The champagne was on the house yesterday at Maldonado Bar in Palleja near Barcelona – and it was on everyone's clothes and hair, too. The owner, José Antonio Maldonado, will hope his clientele pick up the tab. He sold tickets that won €180m in Spain's Christmas lottery. As his customers cheered and popped corks, Mr Maldonado said: "I feel like Robin Hood. I know many people asphyxiated by the crisis that won the lottery in my bar."
The country's traditional Christmas draw, known as El Gordo or "The Fat One", has paid out a total of €2.3bn in prizes. The world's largest payout – a Christmas ritual here since 1812 – gave a boost to thousands of people during an otherwise bleak holiday season, which sees 20 per cent of the working population unemployed. In nearby Cerdanyola del Valles, the top prize-winning number – 79250 – came in just in time for Fernando Sanmartin, whose €900-per-month unemployment benefits expired the day of the draw. His share of the prize is €20,000, enough to allow him to keep his apartment.
In the Madrid suburb of Alcorcon, a state lottery vendor hired a medium to perform magic rituals with an altar of candles, images of the saints and pagan symbols at his sales office – and they seemed to work. The vendor, Agustin Riva, sold winning tickets worth a total of €3m to the elderly residents of the town. Despite the crisis, Spaniards spent an average of €69 per person on the world's oldest and richest lottery, a rare money-maker for a Spanish state soon to be partially privatised. Overall, sales dipped only a fraction of a per cent compared to last year.
El Gordo creates few millionaires, but it spreads the wealth widely because of a complex pay-out system that divides prize money among 195 series of tickets, each further divided into 10 smaller parts, which cost €20 a piece. This generous division ensures the bounty is sprinkled widely, lightening the loads of entire businesses, villages and sporting clubs.
"This is the happiest day of my life," said truck driver Emilio Fernandez, one of 33 workers of a Huelva firm who shared €10m worth of tickets.
"The first thing I'm going to do is get rid of this mortgage and live in peace."