MADRID — Champagne corks popped around Spain on Sunday as jubilant winners celebrated scooping up prizes in the country’s famed Christmas lottery, the world’s richest.
One ticket-holder who slept late Sunday morning said he leaped up from his bed in surprise after hearing the television announce his ticket number for “El Gordo,” the Fat One — the lottery’s top prize, a cool $546,200 payoff.
Raul Clavero, 27, a mechanic living in the Madrid suburb of Leganes, then realized that four other members of his family had also bought tickets with the same winning numbers.
Millions of Spaniards had been glued to their televisions as $3.4 billion in prize money was distributed in a four-hour TV show.
Unlike lotteries that offer one large jackpot, Spain’s yuletide drawing sprinkles a variety of winnings on thousands of ticket holders.
Tales of joy and celebration were widely broadcast on TV stations, providing Spain’s struggling population a rare moment of joy after another year of a financial crisis.
Before Spain’s property-led economic boom imploded in 2008, ticket buyers often talked about spending their winnings on new cars, beach homes, or fancy vacations. Now many Spaniards are just hoping to avoid having their homes or cars repossessed.
Winning El Gordo tickets this year were sold in at least eight locations throughout the country.
About $246 million in total prize winnings went to Mondragon, the site of Spain’s biggest consumer appliance company Fagor, which recently had to lay off more than 2,000 people as part of insolvency proceedings.
“I’m on cloud nine! I couldn’t imagine something like this happening. We’ve been in the press for so many unpleasant reasons, and for something which brings such joy to happen here is a real support for the people,” Jose Maria Garai, one of the officially designated ticket sellers in Mondragon, told Spanish television.
The Christmas lottery was designed in 1812 to allow as many people as possible to get a festive windfall.
The lottery had one change this year.
For the first time, the tax man will claim 20 percent of winnings above $3,400, as the Spanish government strives to right an economy saddled with sky-high unemployment of 26 percent.