Champagne corks were popping all across Spain as the annual Christmas lottery (The El Gordo de Navidad) winning numbers were drawn. The El Gordo Christmas Raffle boasts the world's biggest total pay-out, a staggering €2.24bn in prizes.
Millions of lottery players were glued to TV sets as children from a Madrid school picked wooden balls with the winning numbers and prizes out of two giant golden tumblers. They then sang these life-changing winning numbers out in a live draw lasting over three hours which is a televised event from the city's Teatro Real opera house.
One particular El Gordo Raffle player, who was amongst 35 African migrants that won big on the lottery, was a Senegalese man names Ngame. He and his wife were rescued by Spain’s coast guard in 2007 when their boat with about 65 people aboard was travelling from Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands.
This particular group of lottery winners, bought their tickets in the southern coastal city of Roquetas de Mar. They included migrants from Senegal, Mali and Morocco.
Ngame, the Senegal man, was in tears as he clutched a copy of his winning ticket with the number 79140. Naturally, he was very emotional over his lotto win and thanked Spain for not only saving his life and that of his family, but for also giving him the chance to play the world’s biggest and best lotto game.
"Today I thank the Spanish government, the Spaniards too," Ngame told Ondacero radio. "They saved us when we were in the middle of the sea."
When the press asked, Ngame, how he was finding living in Spain, he said that life was difficult since they arrived in Almeria. The region has a high unemployment rate and he recently just lost his job.
With regards to how he plans on spending his new found lotto wealth, he said that he and his wife had not yet decided what they would do.
"I'm not sure," he said. "It's too soon to decide. We have to talk and see."
The owner of the agency, said that some of the migrants where unsure as to how they could collect their lottery wins, so he accompanied them and assisted them in claiming their wins.
The winning number - 79140 - appeared on 1 600 tickets in the lottery known as El Gordo (The Fat One), with each ticket holder winning $434 800.
A country united by a lottery
With Spain going through a financial crises, the annual El Gordo Christmas Raffle is exactly what the entire country needed. With excitement in the air, everyone smiling from ear to ear, December 22nd saw a country united by a lottery.
El Gordo raffle tickets were sold in many sites all over Spain and due to the fact that agencies purchase batches of El Gordo De Navidad tickets at a time, if the top tiered number wins, so too do most of that particular agency players too. Smiling winners showed up at the lottery agency and cracked open the bubbly.
"I'm really happy and I congratulate all the winners," Mayor Gabriel Amat told the Voz de Almeria newspaper. "It's very important for the town, especially in the difficult times we've been facing."
The El Gordo Raffle has been making people all over the globe overnight millionaires since 1763, during the reign of King Carlos III.
Even though other lotteries have larger individual top jackpot prizes, like this Wednesday’s US Powerball lottery with a jackpot of $300 million, the El Gordo Christmas Raffle is ranked as the world’s biggest lotto game with a total prize pay-out of $2.4bn this year.
Tickets are a bit pricey when it comes to this lotto game, but family and friends traditionally chip in together and buy shares of tickets. Queues form outside lottery stores weeks ahead of the draw.
Unlike other lotteries, like the American Powerball and the Mega Millions that generate just a few big winners, the El Gordo de Navidad Raffle game aims for a share-the-wealth system rather than a single jackpot, with thousands sticking it rich.
The top prize this year went to number 79140 with a prize value of €4,000,000.00.
Winners opened bottles of bubbly outside of the office and celebrated together in scenes of joy repeated across the country.
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