El Gordo is right: Spain has world's largest lottery worth $2.4 billion

John Bacon
Spain's El Gordo lottery worth $2.4B this year

El Gordo has arrived, and it's a lot more fun than El Niño or El Chapo.

El Gordo, Spanish for "The Fat One," is Spain's annual Christmas lottery taking place Thursday. The world's richest sweepstakes, this year's prizes will total a fat $2.4 billion, give or take a hundred million.

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There is a catch, though. No one walks away with billions — the grand prize is about $4 million before taxes. The good news is there are scores of grand prizes, and almost 15,000 people cash in some kind of winning ticket. Many people buy several tickets with the same number, hoping to multiply their good fortune.

You don't have to be Spanish to play — tickets were available online for about $40 — but the deadline for purchasing tickets everywhere has now passed. Many people buy "participation" tickets at a fraction of the cost, worth part of the prize.

Spain is obsessed with El Gordo, forming long lines for tickets. Villagers and other groups often buy the same number, casting their lot together. In 2011, residents of the little town of Sodeto all bought in on magical 58268 and walked away with winnings totaling more than $100 million.

Tourists and journalists who have visited Sodeto since its most merry Christmas say it is little changed. Locals bought tractors, not sports cars. Still, everyone in the village of 250 was instantly rich.

Well, not everyone. Greek filmmaker Costis Mitsotakis was living in a barn he was renovating and somehow was missed when townspeople were circulating tickets. Mitsotakis shrugs off questions about disappointment, saying he is happy. His now-wealthy neighbors believe him.

"His world is the images and the movies and the documentaries and for him that makes him rich," villager Sandra Garcia del Pozo told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. "And he's got a great story now. .... And I think that will be his lottery, and it will be much better than ours."