This is literally a national institution and when you come to study Spanish here in Madrid, it’s pretty much obligatory for you to take part! Let’s have a look at what El gordo (literally the fat one) is all about and find out some of its history.

Who doesn’t love a bit of fat lottery? That’s what the Spanish call their Christmas lottery game – El gordo.

What is El gordo?

The El gordo lottery is drawn on the 22nd of December and is one of the most anticipated television events of the year. The sorteo (draw) is shown live on La 1 (Spanish national TV channel 1) and features two huge bombos (hoppers). One of these contains 100,000 balls with all the lottery numbers, while the other has balls with all the prizes printed on them. Then, the bombos start spinning and students from the Colegio de San Ildefonso in Madrid sacan (take out) the numbers which they then cantan (sing) out loud for all to hear. One student sings the lottery number and the other sings the prize awarded to that number.

How much does a décimo for the gordo costs?

In terms of types of tickets, you can buy a billete (ticket) which costs 200 euros, or more commonly un décimo (a tenth) costing, logically, 20 euros. Many people share un décimo with friends or family and so reducing the cost incrementally for each player. The numbers on each one are a combination of 5 digits between 00000 and 99999 which therefore produces 100,000 unique numbers (hence 100,000 balls in the lottery machine). Clearly, far more than this number of tickets are sold, so billetes (tickets) are produced in series (series) meaning multiple people end up with the winning numbers and therefore share the total amount.

Tickets for the El gordo lottery están a la venta (go on sale) from early July (yes, July!) and there’s always a frenzied rush of people willing to queue for hours to get theirs from the most popular puntos de venta (points of sale) across the country. For example, in Madrid the most famous lottery seller is Doña Manolita located right in the city centre. This administración (lottery seller) has people waiting outside for hours each day, week after week to buy their décimos as the shop has sold more winning numbers, both for el gordo (the main prize) and the other prize amounts, more times than anywhere else in Spain. When you’re here learning Spanish, you should get yourself down there early to pick up a ticket – who knows what might happen!

The prizes of the Christmas Lottery

The premios (prizes) for the El gordo are a little complicated. As we said in the previous paragraph, el gordo is actually the name for the top cash prize. Officially, the lottery is called El Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad (The Spanish Christmas Lottery Draw) but everyone uses el gordo to mean the same thing. Here’s a quick breakdown of the main prizes.

Spanish English Prize amount
El gordo – Primer premio The fat one – First prize €4,000,000 x 1
Segundo premio Second prize €1,250,000 x 1
Tercer premio Third prize €500,000 x 1
Cuarto premio Fourth prize €250,000 x 2
Quinto premio Fifth prize €60,000 x 8
La pedrea Minor prize €1,000 x 1,794 (in 2022 at least)

Apart from these, there are all sorts of other combinations of prizes too – you’ll just have to jugar (play) yourself and find out!

Where does El gordo come from?

The Christmas lottery in Spain, in its current form, is a tradition dating back to 1812 when the country was mostly under French rule after the Napoleonic invasion. The city of Cádiz, in the south of the country, was the one of the few places still free from the French and  home to what remained of the independent Spanish government. A minister, Ciriaco González Carvajal, came up with the idea as a way to recaudar fondos (raise funds) for the government which was in desperate need of money to continue fighting the Guerra de la Independencia (the Independence War). The first sorteo (draw) took place on the 18th of December 1812 in Cádiz and, as the Spanish regained their freedom, was moved to the capital of Madrid in 1814. 

Since its inception, the lotería de navidad has been drawn every single year during economic crises, disasters and even in the Guerra Civil (Civil War) of 1936-1939 when the two bandos (sides) had separate sorteos (draws). It’s incredible how important El gordo is in Spain, and everyone wants to see the new anuncio de la lotería de navidad (Christmas lottery advert) when it’s released in November as it marks the start of the run-up to Christmas.

So, get your wallet/purse ready for when you come to do your Spanish course in Madrid and buy a décimo or two – you might be one of the lucky winners!

Hablamos - full-on Spanish!