El Gordo, the “big one”, is the most important prize in the Spanish Christmas Lottery — the largest lottery in the world. This year, there’s €2.3 billion in prizes (about 3 billion dollars). There’s a word for that: CRAZY.
Also: EXCITING. Roughly 18% of participants stand a chance at winning something, which ain’t bad odds. There are a limited amount of tickets; in 2006 there were 85,000 numbers. At €200, tickets are expensive, so they’re also sold in décimos at €20 apiece. If you hold a décimo of a winning number, you get 10%.
Each lottery outlet only sells one or two numbers, so it’s very common for a large number of people from the same community to win. Many Spaniards buy tickets from their favorite bar… and if you win, the joy is multiplied. The only thing better than being suddenly richer is for all of your friends and neighbors to be suddenly richer, as well.
I’ve read that 98% of Spaniards have some sort of stake in El Gordo, and the average amount invested is over €70. This helps explain the hugeness of the pot.
El Gordo is pretty famous outside of Spain, and naturally there are a lot of schemers looking to take advantage of bling-blinded foreigners. Here’s the ground rule: you should never pay more than €20 for a décimo… if someone charges you more than that, flatly turn it down. I just saw an advertisement in a British magazine décimos for €80 — four times what they’re worth. [UPDATE: €20 is the going price in Spain, but outside of the country, the official price for a décimo is €40. Thanks to the commenters!!]
It’s very common to give Gordo tickets as Christmas presents here in Spain. We’ll probably be buying ours later this week… Generally, I’m not a big lottery-fan (not that I eschew gambling), but I can’t deny that I’m extremely excited about El Gordo. The draw is on Dec. 22nd and best of all: winnings are tax-free.