LIFESTYLE

Residents of Spanish beach town hit it big in country's 'El Gordo' Christmas lottery

A worker opens a trap-door in a giant drum to let the balls bearing ticket numbers fall into a lower compartment before the start of Spain's Christmas lottery, in Madrid, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015. Celebrations were guaranteed Tuesday in the southern beach town of Roquetas de Mar, southern east Spain, where tickets bearing the top prize number of 79140 in Spain's Christmas lottery, known as "El Gordo" (The Fat One) were sold. The number appeared on 1,600 tickets, known as decimos (tenths) with each holder winning 400,000 euros ($434,800). The tickets are usually sold in many different lottery sales points making it virtually impossible to win the entire 640 million euros assigned to the top prize number. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

A worker opens a trap-door in a giant drum to let the balls bearing ticket numbers fall into a lower compartment before the start of Spain's Christmas lottery, in Madrid, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015. Celebrations were guaranteed Tuesday in the southern beach town of Roquetas de Mar, southern east Spain, where tickets bearing the top prize number of 79140 in Spain's Christmas lottery, known as "El Gordo" (The Fat One) were sold. The number appeared on 1,600 tickets, known as decimos (tenths) with each holder winning 400,000 euros ($434,800). The tickets are usually sold in many different lottery sales points making it virtually impossible to win the entire 640 million euros assigned to the top prize number. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Celebrations were guaranteed Tuesday in the southern Spanish beach city of Roquetas de Mar, where tickets bearing the top prize number of 79140 in Spain's Christmas lottery were sold.

The number appeared on 1,600 tickets in the lottery known as El Gordo (The Fat One), with each holder winning 400,000 euros ($434,800). The tickets are sold in many different lottery sites around the country but this year the winning tickets were sold entirely by one lottery agent in the city of 90,000. Lottery organizers said that can happen, since bettors don't pick their own numbers.

Other lotteries have larger individual top prizes but El Gordo is ranked as the world's richest, handing out a total of 2.2 billion euros ($2.4 billion) this year in millions of prizes.

The standard ticket costs 20 euros. People traditionally chip in together and buy shares of several or many tickets among friends, families or workmates in one of the most popular Christmas customs in Spain. Queues form outside lottery booths weeks ahead of the draw and on Dec. 22 each year people tune into radio or television to find out if they are among the lucky ones.

The prize ticket numbers are sung out by pupils of Madrid's Saint Ildefonso School in a nationally televised event from the city's Teatro Real opera house.

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"If I win the lottery I'll get a tombstone made of marble for my mother and I will do something for my house," said audience member Justo Huertas Tomas.

Spain established its national lottery as a charity in 1763, during the reign of King Carlos III, but its objective gradually shifted toward filling state coffers. El Gordo itself dates from 1812.

Organizers said ticket sales totaled 2.5 billion euros this year, up 4.5 percent from last year.

The lottery has taken on special importance in recent years as Spain struggled through a real estate bubble and the European debt crisis. The economy is still fragile and unemployment hovers around 21 percent.

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