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CHRISTMAS

El Gordo: Everything you need to know about Spain’s Christmas lottery

Every year at Christmas, Spaniards go lottery mad, queuing for hours to buy tickets for the famous El Gordo - The Fat One - and this year is no exception.

Spain's Christmas lottery
Winners of the El Gordo lottery in 2019. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

It has taken place every year on December 22nd since 1812 without fail, even through the Spanish Civil War years, and during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s no different. 

The 2021 prize money will total €2.4 billion, with the top prize of €680 million known as El Gordo (the Fat One), being shared between all those with the winning numbers. It works out as a top prize of €400,000 per décimo (more on that later). 

The second prize per décimo is €125,000 and the third is €50,000.

Then there are two fourth prizes (€20,000 per décimo), eight fifth prizes (€6,000 per décimo) and 1,794 prizes of €100 per décimo. 

All in all, there will be 172 million décimos up for sale in total in 2021.

Spain's El Gordo Lottery ticket

This year’s ticket features ‘La Virgen de la Granada’ by Fra Angelico in the Museo del Prado.
 

With the odds of winning at least something put at one in six, no wonder the Christmas lottery has a whole nation gripped. According to the latest stats, around seven in 10 residents aged between 18 and 75 play the Spanish Christmas lottery.

According to data from the State Lottery and Betting Society of the State (SELAE), Spaniards will invest €66.60 on average in buying lottery tickets for the Christmas draw on December 22, this is one more euro than in 2020. 

READ ALSO: Is there a science to winning Spain’s Christmas lottery?

History

El Gordo is a Spanish institution and the second oldest lottery in the world. The first Christmas lottery took place on 22nd December 1812 in Cádiz and the event has been taking place on the same day every year since.

Some of the winners from last year’s El Gordo. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

Not even the Spanish Civil War could stop the Christmas lottery, which moved to Valencia when the Republican government had to relocate their capital from Madrid.

After the war, the lottery moved back to Madrid and continued under the regime of the dictator Francisco Franco.

READ ALSO: Where to find traditional British Christmas food in Spain

How it works 

Because so many people in Spain take part in El Gordo, the ticketing system is complicated.

Unlike in the UK, for example, you don’t go into a newsagent and shade in the numbers you want on your lottery card. Instead, lottery shops have certain numbers available. 

This is why the big winners of the Christmas Lottery are usually from the same area: many people have bought tickets from the same shop which holds all the winning tickets.

This assigning of numbers to certain shops means if you want to ‘play’ a particular number, you might have to travel quite a way — or buy your tickets online.

It’s also possible to track down where to buy your preferred number using online search tools like this one from El Mundo.

People queue to buy tickets at the popular “Dona Manolita” lottery outlet in Madrid. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

In terms of prizes, because so many people take part, numbers are repeated up to 172 times. That means if you do win El Gordo, you will be sharing your prize with at least 171 others. This explains why the top individual prize in the biggest lottery in the world comes in at a ‘mere’ €4 million.

One ticket (billete) costs a whopping €200, but many people choose to buy a tenth of a ticket (un décimo) for €20. Even smaller portions of tickets are sold: it is common for businesses to buy a ticket then sell small portions, or ‘participaciones‘, of that ticket to their patrons for €1.

Where to buy them

You can purchase a ticket in a lottery shop but they are also available at local bars, restaurants and through syndicates at workplaces, social clubs etc.  You can also purchase them online.

Sometimes it means shelling out for several just so you are not left out of the group in case of a win! 

Tickets are on sale in the lottery shops until 10pm on December 21st or online until 11.45pm.

The advert 

Every year the Christmas lottery releases a suitably schmaltzy advert, but the campaign for 2021 shows the importance of sharing and looking out for one another after such a difficult couple of years of the pandemic. 

This year’s television advert shows the residents of a small village secretly gifting each other lottery tickets and hiding them in unexpected places.

 
 
Most sought after number
 
Last year the most sought-after number is one that represents a date that is scorched into the minds of every Spaniard. Tickets numbered 140320 sold out first this season, the number that symbolises the date of March 14th when a State of Emergency was declared in Spain and everyone was confined to their homes as the pandemic hit.
 
Tickets with numbers ending in ‘5’ are also popular as numbers that end in a ‘5’ have won a total of 32 times. 

The day itself

Pupils of the San Ildefonso school singing numbers during the draw of Spain’s Christmas lottery. Photo: Handout / SOCIEDAD ESTATAL LOTERIAS Y APUESTAS DEL ESTADO / AFP

Every 22nd December the streets of Spain are silent as everyone huddles around their televisions to watch the El Gordo lottery draw, an affair which begins at 9am and can take over three hours.

The balls are drawn in a unique way befitting the unique lottery tradition, while the numbers are sung by the pupils of Madrid’s San Ildefonso school.

The school was originally a home for orphans and the tradition of the winners of El Gordo donating a portion of their winnings to San Ildefonso dates from this time.

The balls were originally only drawn by boys, with the first girl taking part in the big draw singalong in 1984. Audience members at the live draw, as well as viewers watching from home, are known to dress up in lottery-themed clothing and hats.

On the stage itself are two spherical vessels, one containing balls embossed with the numbers found on the lottery tickets and the other featuring the associated prizes in euros.  

“Ball number 20.456 gets €20,000!” they might sing. This goes on, the tension rising until, at some point in the live broadcast, the €4-million ball is drawn making the numbered ball drawn alongside it El Gordo.

The coverage of the draw has famously lambasted as “the most boring Christmas show on TV”. 

The winners

In 2011 the tiny Spanish village of Sodeto famously won El Gordo, with all but one of its 250 inhabitants having bought a lottery ticket. The unlucky loser was a Greek resident who lived on the edge of town and failed to buy a ticket because he did not realize just how big the Christmas lottery was. 

The winners each claimed a share of €120 million, with people collecting sums ranging from €100,000 to €1 million each.

This was the first time in El Gordo’s 200 year history that one entire village had won the prize, but it is not uncommon for many people in the same location to all win at the same time, given lottery shops are often assigned the full complement of a given number.

This should be a lesson to us all. No-one wants to be the only within a community who missed out on the win!

A lottery seller celebrates his shop selling the winning number. Photo: STRINGER / AFP

Are the winnings tax free?

Crisis-hit Spain taxed the lottery for the first time in 2013, with the Spanish government hitting the headlines for the 20 percent tax imposed on prizes over €2,500 in the much-loved lottery.

This year, like last year, that limit has been raised to €20,000 tax free on each winning ticket, meaning the winner of a top prize decimo will get the first €20,000 of the €400,000 tax free and pay 20 percent tax on the rest – a take home of €324,000.

Warnings:

The Christmas lottery is also not immune to scams. Madrid’s city council warns people to buy their tickets only from authorised vendors, and not to believe emails telling them they had won prizes.

Last but not least, the council warns people to keep their ticket safe as losing them makes claiming prizes very difficult indeed.

And there is lots of advice on how to ensure that there’s is no argument between friends sharing a winning ticket. Best idea is to take a photo of the number, share it on whatsapp with each other and the terms written underneath, that way there can be no argument later.

This is an updated version of a 2015 article by Jessica Jones / The Local

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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