El Gordo De Navidad: The Spanish Christmas Lottery

22nd December 2023. €2.5 Billion. The Biggest Event of the Year is Back Again!

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About El Gordo De Navidad

Once the first day of December hits, the cities of Spain are filled with Christmas tradition, and the annual El Gordo lottery is no exception! This is a custom that goes beyond a simple draw, for this game is the second-longest-running lottery in the world and is considered to be the biggest annual event in world lottery history. It’s always celebrated on 22nd December, three days before Christmas.

The Prize Pot

Full Prize Breakdown

El Gordo has effectively, the largest amassed lottery pot in the world. Although not the entire pot goes to the jackpot winner. In reality, this enormous prize fund is split up into many different prize tiers. 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 2015 stats, some 73.1 percent of the 34 million Spanish residents aged between 18 and 75 play the Spanish Christmas lottery.

Prize Level
Total Number of Prizes
Prize per Billete
Prize per Decimo
Total Prize Fund
First Prize - El Gordo
Second Prize
Third Prize
Fourth Prize
Fifth Prize
Numbers Before and After Jackpot Prize
Numbers Before and After Second Prize
Numbers Before and After Third Prize
Tickets that start with the first 3 digits of El Gordo
Tickets that start with the first 3 digits of Second Prize
Tickets that start with the first 3 digits of Third Prize
Tickets that start with the first 3 digits of Fourth Prize
Tickets that end with the last 2 digits of El Gordo
Tickets that end with the last 2 digits of Second Prize
Tickets that end with the last 2 digits of Third Prize
Five Correct Numbers on other raffle tickets drawn
Tickets that end with the last digit of El Gordo

The History of El Gordo - The Christmas Tradition

El Gordo is a Spanish institution and the second oldest lottery still in existence. 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. Back then a prize would net you 8,000 pesetas, which in today’s money amounts to around €50,000 euros.

The draw was first called simply ‘El Gordo de Navidad’ but in 1892, the name of Loteria de Navidad was officially established, although the lottery is often still just referred to as ‘El Gordo.’ In 1897, tickets with the Loteria de Navidad name were first printed.

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 in 1938. At the time, other regions also wanted to create their own El Gordo lotteries to help support the troops, and the lottery was briefly split during the unrest. After the war, the lottery moved back to Madrid and continued under the regime of Francisco Franco. Speaking of Franco, did you know that the El Gordo might be the reason for his untimely success? In 1930, as the world sank deeper into the Great Depression in the aftermath of the prosperity of the 20s, a portion of the fourth-largest prize, about €70,000, went to Ramon Franco, the brother of Francisco.

In 1999, Spain signed the agreement to change from using the peseta, the Spanish recognised currency, to the Euro, one of the first countries to do so. In 2002, the prizes for El Gordo were announced in euros with the introduction of the new currency.

In 2010, the owner’s of El Gordo decided to make the first rule change in over 100 years. Instead of printing 85,000 numbers, with 196 raffle books for each one, they increased the total number to 100,000. The change was made due to the growing demand for tickets, and foreign country interest due to the emergence of online lottery websites. As a result, they were able to boost the jackpot even higher with the increase of ticket sales. Today, about 75% of people in Spain play at least one lottery, and an average player spends about €66 on the El Gordo draw.

The History of Spanish Lotteries

The first lottery draw in Spain was held on 10 December 1763. It was named “Lottery by Numbers” and was created to avoid imposing a new tax upon its citizens. It was not particularly popular and was overhauled several times to give it more favourability and odds to win, something that made it less profitable for the Government. “Lottery by Numbers” was later renamed the Primitiva Lottery and was briefly popular until the launch of the El Gordo lottery in 1812. The Primitiva Lottery disappeared altogether in 1862 before returning in over a century later in 1985.

The “Lucky Dwarf” or the “Lottery Freak”

The “Lucky Dwarf” or the “Lottery Freak

Coming back to the “Lottery by Numbers”, in order to promote this draw, a new mascot was used as a character that was born even before the very own lottery and that was used in many cards and books of those times, a character that was known as the “Lucky Dwarf” or the “Lottery Freak”. It was a chubby, short character whose body was made up of numbered lottery balls.

