Spain’s Massive Lottery Awards Billions

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(Courtesy: ATLAS)

By Al Goodman, CNN

MADRID (CNN) — In Spain’s deep economic crisis, the lucky ones could hardly believe their good fortune on Saturday — holding a $26 lottery ticket with the winning number pays out a return of $528,000.

The country’s annual Christmas lottery pays out this year $2.2 billion to thousands of winners, but those holding the winning number for the top prize — 76058 — for El Gordo, or “the fat one,” reaped the biggest rewards, according to Spain’s state-run lottery.

The first prize paid $950 million overall, or 43 percent of the total prizes, and most of “El Gordo” was won by some residents of the historic university town of Alcala de Henares, just east of Madrid, the lottery administration said.

There, in a working class neighborhood with public housing and many immigrants, Spanish media reported that champagne bottles were popping at the lottery office that sold many of the winning tickets.

Spaniards typically buy a share of a ticket, amongst friends or family, at the local bar or workplace, so the joy was spread around.

A man in Alcala de Henares bought 10 shares, now worth $5.8 million, and had given them away other family members. One recipient, the father of a young child, said he would try to buy a decent home and a car.

Another winner was a cafe owner who said he’d still probably open for business on Monday, after going to collect his earnings at the bank, Spanish media reported.

The second biggest prize mostly went to residents in the town of Aranda de Duero, north of Madrid. Numerous towns across the nation also got a piece of the action, and some portions of the top El Gordo prize were sold in 15 Spanish provinces.

But Spain’s recession and the unemployment rate that tops 25 percent clearly had an impact on the lottery intake this year.

Spaniards spent 8% less on lottery tickets this year than last, with the average Spaniard laying out only $68 for lottery ticket shares, down from $73 last year, the lottery administration said.

The biggest winner is the state, which keeps $976 million, or 30 percent of the entire lottery intake, which reached $3.2 billion this year. The remaining 70 percent was distributed for prizes.

This was the last year that Christmas lottery winnings over $3,300 will be tax free. Next year, anyone winning $3,300 or more will see their good fortune taxed at 20 percent, making the cash-strapped Spanish government even a bigger winner next year.