20 August. I checked my phone and saw a notification from my Spanish friends’ WhatsApp group. It was a picture of a Christmas Lottery ticket. Someone had just bought it while on holidays in northern Spain to share it with the rest.
Here we go again.
This article is NOT sponsored. That means:
•I have NOT being paid for writing it.
•I have NOT received any other form of compensation (free products or services) in exchange.
The National Christmas Lottery: a big thing for Spaniards
What happens every 22 December? If you were Spanish, you’d say ‘the lottery draw’, of course. Because that’s the big thing happening that day. In fact, judging by the Spanish television and media, you’ll think it’s the only thing happening in the world that day.
In Spain, Christmas starts in summer. At least, lottery-wise. The administraciones (ticket sale offices) start selling tickets as early as July, after the start of the summer campaign (watch this year’s summer campaign video in Spanish).
Why that early? To make the most of Spain’s huge national tourism market. Many people try to buy tickets from as many and as far apart places as possible, thinking that they will ‘have more chances’. It’s not rocket science that the chances are the same whether your five tickets are from A or B, but people do that nonetheless. Just in case. They pop by the ticket sale office on their way back from the beach to their holiday apartment. They give money to relatives who are travelling to Tenerife this year and ask them to buy a ticket. Or even worse – they plan a trip with the sole purpose of buying a lottery ticket. As crazy as this sounds, some people travel to Madrid to buy a ticket from a specific administración called ‘Doña Manolita’. It’s an institution, with its own website, Wikipedia page and almost 8k FB followers.
The TV ad
About 4-6 weeks before the draw, they release the official TV ad, which gathers a lot of attention. I’d say it’s the Spanish equivalent of John Lewis’ Christmas ad in the UK in terms of expectation and buzz. The ad launched actor Clive Arrindell (The Crown) to fame in Spain. He started playing the main character of the ad in 1995 and soon became a well-known figure in Spanish households. El calvo de la lotería (‘the Lottery’s bald man’), we call him. He became a legend. However, the more famous he became, the less effective the TV campaign ad was; after eight years, they told him to look for new challenges. The lottery brand had fell victim of ‘the bald man’s’ success.
Last year’s ad was produced by Oscar-winning director Alejandro Amenabar.
How does the Spanish Christmas Lottery work? Tickets and prizes
Spanish National Lottery tickets are sold at official administraciones. A ticket is called décimo (‘a tenth share’) and costs €20. Ten décimos make a billete (a number), and 100,000 billetes make a serie. This year there are 170 series.
Therefore, there are in total
10 décimos * 100,000 billetes (numbers) * 170 series = 170,000,000 décimos for sale
Apart from the official tickets, there are other tickets called participaciones (‘shares’). Some associations, organisations and small businesses buy official décimos to divide them into smaller shares and sell them to the public at a fraction of the original price, depending on the number of paper tickets created.
Participaciones can include a surcharge for a chance to win a prize offered by the organising entity, such as a Christmas hamper. It’s quite common for Secondary School children to sell this type of lottery tickets with a surcharge, too, to finance their graduation trip. The surcharge cannot, in any case, exceed 20% of the ticket price.
Loterías y Apuestas del Estado (the Spanish estate lottery and betting institution) doesn’t support participaciones. When buying a participación from, let’s say, your local bar, you are entering a contract with the owner. If the number sold is a winner, the bar owner is liable for paying each and every person who bought a participación from him. He will need to provide the full name and national identification document number of every person he needs to pay to. If you have any issues obtaining your prize, you can’t claim it to the official institution.
Two ticket-related curiosities
Sharing. People love sharing a lottery ticket. It’s not exempt from risk, though. Whoever keeps the original ticket may run away with the money, so the authorities remind people to make copies, include the name of each participant and sign, so they can prove it’s a shared prize. My friends back home, for example, buy décimos anywhere they can for everyone to share. They usually end up with a dozen décimos or so. Although they haven’t won any millions yet, they often recover part of the money spent on the tickets and treat themselves to a nice barbecue.
Gifting. It’s common practice to offer Christmas Lottery tickets as gifts to family members, relatives and friends. You may even get a décimo from your employer.
