Spanish Lotteries

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Published: 29/08/2012

The Spanish government has always taken a relaxed approach to gambling. Lotteries made up the bulk of the betting until the 1970s, when skill-based gambling was legalised, followed by games of chance in 1981. As part of a sweeping reform in 2008, the country was divided into 17 regions, each of which was given the authority over local gambling licenses.

Today, no fewer than half a dozen major drawings are conducted weekly, in addition to Spain’s participation in Europe’s regional lottery EuroMillions. Among the popular games here are two featuring a traditional 6/49 format: La Primitiva with its drawings on Thursdays and Sundays and Bonolotto, which has drawings on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The charity lottery known as Cupón de la ONCE is also conducted on Fridays and Sundays. Proceeds go to the national association for the blind, Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles, and some 23,000 registered disabled people are employed to operate it. Prizes range up to €300,000.

La Quiniela is Spain’s game based on football results, quite similar to the U.K.’s pools, in which the outcomes of league matches must be predicted. Tickets are available at official lottery shops known as Loterias y Apuestas del Estado, identifiable by their blue colour and distinctive signs.

Two special lottery drawings held on an annual basis are El Niño, conducted in conjunction with the festival of Los Reyes on 6 January each year, and El Gordo de Navidad, held on 22 December as part of Christmas celebrations. The latter was inaugurated in 1763 by King Carlos III; it has been a Spanish tradition since 1812 and recently expanded to a special August edition. The winning numbers are drawn by students at San Ildefonso primary school in Madrid, a former orphanage that has always been home to the children making the draw.

In December 2011, the small Spanish farming community of Grañén in northern Huesca Province made headlines worldwide. El Gordo’s top prize worth €540 million (£600 million) was claimed by some 2,000 winning residents, who had purchased the successful numbers by using funds contributed to a local homemakers’ association. Spaniards pay no tax on the winnings.

The total annual prize payout of El Gordo is around €3 billion, which has helped turn the lottery into a self-perpetuating success. Bigger winnings mean more tickets purchased, and that in turn makes the prizes even larger. It has been estimated that anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of the Spanish population buys a ticket or a share in one each year at an average cost of €75.

Fully 70% of the lottery revenues are paid out in prizes, while 30% of the sales go to the government in taxes. That translates into roughly €1 billion in tax income, accounting for 0.1% of Spain’s GDP and equivalent to almost one percent of the country’s annual budget deficit target.

Anyone aged 18 years or older may buy an El Gordo ticket, including foreigners, although the winnings are taxable of taken out of the country. Because there also many smaller cash awards, spread out over some 15,000 winning tickets, the odds of coming away with some form of prize is said to be between 15 and 30 percent.

El Gordo de Navidad tickets are available via the Internet, along with tickets for the La Primitiva weekly draws. Sites such as Ladbrokes and Paddy Power also offer their versions of the Spanish lotteries under names like Sunday Spanish Lotto or Spanish Lucky Numbers, based upon the La Primitiva results.

Published on: 29/08/2012

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