The Spanish lottery Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad (also known as Lotería de Navidad) is one of the largest lotteries in the world, both when it comes to first prize size and the size of the total prize pot. In English, it is commonly known as the Spanish Christmas Lottery. It should be noted that the large first prize (“el gordo”) is not paid out to a single lottery ticket, but to several lottery tickets having the same 5-digit number but belonging to different series. The general gist of the Spanish Christmas Lottery is to spread the pot over a lot of winners rather than concentrate it in one enormous jackpot that goes to one lottery holder.

spanish christmas lotteryThe Spanish Christmas Lottery has taken place once a year since 1812, making it the second longest running lottery in the world. It did for instance manage to survive the Spanish Civil War without interruption, even though the lottery drawing had to move to Valencia when the Republicans were forced out of Madrid. After the overthrow of the Republican government, the lottery continued under the Franco regime, and then afterwards.

The Spanish Christmas Lottery is organized by the Spanish Public Administration. Since 2010, the public business entity Sociedad Estatal Loterías y Apuestas del Estado (SELAE/LAE) is responsible for administering this and several other Spanish state lotteries. SELAE/LAE belongs to the Spanish Ministry of Finance and Public Administration, through the Secretary of State for Finance.

A very large part of the Spanish population participate in the Spanish Christmas Lottery each year, even people who do not engage in any gambling activities during the rest of the year. It has become and important and well established tradition for the Christmas season. Tickets, or part of tickets, are exchanged between friends, family and work acquaintances.

Spanish Christmas Lottery tickets

Each ticket for the Spanish Christmas Lottery has a pre-printed 5-digit number and a series-designator. Each individual 5-digit number is present on a large amount of tickets; but only one time in each series.

Example: In 2011, the winning 5-digit number for the main jackpot was 58268. This number was used for lottery tickets in 180 different series; one time in each series. Each winning ticket got a €4 million payout. So, the total payout was €720 millions, since 180 series x €4 millions = €720 millions.

The exact quantity of tickets and series can vary from year to year. There was for instance 195 series and 66,000 5-digit numbers in 2004, but 170 series and 85,000 5-digit numbers in 2005.

Buying tickets for the Spanish Christmas Lottery

One ticket (billete) for the Spanish Christmas Lottery costs €200. Since this is a large amount of money, it is more common to purchase a tenth of a ticket, a so called décimo, for €20.

spanish lotteryIt is not uncommon for organizations and companies to purchase a few billetes and divide them up into even smaller portions than tenths, and then sell these small pieces to members, customers or employees. A part of a billete that is smaller than a décimo is called participation. You don’t actually get a physical part of the billete when you purchase a participation. Instead, your name, the ticket number + series and the amount paid is written down on a signed receipt or on a list kept by the seller.

A lot of different vendors in Spain wills sell tickets for the Spanish Christmas Lottery, from supermarkets to small tobacconists (Estancos). Rumors about a specific vendor being a “lucky vendor” are rife, and can lead to long lines where people wait for hours to buy their ticket from that specific vendor.

Tickets for the Spanish Christmas Lottery start selling months in advance, so there is definitely no need to stand in a long line to get your tickets unless you want to. You can simply buy one when you do your regular grocery shopping in supermarket or visit your local Estanco. Also, many business like bars and coffee shops in Spain will sell décimos or participationes.

There are websites that sell Spanish Christmas Lottery tickets (or décimos or participationes), but it is important to do your research before you buy because some of them are frauds. Only purchase from reputable and well-established websites.

Geographical distribution

A vendor selling tickets for the Spanish Christmas Lottery will typically only have tickets for one or two 5-digit numbers. Therefore, the winners of a large prize (1st prize, 2nd prize, etc) are often people who purchased their tickets from the same vendor or got their décimos or participationes from the same employer / organization / bar or similar. It is not uncommon for the winners to be living in the same area or even be work mates. For instance, in 2011 all the tickets that shared the 1st prize had been sold in Grañén, a town with roughly 2,000 inhabitants. The year before, €414 millions of El Gordo went to tickets sold in Barcelona, while the remaining €171 millions were spread over tickets sold in a few other parts of the country. In 2006, all the tickets that shared the 2nd prize had been purchased in a kiosk on Puerta del Sol in Madrid.

The draw

With a few exceptions, the draw has always taken place in Madrid. The traditional venue is the Lotería Nacional hall, but during recent years a few other places have been used for the draw, including the Palacio Municipal de Congresos de Madrid and Teatro Real in Madrid.