There is a total of €2.31bn in prizes. There are over 15,000 prizes (from €200 to €4m per number) in different prize categories for each of the 17 series. The biggest prize is called El Gordo (‘the fat one’). If you bought a whole winning billete (number), you would win €4m; if you bought a décimo, you would win €400,000. Well, a bit less, actually, because 20% of any prize over €2,500 goes to Hacienda (Spanish tax authorities). That’s right. In Spain, lottery prizes are taxed!
In this table below, you can check how much you would win, if you bought one winning décimo:
|Prize name||No. of prizes||Prize per décimo
|El Gordo (‘The Fat One’) |
These prizes above are the main ones, but you can also win some money in other cases. For example, your ticket number may be an aproximación – the number immediately preceding or following El Gordo, the second prize or the third prize. You also win prizes if the first three digits of your ticket number coincide with the first three digits of the first, the second or the third prize; or if the last two digits of your number coincide with the last two digits of those three prizes.
If the last digit of your ticket number coincides with the last digit of El Gordo, you have a reintegro, and you will be refunded the cost of the décimo (€20). There are 9,999 reintegro prizes.
Lastly, there are 1794 pedrea prizes (you win €100 per décimo).
About the draw (Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad)
The Christmas Lottery draw takes place at Teatro Real theatre in Madrid on 22 December. It starts at 9am and lasts for a good few hours. Basically, the draw finishes when all the prize balls have been drawn out of the drum, and there are 1,807 of them!
The draw is shown live on public television and isn’t exempt of strange customs and curiosities:
People watch it live.
You could enjoy the day doing something nice and simply check the results on your mobile. Some people do. Others, Madrid residents and visitors alike, queue at the theatre from the early hours for a seat to enjoy the show live. Really.
People watch it on TV.
Watching the whole thing on TV would be madness but many people have it on in the background while doing something else – the laundry, the weekly cleaning, watering the plants – and run back into the room to check their décimos and participaciones when a big prize is drawn.
The numbers and prizes are sung by school children.
Colegio de San Ildefonso is the oldest school in Madrid and its students are known all over the country for having a main role during the Christmas Lottery draw. The school selects a certain number of students and the lucky ones work in pairs singing out ticket numbers and presenting the big winning prize balls to a panel of judges. Children are lovely, and singing is a lovely thing, but just a few minutes into the draw you’ll change your mind. Remember: there are 1,807 prize balls. Their high-pitched sing-song soon becomes tedious and monotonous. Pure agony, it is.
Last year, my fiancé R was exposed to this madness for the first time. He said, ‘this is the most horrifying thing I’ve ever watched on TV’.
Check the video below and judge by yourself. See how long you can bear the singing for!
Wins and winners
Checking the results
If you win good money, you’ll know. Either you hear the number on your TV (or your neighbour’s tv), or someone you know plays the same number as you and will immediately call you. If you won a small prize, the chances are you won’t find out until later, because nobody watches the whole thing live, writing down every single prize being drawn. That means, you have to check all your tickets when the draw is over, in case you won some money.
Today, you can simply type in your numbers into a web lottery number searcher. Before, you had to wait until the next day to check your numbers manually, one by one, on a national newspaper’s front and back pages.
Until a few years ago, 23 December used to be the ‘check if I won any pedrea or something’ day. Most people I know spend a good €200-300 on lottery tickets and checking the results isn’t a particularly enjoyable task. More often that not, my grandad offered a few quick to me or my brother to go through the numbers, so he didn’t have to.
Something I still find shocking in the UK is the fact that many big lottery winners go public. They appear on TV and newspapers, sharing personal information such as full names, ages, place of work and even where they live! In Spain, big winners are nowhere to be seen. They wait for things to calm down a bit before claiming their prize and disappear.
And then what? Playing again!
People winning very small amounts often use that money to buy another ticket for the lottery draw that takes place on 6 January. People taking part in what is commonly known as Lotería del Niño, aren’t as excited. Despite the draw offering the second biggest prize pot, only after the Christmas Lottery, it somehow feels like a consolation prize. People don’t pay much attention to the draw. Maybe because they are busy opening up presents? (In Spain we traditionally open our Christmas presents on the 6 January).
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