Spain hands out $3B in planet's biggest lottery

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MADRID (AP) — Spaniards and Latin American immigrants who bought lottery tickets in an upper middle class Madrid neighborhood hit the jackpot on Monday, cracking open bottles of champagne on the streets as they celebrated winning 400,000-euro ($490,000) payoffs from a 2.5 billion-euro ($3 billion) pot of cash divided among thousands of ticketholders.

More than 100 of the top winning tickets were sold in the downtown neighborhood, though 20 were also purchased in the southern city of Cadiz and a handful were sold in other cities across the nation.

Restaurant employee Joana Lizcano beamed as she soaked in the reality of winning the big one after coming to Spain from Colombia as a poor immigrant 14 years ago.

"The first thing I'll do is take my 5-year-old daughter to the Disney theme park in Paris," said Lizcano, 28. "Then I'll pay the debts I have and try to buy an apartment with my husband."

The workers at her restaurant were among those who landed the most winning tickets, along with employees of the nearby Madrid Wax Museum.

Unlike lotteries that offer one large jackpot or just a few big winning tickets, Spain's Christmas season "El Gordo" (The Fat One) lottery distributes prizes to thousands of people, with other winning tickets shelling out tens of thousands or hundreds of euros.

It's the world's richest lottery and Spaniards were glued to televisions as awards were announced in a drawing program that lasted four hours.

Before Spain's economic implosion in 2008, winners often splurged on new cars, beach homes or vacations. Now many use winnings to pay off debt.

Photocopy shop manager Arturo Aguirre said his winning ticket would allow him to buy his way out of the debt he racked up amid the crisis that started easing this year, but still hasn't translated into a major financial turnaround for many Spaniards.

"I'll be able to plug the holes that I've got," Aguirre said.


Associated Press writer Jorge Sainz in Madrid contributed to this report.

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