Recession-hit Spain holds huge Christmas lottery

Associated Press
Gas station worker, Maria Gonzalez Jimenez, hugs a colleague after winning the second prize of the Christmas lottery “El Gordo” (“The Fat One”) in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Spain, Sunday Dec. 22, 2013. Millions of Spaniards are glued to televisions as the country's cherished Christmas lottery, the world's richest, distributes a bounty of 2.5 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in prize money to winning ticket owners. The draw is so popular that most of Spain's 46 million inhabitants traditionally watch some part of it live in the hope that the school children singing out winning numbers will call out their ticket. The top prize, known as "El Gordo" (The Fat One), gives lucky winners 400,000 euros per ticket Sunday, while the second-best number nets 125,000 euros. (AP Photo/Andres Gutierrez)

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MADRID (AP) — Champagne corks popped around Spain on Sunday as jubilant winners celebrated scooping up prizes in the country's famed Christmas lottery, the world's richest.

One ticket-holder who slept in Sunday morning said he'd leapt up from his bed in surprise after hearing the television announce his ticket number for "El Gordo" (The Fat One) — the lottery's top prize, a cool 400,000-euro ($546,200) payoff.

Raul Clavero, 27, a mechanic living in the Madrid suburb of Leganes, then realized that four other members of his family had also bought tickets with the same winning numbers.

Millions of Spaniards had been glued to their televisions as 2.5 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in prize money was distributed in a four-hour TV show. Unlike lotteries that offer one large jackpot, Spain's yuletide drawing sprinkles a variety of winnings on thousands of ticketholders.

Tales of joy and celebration were widely broadcast on TV stations, providing Spain's struggling population a rare moment of joy after another year of a brutal financial crisis.

Before Spain's property-led economic boom imploded in 2008, ticket buyers often talked about spending their winnings on new cars, beach homes or fancy vacations. Now many Spaniards are just hoping to avoid having their homes or cars repossessed.

"We jumped out of bed and ran out," Clavero said, still looking shell-shocked two hours later. He added that he would "pay the mortgage, that's the first thing, and then just enjoy the rest."

Winning El Gordo tickets this year were sold in at least eight locations throughout the country, including Madrid, Barcelona and the northern industrial city of Modragon, where electrical appliance manufacturer Fagor Electrodomesticos filed for bankruptcy in October.

The second-best number netted winners €125,000 ($170,700) and all these tickets — worth 1.3 million euros ($1.7 million) — were sold in the town of Granadilla de Abona on the Canary Island resort of Tenerife.

The lottery had one change this year. For the first time, the tax man will claim 20 percent of winnings above 2,500 euros ($3,400), as the Spanish government strives to right an economy saddled with sky-high unemployment of 26 percent.

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