This Europe: The 'Fat One' jackpot ends up in the Sewer

By Julia Hayley
Monday 23 December 2002 01:00

Millions of Spaniards got up early yesterday and turned on their televisions to listen to three hours of monotonous and often tuneless chanting.

No strange new religion had hit the country. They were simply hoping a prize from the country's biggest lottery would come their way.

When El Gordo – the fat one, as the first prize in the Christmas lottery is known – rang out just before 10.30am, much of it landed in the town of Alcantarilla (Sewer) in Murcia, on the southern coast.

El Gordo, dating from around 1812, is the only lottery in which almost everyone takes part. Friends and families spend the weeks leading up to 22 December swapping numbers to increase their chance of winning a piece of up to €1.7bn (£1bn) in prize money.

No single ticket wins because each number is subdivided into hundreds of parts so that the wealth can be spread. Individual tickets, which cost €20, are split again and again in informal arrangements, which may or may not stand the test of actually winning a prize.

La Bruja (the witch), the lottery office in Alcantarilla, sold many of the winning tickets. A lot were bought by the football team of Velez Rubio in the neighbouring region of Almeria.

The team, which is languishing last but one in its division, failed to finish its match on Sunday morning. Play was suspended after half the players went off injured, state television reported.

Another prize winner was unable to finish his breakfast. "I put down my toast and had a glass of whisky instead," he said, interviewed at one of hundreds of impromptu street parties across the country.

Norman Manfredo Aguirre, an immigrant in Alcantarilla, was jumping for joy. "Thank you Spain. I don't know why I bought a ticket. I had faith and hoped I could win a prize and bring my children over from Ecuador," he said.

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