Pupils of the San Ildefonso school draw the numbers, and sing the results aloud in front of an audience. CEIP San Ildefonso is the oldest still existing school in Madrid. It was founded by a Royal Certificate from king Carlos V in the year 1543 to cater for the educational needs of orphans of public servants. The tradition of letting pupils from San Ildefonso carry out lottery draws in Madrid dates back to 1771 and it thus older than Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad. As orphans, the children were expected to be less likely to cheat.

Today, you do not need to be an orphan to attend San Ildefonso. Also, since 1984 both girls and boys participate in the draw; before that year it was only boys.

Throughout the years, many traditions have developed concerning the draw. The audience tend to dress up in festive clothing and hats, and some even wear lottery-related costumes. The entire draw is broadcast by state-run Televisión Española and Radio Nacional de España. The winners of large sums usually donate some of the money to the San Ildefonso school.

The vessels and the balls

For the draw, two spherical vessels are used:

  • The large vessel holds 100,000 small wooden balls. Each ball in this vessel has a unique 5-digit number on it, from 00000 to 99999. The balls are shown to the public before the balls are placed in the vessel, so that everyone can be certain that his or her ticket number is actually in the vessel.
  • The small vessel contains 1,807 wooden balls. Each ball in this vessel has a price on it. The prize used to be in pesetas, but is now in euro.

Drawing procedures

elgordoaThe draw takes place in the following order:

  • One ball for the first prize (“El Gordo”)
  • One ball for the second prize
  • One ball for the third prize
  • Two balls for the fourth prizes
  • Eight balls for the fifth prizes
  • 1794 balls for the small prizes. (This part of the draw is called “la pedrea” which means avalanche of pebbles / stoning with pebbles.)

Since there are so many prizes, the drawing procedure takes several hours. (The pupils work in shifts.) However, he drawing of El Gordo is the part that attracts the most attention and many Spaniards to not watch or listen to the entire draw – especially not to la pedrea.

There is a number of safety procedures to follow during the draw, including showing drawn balls to a committee and to a camera.

When does the draw take place?

The Spanish Christmas Lottery draw takes place on December 22.

What is El Gordo?

El gordo means the fat one or the big one in Spanish. The first prize of the Spanish Christmas Lottery, i.e. the jackpot, is affectionately called El Gordo. Since this jackpot gets so much attention in foreign media, it is not uncommon for foreigners to erroneously believe that El Gordo is the name of the lottery itself. Also, a big jackpot of any lottery can be referred to as el gordo in Spain – it doesn’t have to be the Spanish Christmas Lottery jackpot.

N.B! There is a weekly Spanish lottery game named El Gordo de la Primitiva. This lottery has nothing to do with the Spanish Christmas Lottery, but is a state run lottery just like the Spanish Christmas Lottery.

Money distribution

This is the distribution chart for the year 2013 for one single series. In that year, the Spanish Christmas Lottery had 160 series with 100,000 tickets in each series.

Quantity Prize Description Total
1 €4,000,000 First Prize – El Gordo €4,000,000
1 €1,250,000 Second Prize €1,250,000
1 €500,000 Third Prize €500,000
2 €200,000 Fourth Prizes €400,000
8 €60,000 Fifth Prizes €480,000
1,794 €1,000 La Pedrea €1,794,000
2 €20,000 For the two numbers before and after the First Prize (approximations) €40,000
2 €12,500 For the two numbers before and after the Second Prize (approximations) €25,000
2 €9,600 For the two numbers before and after the Third Prize (approximations) €19,200
99 €1,000 For the 99 numbers with the same first three digits of the First Prize €99,000
99 €1,000 For the 99 numbers with the same first three digits of the Second Prize €99,000
99 €1,000 For the 99 numbers with the same first three digits of the Third Prize €99,000
198 €1,000 For the 99 numbers with the same first three digits of each of the Fourth Prizes €198,000
999 €1,000 For the 999 numbers with the same two last digits as the First Prize €999,000
999 €1,000 For the 999 numbers with the same two last digits as the Second Prize €999,000
999 €1,000 For the 999 numbers with the same two last digits as the Third Prize €999,000
9,999 €200 For the 9,999 numbers with the same last digit as the First Prize (refund) €1,999,800
Total per series €14 millions
Total for the 160 series €2 240 millions

As you can see, there is quite a lot of small winnings in this prize structure. The chance of winning €200 (get the cost of the ticket back) is 10% while the chance of winning more than this is somewhat over 5%.

Winners who get their money back often use that money to participate in Sorteo de El Niño, an another important Spanish lottery. The draw for Sorteo de El Niño is on January 6 (Epiphany of Jesus).