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Is there a science to winning Spain’s ‘El Gordo’ Christmas lottery?

Is there a science to winning Spain's 'El Gordo' Christmas lottery?
A lottery seller celebrates selling the first prize of Spain's Christmas lottery draew "El Gordo" (the Fat One) in Vigo on December 22, 2020. Photo: STR/AFP
It’s one of the biggest days in Spain, and the vast majority of Spaniards take part hoping for a big win that will change their lives. So why is it that many people spend hours queuing at specific lottery outlets? Why do the winners often seem to be in the same places? Is there actually a hidden formula to winning 'El Gordo'?

Why does Spain go lottery-mad at Christmas?

Throughout December, thousands of people queue around the block through Madrid’s streets. They wait for hours, the lines stretching for over 2 kilometres, inching towards the famous Doña Manolita

What are they queuing for? A new iPhone release? The latest Real Madrid shirt? If you have lived in Spain for any length of time, you probably know that they are waiting to buy tickets for El Gordo: the Fat One in its most literal translation, but meaning the biggest or ‘fattest’ lottery prize.

El Gordo is Spain’s biggest national lottery, and during the Christmas period, the country is gripped by Gordo-mania.

It is estimated that around 70 percent of Spaniards aged between 18 and 75 play every year, and it has history: there has been an El Gordo draw every year (on December 22nd) since 1812. In fact, it’s so important that even the Spanish Civil War couldn’t interrupt it, nor could the Covid-19 pandemic.

You’ll hear plenty of people around Christmas time say “ojalá me toque El Gordo” (I hope the Fat One touches me), but don’t be alarmed, that’s just how you say that you hope that you win the jackpot in Spanish. 

People queue to buy tickets at Doña Manolita in the central Calle del Carmen in Madrid. Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP
Every year, more people queue for hours to buy tickets at Doña Manolita in the central Calle del Carmen in Madrid. Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP
 

The state sells tickets worth a staggering €2.5 billion every year, and the 2021 prize money will total €2.4 billion, with the top prize of €680 million shared between all those with the winning numbers. That normally works out at around €400,000 per person, with the second prize €125,000 and the third €50,000.

There are also fourth prizes (€20,000 per décimo, or person), eight fifth prizes (€6,000 per décimo) and 1,794 prizes of €100 per décimo.

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

What are the most common tricks and superstitions for the winners?

With such lottery mania, and money on the line, a whole host of tricks and superstitions have emerged over time, which according to the official Christmas Lottery website, previous big winners swear by.

Lighting a yellow candle, rubbing the ticket on the back of a black cat, or on the head of a bald man, and crossing the threshold of the shop with the left foot are some of the most well known superstitions.

Many Spaniards use candles, gold coins, and pins for luck, and in some Spanish regions, such as Galicia, many leave their ticket next to a horseshoe for good luck. 

But because of El Gordo’s popularity across Spain, and the sheer number of people buying tickets, the ticketing system is quite complicated, and differs from other national lotteries.

You can’t simply go into a newsagent and scratch out the numbers you want, like you might in the UK.

Instead, specifically state-administered lottery shops have certain numbers available, and that is why the big winners usually come from the same area: many people over the years have bought tickets from the same shop which holds all the winning tickets.

That means that occasionally the winners can be concentrated in one particular town or neighborhood, like when in 2011 the tiny Spanish village of Sodeto in Huesca famously won El Gordo, with all but one of its 250 inhabitants having bought a lottery ticket. 

Sodeto residents shared winnings of €120 million in total, with people collecting sums from €100,000 up to €1 million each.

That was the first time in the lottery’s 200-year history that a single village had won the prize, but given that lottery shops are usually assigned the full complement of a given number, it is common for clusters of winner tickets to come from the same area or lottery shop.

People celebrate at the Aragones Center "El Cachirulo" after winning the first prize of the draw of Spain's Christmas lottery "El Gordo" (the Fat One) in Reus on December 22, 2019. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
Friends from the Aragones Centre “El Cachirulo” in the Catalan city of Reus celebrate after winning the first prize of the draw in 2019. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
 

Which regions and specific lottery administrations are the biggest winners?

The assigning of certain numbers to certain shops means if you want to ‘play’ a particular number, because you want your numbers to be your son’s birthday, or your wedding anniversary, for example, you might have to travel or try to nab them online.

Historically, Madrid has had the most success, with 89 Gordo winners, and Andalusia a close second with 77. Third comes Catalonia, with 64 winners. But it’s not only Doña Manolita that attracts hopeful buyers.

There are several other well known lottery shops across Spain that are believed to be lucky, and have queues around the block through December, including La Bruixa d’Or in Lleida, Lotería Valdés in Barcelona, Lotería Ormaechea up in Bilbao, and Lotería Manises in Valencia.

The way El Gordo works, it is actually quite logical that, if specific lottery shops sell the most tickets, they are the ones that win the most prizes.

Hopeful winners in Alicante spent more than €106.5 million on tickets last year for example, and between 2006 and 2012 the first prize was won there five times. At the other end of the spectrum, Badajoz spent just €22 million and has only had one jackpot winner since 2000.

When is the draw?

For perhaps the only time in Spain, on the evening of December 22nd the country falls silent. Spaniards stay in, hanging around the TV to watch the draw, a drawn out affair that is widely considered the most boring TV event in Spain.

Winning balls are drawn and numbers sung by the pupils of Madrid’s San Ildefonso school, originally an orphan shelter and the reason the tradition of winners donating a portion of their winnings to San Ildefonso dates from this time.

Is there a science or secret to winning Spain’s Christmas lottery?

Of all the numbers included in the draw – over 100,000 – all have a 14% chance of winning. Historically, the numbers between 1,000 and 2,000 have won the first prize twelve times, but this doesn’t mean that 2,500, for example, will be El Gordo on the 22nd. While there is somewhat of a science to El Gordo, not every number has been drawn since 1812, so science blends with superstition. 

With all sorts of strange superstitions and traditions employed by hopeful ticket holders, six-hour queues like the ones at Doña Manolita, and other famous ‘winning’ regions or lottery shops, will continue while the ‘science’ tells people that they can increase their chances of winning a slice of the jackpot by buying in certain places and in certain shops.

Thousands will continue to flock to El Gordo hotspots, trying to push the margins, and then the entire country will cluster around the TV on December 22nd, hoping for a life-changing sum. Spaniards know: buy (or sell) more, win more. 

So do the lottery shop owners, who every year sell more tickets and tend to end up having more winners, increasing their reputation as lucky. 

To all of our readers, good luck and ‘may the Fat One touch you’, strictly in the big money sense!

Article by Conor Faulkner


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