Ah Well, Try Again Next Year.

Yesterday the Spanish National Lottery marked what for Spaniards is really the first day of Christmas, by holding El Gordo (The Fat One). This mega-lottery has been held now for 250 years on December 22nd, without interruption. Longevity is not its only claim to fame, however. It also has the distinction of being the world’s largest single draw. Sales are down quite a lot since the start of the downturn at the end of 2007, but even so the prize pot yesterday amounted to 2.2 billion euros. A ticket costs 200€, which might sound off-putting, but very few people would buy a whole ticket. They will buy a decimo ( a tenth part of a ticket at 20€) or possibly several. Those who struggle to afford a decimo will club together with friends to buy a decimo between them. One way or another, just about the entire adult population of Spain buys at least one piece of the action.Then at 9.00 am on the 22nd, everyone sits down in front of the TV to watch the draw live on RTVE1. A huge golden mesh globe has been loaded with balls representing all 100,000 possible numbers. To the left stands a smaller globe containing all of the prize balls - 2000 of them. Each globe feeds balls one at a time into a chute which deposits the ball into a bowl, and by each bowl stands a pupil of the Madrid orphanage whose historic role it is to call out, first the number, then the prize. This they do in a singy-chanty voice: “Cincuenta y dos mil, tres ciento veinte seis”:(51226), which is followed usually by the elongated call from the other child, “Miiil eeeuuuros” (1,000€). On and on it goes hypnotically, until the routine is broken as the child with the prize ball announces one of the big prizes, maybe the top prize, “Cuaatroo millones de eeeuuroos” (4,000,000€). The big prizes prompt a great flurry of theatre as the children carry the two balls across to the adjudicators and show them to each one in turn and the combination is duly verified. You may be tempted to wonder how a lottery with only 2000 winning numbers and a top prize of 4 milliin euros can be such a national obsession. You may also be tempted to wonder how that can add up to a prize fund of 2.2 billion euros. The secret is in the fact that the one hundred thousand number combinations are printed in an enormous number of series. Thus each number is sold over and over again, and the prizes are paid out to everyone holding a winning number, the prize value applying per series. Everyone, in other words, who holds a decimo of the top ticket will receive one tenth of the ticket prize, this year 4 million euros. Villages and neighbourhoods will have their favourite number which they will buy year after year in sufficient quantities to satisfy local demand. The result can be mind-blowing. Yesterday a village in the Basque Country found itself 180.000.000€ better off at the close of the draw. There’ll be some thick heads today!

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