‘Fat One’ jackpot brings Christmas cheer to poor Spain

AFP-JIJI

Champagne corks popped across Spain on Sunday as the annual “Fat One” Christmas lottery, which has the world’s biggest total payout, spread €2.24 billion ($3.1 billion) in prizes around the country, where 1 in 4 is out of work.

Millions of people were glued to TV sets as children from a Madrid school that used to be a home for orphans picked wooden balls bearing the winning numbers and prizes out of two giant golden tumblers and then sang them out in a live draw lasting over three hours.

Television reporters rushed to towns and villages across the country to capture scenes of winners breaking open Champagne bottles inside bars or celebrating by singing and dancing in the streets.

Unlike other big lotteries that generate just a few big winners, Spain’s Christmas lottery aims for a share-the-wealth system rather than a single jackpot, and thousands of numbers yield at least some kind of return. It is known as “El Gordo” in Spanish, or the “Fat One.”

Prizes range from the face value of a €20 ticket — in other words, you get your money back — to the top prize of €400,000, which this year went to the holder of ticket No. 62246.

A total of 1,600 “decimos” with that number were put up for sale. A decimo is a stub for the tenth of the price of a €200 full ticket.

But this year winners will get slimmed-down prizes as a new austerity tax takes a bite for the first time. A 20 percent tax will be slapped on all winnings above €2,500.

The tax on this year’s Christmas lottery prizes will generate €188 million for state coffers, according to the tax inspectors’ union Gestha.

As in other years, the Spanish government, which has launched tough economic reforms to stabilize public finances, will also get 30 percent of the revenues from ticket sales, minus the running costs, meaning the state will collect around €900 million from the draw.

Spending on the Christmas lottery has fallen each year since Spain’s property-led economic boom collapsed in 2008, sending the jobless rate soaring to 26 percent. Each Spaniard spent an average of €49.99 on the draw this year, down from €59.92 in 2009.