Almost half a century after the launch of the “Lottery by Numbers”, between 1808 and 1814 and within the context of the Napoleonic wars, the Spanish Independence War between Spain and France kicked off due to the Peninsula invasion by the French Empire and Napoleón Bonaparte’ s intention to place his brother José Bonaparte in the Spanish throne after the abdications of Bayona. Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom formed an alliance against France in a devastating conflict that led to approximately 1,000,000 deaths and generated huge military expenditures. In order to deal with these huge expenditures, and at the worst moment of the war against the Gauls, the Spanish Government created another lottery draw in 1811 encouraged by the Minister Ciriaco González Carvajal, called “Modern Lottery”, and with the aim to “increase the revenue of the public funds without affecting the taxpayers”. Thus, the first draw was held in Cádiz on 4 March 1812 through tickets with printed numbers, and on 18 December of that same year the first Christmas draw took place. The first “Gordo de Navidad” (Christmas “Gordo”) in history, consisting of a prize of 8,000 "pesos fuertes" (powerful pesos), was won by a lucky Spanish ordinary fellow who had only spent 40 "reales" on number 03604.

After the first draw of the “Modern Lottery” with printed numbers, the “Lottery by Numbers” changed its name to the “Primitiva Lottery” and both draws co-existed for 50 years. The “Modern Lottery” started to attract a lot of followers very quickly, to the point that between 1815 and 1817 the “Modern Lottery” had already doubled the Esquilache Marquis’ earnings with the Primitiva Lottery, and in the following two years the amount grew exponentially, to the extent that in 1862 the Primitiva Lottery was wiped out, and it did not come back until 1985. On the other hand, the Christmas draw of the “Modern Lottery” turned permanently into the main, most resounding draw and in the tradition that we all currently know, and which name was changed to “Christmas Draw” in 1892.

In the middle of this whole story, the drawing of this new character has been going around the country all these years and has become extremely popular through a tale to encourage playing the lottery: “This Lucky Dwarf, full of happiness and money, overjoyed because of his fortune, will show you the way if you study him carefully.” The dwarf´s mission was to convince people to buy lottery tickets and try their luck in the draw, and all of this through rhymes. The drawn character was so successful that even a new weekly gazette called “The Dwarf” was created in 1851, which was presented as a “hot, teasing and argumentative newspaper” and that was advertised as the cheapest newspaper in Spain. The gazette became one of the long-lived publications of the bullfighting press, as it lasted until the year 1912.

The Lucky Dwarf became El Gordo

As years went by, people called the “dwarf” different names, but due to his chubby appearance, the most successful nickname among the Spaniards was “El Gordo” (“The Fat One”), and this name was finally also applied to the draw itself. Francisco José Gómez Fernández, author of “Breve historia de la Navidad” (“Christmas Short Story”) declares that “there is no doubt that this character gave the name “Gordo de la Lotería” to its first prize.”

From the first Gordo in history until today, there have been other 209 winning “Gordo de Navidad” lottery numbers, which has survived all types of political contingencies, economic crises, and even a civil war in which such draw was held twice in 1938 at the two confronted sides.

Another of the most popular curious facts encompassing the Christmas Draw, and to a great extent fed by our dear character, is the costume that many attendants wear to the draw event. A lot of them, during the last few years, managed to become real “memes”. They are mainly older people associated to this type of traditions: we see them dress up as rotated drums, fairies, Popes, Christmas trees, good luck symbols, etc. Nonetheless, there are more and more young people who is joining this trend and decide to go

El Niño

This game is considered the little sibling to Christmas El Gordo. A little bit smaller, but no less important and a good way to close out the year as a second chance jackpot. El Niño is played on the 6th January every year, commonly known as the day of Epiphany, or Kings day in Spain.

El Verano

This lottery is a Summer hot special. Played as a way to welcome the summer holidays, this game is drawn every year on the first weekend of July. Your chances of winning a prize are better than 1in 3 and there are thousands of prizes to win!

Thursday Nacional

This game is played, as the name suggests, on Thursdays. Although the jackpot doesn’t reach billions like El Gordo, Thursday Nacional still has great odds and costs a fraction of the price. The same raffle ticket style applies, but with a weekly draw mode to enjoy!

Why the El Gordo Lottery is so different

Most people question exactly how the El Gordo lotteries work. Their system is fairly unique and very few things have been changed over how it operates in the 200 years it has been running.

Instead of the player picking the numbers out of an infinite section of numbers themselves, El Gordo provides you with a 5 digit number out of a selection of 100,000 pre-printed tickets. This method is clever because, with the limited number of tickets, prizes are guaranteed to a large portion of those who play. Because of this, the El Gordo games have some of the best odds you will ever find. In fact, every one in seven tickets guarantees some sort of prize. The first-prize number – known as “El Gordo” ensures a €400,000 win if you buy a ticket fraction. The prizes aren’t massive but they do deliver a lot of winners, well into the thousands in some cases. And it’s also common for winners to know each other. Contrast this with a lottery that only has one winner that nets practically the whole lot, no matter how many people play.

