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Spain's 'El Nino' lottery hands out $1.1 billion amid economic turmoil

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Dec. 22, 2012: Laura Leon, 30, right, and Pili Medina, 48, who sold one of the winning lottery tickets with the numbers, 76058, of the top prize of Spain's Christmas lottery known as "El Gordo," celebrates in her lottery shop in the small town of Tudela, northern Spain.AP

A lottery showered $1.1 billion on ticket holders in five regions of Spain on Sunday, in the midst of a deep recession and high unemployment.

The "El Nino" (The Child) lottery is held each Feast of the Epiphany — Jan. 6 — and the top prize tickets were sold in Alicante, Leon, Madrid, Murcia and Tenerife. The lottery's name refers to the baby Jesus, who according to tradition was visited this day by three kings of Orient bearing gifts.

The lottery tickets cost $26, and the most one can win is $260,240. But there's a catch. Thanks to new austerity measures aimed at reviving Spain's ailing economy, anyone who wins above $3,250 in the lottery has to pay 20 percent income tax on their windfall.

On Sunday, a cheering crowd gathered outside one ticket office in the southwestern Madrid suburb of Alcorcon where 200 of the winning numbers were sold, totaling $52 million in prize money.

"I am very excited because I really needed this," said Josefina, one of three winners celebrating there. "Now that I've won, I just think I've been very lucky," said Josefina, who declined to give her surname.

Spain's most lucrative lottery, "El Gordo" (The Fat One), is held Dec. 22 and last year distributed $3.3 billion in prize money.