCIEDAD ESTATAL LOTERIAS Y APUESTAS DEL ESTADO / AFP

Every 22nd December the streets of Spain are silent as everyone huddles around their televisions to watch the El Gordo lottery draw, an affair which begins at 9am and can take over three hours.

The balls are drawn in a unique way befitting the unique lottery tradition, while the numbers are sung by the pupils of Madrid’s San Ildefonso school.

The school was originally a home for orphans and the tradition of the winners of El Gordo donating a portion of their winnings to San Ildefonso dates from this time.

The balls were originally only drawn by boys, with the first girl taking part in the big draw singalong in 1984. Audience members at the live draw, as well as viewers watching from home, are known to dress up in lottery-themed clothing and hats.

On the stage itself are two spherical vessels, one containing balls embossed with the numbers found on the lottery tickets and the other featuring the associated prizes in euros.  

“Ball number 20.456 gets €20,000!” they might sing. This goes on, the tension rising until, at some point in the live broadcast, the €4-million ball is drawn making the numbered ball drawn alongside it El Gordo.

The coverage of the draw has famously lambasted as “the most boring Christmas show on TV”. 

The winners

In 2011 the tiny Spanish village of Sodeto famously won El Gordo, with all but one of its 250 inhabitants having bought a lottery ticket. The unlucky loser was a Greek resident who lived on the edge of town and failed to buy a ticket because he did not realize just how big the Christmas lottery was. 

The winners each claimed a share of €120 million, with people collecting sums ranging from €100,000 to €1 million each.

This was the first time in El Gordo’s 200 year history that one entire village had won the prize, but it is not uncommon for many people in the same location to all win at the same time, given lottery shops are often assigned the full complement of a given number.

This should be a lesson to us all. No-one wants to be the only within a community who missed out on the win!

A lottery seller celebrates his shop selling the winning number. Photo: STRINGER / AFP

Are the winnings tax free?

Crisis-hit Spain taxed the lottery for the first time in 2013, with the Spanish government hitting the headlines for the 20 percent tax imposed on prizes over €2,500 in the much-loved lottery.

In 2022, that limit has been raised to €40,000 tax free on each winning ticket (it was €20K in 2021), meaning the winner of a top prize décimo will get the first €40,000 of the €400,000 tax free and pay 20 percent tax on the rest. Therefore €72,000 would go to Spain’s Hacienda taxman and the winner would keep €328,000.

Warnings

The Christmas lottery is also not immune to scams. Madrid’s city council warns people to buy their tickets only from authorised vendors, and not to believe emails telling them they had won prizes.

Last but not least, the council warns people to keep their ticket safe as losing them makes claiming prizes very difficult indeed.

And there is lots of advice on how to ensure that there’s is no argument between friends sharing a winning ticket.

The best idea is to take a photo of the number, share it on WhatsApp with each other and the terms written underneath, that way there can be no argument later.

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For members

LIFE IN SPAIN

What are the penalties for drug possession in Spain?

Though Spain has quite lax laws about drug consumption for your own use on private property, punishments for public possession or trafficking can vary from fines to prison time.

What are the penalties for drug possession in Spain?

In Spain, penalties for drug possession greatly depend on where you have them and if you have the intention to sell them. Generally, the penalties will be less severe, or even non-existent, in the case of certain drugs, if you have them in your own home for example and they’re for your own private use. Possessing drugs for your own use is not considered a crime by the Penal Code in Spain. 

Possession and use in public, however, is an altogether different story. Although the mere possession of drugs alone is technically not a criminal offence, so long as they are not intended for illegal trafficking, it is punishable. 

READ ALSO: What’s the law on cannabis in Spain?

For minor possession offences, which are treated by Spanish law as ‘administrative infractions’ equivalent to misdemeanors in the US, or a community order in the UK, fines (multas) are issued. For more serious offences with higher quantities, where intent to distribute can be proven, jail time becomes a possibility. 

Multas (fines)

The fine system is outlined in Spain’s Organic Law 4/2015 on the Protection of Citizen Security, where a whole range of fines are established from €601 up to €30,000 for the most serious crimes, depending on the type of drug it is, the quantity, and whether it’s your first time being fined for public drug possession (the concept of recidivism in Spanish law, which multiplies the fine).

For first-time offenders caught with a small amount of any illegal drug for personal consumption, it is extremely likely the minimum fine (€601) would be issued, though it can be halved if paid within a certain timeframe of formally receiving the penalty notice. For repeat offenders, the fine is likely to be multiplied.

According to Spain’s National Drug Plan website, fines can be issued for the following:

  • The illicit use or possession of toxic drugs, narcotics or psychotropic substances, even if they were not intended for trafficking, in public places, roads, public establishments or public transport, as well as the abandonment of the instruments or other tools used for this purpose in the aforementioned places. When the offenders in matters of consumption or possession are minors, the penalty of a fine may be suspended if they voluntarily agree to treatment or rehabilitation, if necessary, or to re-education activities.
  • The transfer of people, in order to facilitate their access to toxic drugs, narcotics or psychotropic substances, provided that it does not constitute a crime.
  • The execution of acts of illicit planting and cultivation of toxic drugs, narcotics or psychotropic substances in places visible to the public, when they are not criminal offences.
  • Tolerance of illegal consumption or trafficking in toxic drugs, narcotics or psychotropic substances in public premises or establishments or the lack of diligence in order to prevent them by owners, administrators or managers thereof.

What constitutes personal possession?

For people caught in public in possession of drugs, the maximum quantities considered for personal possession according to the Spanish government are as follows:

  • 100 grams of cannabis
  • 25 grams of hashish
  • 7.5 grams of cocaine
  • 3 grams of heroin
  • 1.2 grams of methadone
  • 1440 milligrams of MDM, MDMA, MDEA
  • 900 milligrams of amphetamine
  • 3 milligrams of LSD

READ ALSO: Pharmacies in Spain will be able to sell medical marijuana by the end of 2022

Drug trafficking

If you’re caught with quantities that exceed these personal amounts, you could be charged with intent to supply or traffic drugs, something that is considered a crime in Spanish law and could warrant prison time.

In terms of supply, Spanish law takes into account the ‘harmfulness of the substance’ and differentiates between drugs considered to cause ‘serious damage’ to individuals and society more broadly, such as heroin and cocaine, and substances that don’t cause ‘serious damage’, such as cannabis and hashish. 

Prisons sentences vary depending on a number of different factors, such as general criminal offences with no aggravating factors, which carry a potential sentence of 3-6 years, aggravated cases (very large quantities, selling or supplying adulterated substances, to children, or educational centres, and so on) which can earn you 6-9 years, all the way up to participants in organised crime, who can receive 9-12 years, and the heads of drug trafficking organisations, who would face 10-15 years.

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