Christmas has come early for hundreds of lucky ticket holders in Spain as they are set to share the spoils of the world’s largest lottery, totaling $2.86 billion.
Known as “El Gordo,” meaning “the fat one,” fortuitous players with the number 88008 each won 400,000 euros ($440,000) in the top prize at Spain’s annual Christmas lottery.
While other lotteries around the world have bigger individual top prizes, Spain’s Christmas lottery is ranked as the world’s richest for the total prize money involved.
People across the country tuned into the television, radio and the internet in the early morning as the numbers tumbled out of two huge shuffling bins. Children from Madrid’s San Ildefonso School then began singing out the prize-winning numbers.
The hugely popular lottery kicks off the festive season in Spain with street and bar celebrations normally breaking out once the numbers have been drawn. Winners uncork bottles of sparkling wine while people sing and dance on the streets.
It is held each year on Dec. 22 at Madrid’s Teatro Real opera house with each ticket costing about $22.
Many people like to share tickets in what is known as “decimo” (tenths) in the run-up to Christmas. It is a major tradition among families, friends, co-workers and in bars and sports and social clubs. Tickets go on sale in July, and some players buy their tickets in the seaside resort or town where they spend their summer holidays.
Each top prize winner will pocket about 325,000 euros after tax, or around $360,000. There were also several smaller prizes doled out to other ticket holders.
The draw has had to be stopped for a few moments on two occasions due to a breakdown in the numbers drum, according to the Guardian. The handle of the mechanism that activates the outlet of the balls has become loose, so an operator has had to intervene, screwdriver in hand.
Spain established its national lottery as a charity in 1763 during the reign of King Carlos III. Its objective later became to shore up state coffers while it also helps several charities.
The Dec. 22 lottery began in 1812.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.