MADRID - Champagne corks popped across Spain Sunday as the annual "Fat One" Christmas lottery, which has the world's biggest total pay-out, spread 2.24 billion euros (US$3.1 billion) in prizes around the country, where one in four is out of work.
Millions of people were glued to TV sets as children from a Madrid shool that used to be a home for orphans picked wooden balls bearing the winning numbers and prizes out of two giant golden tumblers and then sang them out in a live draw lasting over three hours.
Television reporters rushed to towns and villages across the country to capture scenes of winners breaking open champagne bottles inside bars or celebrating by singing and dancing in the streets.
Unlike other big lotteries that generate just a few big winners, Spain's Christmas lottery aims for a share-the-wealth system rather than a single jackpot, and thousands of numbers yield at least some kind of return. It is known as "El Gordo" in Spanish, or the "Fat One."
Prizes range from the face value of a 20-euro ticket - in other words you get your money back - to the top prize of 400,000 euros which this year went to the number 62246.
A total of 1,600 "decimos" with that number were put up for sale. A decimo is a stub for the tenth of the price of a 200-euro full ticket.
But this year winners will get slimmed down prizes as a new austerity tax takes a bite for the first time.
A 20-per cent tax will be slapped on all winnings above 2,500 euros, meaning the holder of a winning decimo will pocket just 320,500 euros.
A winner of one of the second prizes worth 125,000 euros was sitting in the front row of Madrid's Teatro Real opera house where the draw was held when the winning number 79712 was sung out.
"I bought the decimo at a gas station last week because I liked the number," Jesus Lorente told reporters as he held up his smart phone with a photo of the winning decimo, his hand trembling with emotion.
Lorente, a 27-year-old hotel worker from Spain's Canary Islands who was wearing a red Santa Claus hat, said he would use the money to pay off his mortgage.