Spain gripped by 'Gordo' lottery fever

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MADRID (AP) — People lucky enough to hold tickets with the number 71198 were blessed with hundreds of thousands of euros in prize money in Spain's bumper Christmas lottery Friday.

Children from Madrid's San Ildefonso school called out the top prize number three hours after the much-followed, nationally televised draw began around 9 a.m. (0800 GMT) at Madrid's Teatro Real opera house.

The lottery, known as El Gordo, or The Fat One, will dish out 2.4 billion euros ($2.8 billion) in prizes this year.

Other lotteries have bigger individual top prizes but El Gordo, held each Dec. 22, is ranked as the world's richest for the total prize-money involved.

The top prize per winning ticket is 400,000 euros but there are many smaller prizes too.

Standard tickets cost 20 euros and people traditionally chip in and buy shares in several tickets with friends, family or work colleagues.

Queues form outside lottery booths weeks ahead of the draw and people tune in across all media to find out if they are among the lucky ones in a draw that dates back to 1812.

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

Organizers said ticket sales totaled 2.8 billion euros ($3.3 billion) this year, up 3 percent from last year.

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