Spanish lottery dishes out $3.23 billion

MADRID, Spain (AP) - December 22, 2008

The top prize of the lottery dubbed "El Gordo" (The Fat One) went to holders of tickets bearing the number 32365.

The winning number appears on 1,950 tickets, each of which wins euro300,000 ($418,000).

The number was sung out at just after noon Monday by pupils of Madrid's Saint Ildefonso School in a nationally televised draw held each Dec. 22.

Rather than a single jackpot, the lottery aims for a share-out in which thousands of numbers yield at least some kind of return.

Since it began in 1812, the Christmas lottery has become a favorite holiday tradition. This year, it sold an estimated euro2.8 billion euros ($3.90 billion) nationwide - nearly 3 percent down on last year.

The lottery starts at 9 a.m. (0800 GMT) and people throughout the country typically tune into the radio, television or Internet to find out if their number is called for one of the prizes.

The 1,950 tickets with the top prize number were sold across seven of Spain's 52 provinces.

Each ticket bears five digits running from 00001 to 85000.

To complicate things further, and to get money trickling to as many people as possible, each set of five numbers shows up on 1,950 tickets, called 'decimos.'

Most people buy a 'decimo,' which costs 20 euros ($28), although lots of people chip in together and buy shares of several or many such tickets.

The state lottery agency estimates per capita spending of about 62 euros ($92) on the Gordo this year, down about 1 euro from 2007. Seventy percent goes back out in prizes, and 30 percent goes to the state.

Spain established its national lottery system as a charity in 1763, during the reign of King Carlos III, but its objective gradually shifted toward filling state coffers.

Spain holds another big lottery Jan. 6 to mark the Feast of the Epiphany. It is known as "El Nino" (The Child), in reference to the baby Jesus.

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