Faites vos jeux!
The end of the year is a busy period in Spain. Beside the predominantly Catholic celebrations of Immaculate Conception (early December) and Christmas (late December), Spanish people eagerly await another event: The biggest lottery of the year on December 22nd. It is not an official holiday and people go to work as if nothing happens, but a massive amount of participants hope to end the day as millionaires.
Lotteries are popular throughout the year, but the one organised just before Christmas beats them all. El Gordo, the fat one, literally draws queues of people to the National Lottery offices across the country, starting from mid-November onwards. El Gordo is the biggest lottery of the year, with more prize money for offer than any of the weekly and daily variants.
..can think of more useful ways of spending money that to join the lottery
Carmen (56) specifies that her generation is probably the most active when it comes to the Christmas lottery. She thinks the main reason people join is because it gives them something to hope for and calls the lottery a `happy illusion`. Carmen has her lot for this year in her wallet and shows how the system works. People can either buy an entire lot (D?cimos), or split parts called Participaciones. If the number of their entire lot gives right to a prize, the participations will give right to a proportional part of it, which is a good reason for people to exchange participations and spread their winning chances.
El Gordo is the only lottery that allows for the resale of lots. Many non-profit organizations take advantage of the system by selling lots a little more expensive than their actual face value, effectively making the prime a donation to charity. Colleagues buy entire lots and share them between each others, which is also a common thing to do for families. Joining or not joining is not related to social status although people are less likely to join if they are under 25 years of age ? it`s more a family event that involves people who already have stable lives. That idea would prove the suspicion that joining in this particular case is more important than winning, which most of today`s respondents have been able to confirm.
Sharing the cash
The drawing of lots takes place through a massive TV, radio and internet coverage which starts on the morning of 22 December and lasts until the last prize winners have been announced. It is not a bank holiday, but TVs and radios at work will all tune in to follow the progress. The winning numbers are made known by a children`s choir, who sing the numbers of the winning lots and the prize money belonging to them.
When I meet Daniel (26) and Marisol (33) they are just on the way home after buying lots for El Gordo. Daniel explains that he will exchange some with friends, but that he won`t be following the TV coverage of the event. `It would make me too nervous`, he says. Still, he is not playing for the money but more for the fun. If he wins anything, the first thing he`ll do is get drunk.
Others would use any prize money they won to buy real estate or pay off their mortgage. Javier (31) says that it`s the most obvious thing to do, simply because buying property in Spain is very expensive. He also thinks that the popularity of lotteries can be explained by the poverty after the Spanish Civil War, when joining lotteries helped people gain hope for better lives. As it seems, the strive for a better life is still present in people`s mind today, even though the standard of living has increased dramatically over the last 50 years.
Collecting a prize can be done in any of the nationwide sales offices. Winners of bigger prizes can only appeal to banks, who own a special account where the prize money is deposited. The banks are very keen on having prize winners open the account with their banks. You may see small champagne parties around the lottery offices, with bank directors descending in the street to identify prize winners. Winning lots are instantly convertible into money, so prize winners need to protect them with their lives until the moment they cashed them.
Where the money goes
El Gordo is organised by the Spanish State, who takes a significant part of the jackpot. Much of it is spent on charity, but the destination of the money remains in many cases unclear. There are no projects that clearly display that they have been financed by the national lottery. Only people who intentionally buy their lots from charity organisations can possibly known where their money is going.
Another way of knowing that a part of your money is used in a sensible way is to buy lots on the streets. Private individuals and small lottery shops that both sideline many a Spanish city`s boulevard, work for the ONCE. Fans of cycling will recognise this name for it sponsoring one of the teams in the Tour de France. In Spain, they organise lotteries to support blind and handicapped people, which is also a reason for the sellers of the lots sometimes wearing dark sunglasses or other equipment to properly perform their job. The ONCE lotteries produce jackpots much smaller than El Gordo and often only on a regional basis. The drawings take place every week however, and can be followed via newspapers, teletext and internet.
Catalunya, more so than the rest of Spain, also has Lotto Rapid. This scratch voucher can be bought from many shops and will let the winner instantly know how much he/she has, or has not, one. The Lotto Primitivo allows its participants to enter a random combination of numbers and see if that matches with the number (s) issued in that week`s drawing. For older people, there`s also Bingo, but it usually helps people spend time rather than really releasing big prices.
Ana (24, photo) does not wish to join any lottery and claims she has more useful things to spend her money on. She does confirm that Spain is fond of lotteries of different kinds. Her friends are however more likely to invest their money in football results through the Quiniela, which is the football toto. By marking 1 (home wins), x (draw), or 2, they mark their expectations for upcoming matches and can obviously make money if their predictions turn out right.
Roberto (25) is not fond of lotteries but tried the football toto a few times. He never got really far and prefers to use his money to go out or to have fun with his girlfriend. He is not joining El Gordo either, but everybody close to him does. When I ask him if none of his friends or family is giving him any lots, he explains that most of that is done on an exchange basis than by simply giving away lots. Anyway, his family knows that he is not into it, so he is excluded from the event.
I am surprised to have found another reason for a nation to divide itself. North and South issues have proved to be commonplace, city against countryside, religions against each other, languages, social classes and this time: whether or not people join the biggest lottery of the year.
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