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Recession-hit Spain holds huge lottery

MADRID--Millions of Spaniards were glued to their televisions Sunday as the country's cherished Christmas lottery — the world's richest — distributed a bounty of 2.5 billion euros (US$3.4 billion) in prize money.

The draw is so popular that most of Spain's 46 million people watch at least part of the four-hour show live, desperately hoping that the schoolchildren singing out the winning numbers will call out their ticket.

Unlike lotteries that offer one large jackpot, Spain's yuletide draw sprinkles a variety of winnings on thousands of ticketholders.

The top prize — known as “El Gordo” (The Fat One) — gave lucky winners 400,000 euros (US$546,200) per ticket Sunday, while the second-best number netted them 125,000 euros (US$170,700).

However, this year for the first time, the tax man will claim 20 percent of winnings above 2,500 euros (US$3,400), as the Spanish government strives to right an economy saddled with a sky-high unemployment rate of 26 percent.

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 large electrical appliance manufacturer Fagor Electrodomesticos filed for bankruptcy in October.

The entire lot of second-prize tickets — worth 1.3 million euros (US$1.7 million) — was sold in the town of Granadilla de Abona on the Canary Island resort of Tenerife.

Among the audience watching the draw in person at Madrid's Teatro Real Opera House was Jesus Lorente, who said he bought his second-prize ticket at a gas station in Granadilla de Abona.

The beaming 27-year-old caterer said he would use his winnings to “plug gaps” in his personal finances, holding a photograph he had taken of the ticket on his cellphone.

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

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Gas station workers celebrate with friends and clients after winning the second prize of the Christmas lottery, “El Gordo” (“The Fat One”), in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Spain on Sunday, Dec. 22.


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