How it works

Unlike with other lotteries out there, you don’t go into a newsagent and choose the numbers you want. Instead, dedicated lottery booths have certain numbers available at different locations.

This is why a lot of lottery winners come from one town or village. They have all gone to their local lottery shop and bought a ticket with the same number. This is why the next day, in the newspapers or on TV, you’ll often see an entire village or town in the streets celebrating the big win.

The 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. Besides that, there are lotto superstitions in Spain revolving around the numbers. Many of the ticket holders religiously ask for the same numbers or only buy from places where other large prizes have previously been won. There is even a superstition known as the “Gold Witch” where people dress up as witches on the day to honour a particularly lucky shop in Catalunya.

In terms of prizes, because so many people take part, numbers are repeated up to 165 times. That means if you do win El Gordo, you will be sharing your prize with at least 164 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) can cost a whopping €50 or more, but many people choose to buy a tenth of a ticket (un décimo) for much less.

Explaining the ticket

When you pick up an El Gordo ticket for the first time, a lot of the information, digits and codes can seem like nonsense. What is a serie? Or a Fraccion? and why is there an angel on the ticket? But before you think about any of that, you need to focus on the 5-digit code at the top. That’s your lottery ticket number and the key to the jackpot. Under each number, there’s even the word so you can teach yourself a little Spanish along the way.

Besides the lottery ticket code, there are 2 more numbers to be aware of, the “serie” and the “fraccion”. The serie represents the number of times this ticket has been printed. There are 170 copies of each ticket, of which there are 100,000 numbers to choose from so that everyone gets to have a chance to play. If even more people play in the future, the number of copies will be increased by the lottery operator.

The fraccion represents what part of the ticket you are holding. Each full ticket is broken down into 10 sections, called fractions, in order to make the price more affordable. Another way of thinking about it is the sharing strategy. By dividing up the ticket into ten pieces, more people have a chance to play and if you win, you all win together, so nobody ever feels left out.

Since 1960, the owners of El Gordo, Loterías y Apuestas del Estado, have depicted images related to the Catholic religion to illustrate its lottery tickets. Spain is a country with deep ties to religious holidays and traditions so every year a different painting is chosen, with a small explanation attached as to the art’s origins and the painter.

The advert

Every year Loteria & Apuestas releases a charming advert to promote the El Gordo Christmas Lottery. This years advert is no different, offering a view on the gift of generosity and sharing kindness with your neighbours.

Although only available in Spanish, the advert is mostly non-verbal and can be understood relatively easily, even if you don’t speak the language.

The 2020 advert, titled “Vecinas” meaning Neighbours, struck a chord with many as it showed us how we can be apart and yet still together. Given the year and the season, it was a nice nod to the situation, without being overly heavy on the moment.

Jackpot day

Every 22nd December morning everyone huddles around their televisions to watch the El Gordo lottery draw. Some go to their local bar to watch with friends and neighbours, whilst catching up and drinking a morning espresso. The excitement is in the air as the draw goes on, lasting 3 hours in total due to the high number of prizes on display.

The annual draw is an event in itself. Viewers watch enormous golden spherical cages be turned whilst the resulting numbers are sung by the pupils of Madrid's San Ildefonso school. The school was originally a home for orphans (founded in 1543), with a portion of the lottery money used to help keep the orphanage open. Nowadays, the school is celebrated for having a high level of diversity.

Even before the draw begins there is a process in tradition. The numbers set to be used are shown to the public on locked wires for anyone to check before the draw so that the game can be shown as fair and balanced. Inscriptions on the wooden balls are made with a precision laser, to avoid any difference in weight which may skew the favour. After officials have approved this procedure the wires are unlocked so that the balls may be dropped into the spherical, bingo-style cages.

As the drawing goes on, a single ball is extracted from each of the revolving spheres at the same time. One child sings the winning number, the other child sings the corresponding prize. This goes on until the smaller cage is empty. At some point in the live broadcast, the €4-million ball is drawn, making the numbered ball drawn alongside it the El Gordo for this year. This is part of the reason why the television act is such a beloved tradition, with the jackpot prize appearing at any point during the program.

The OTHER El Gordo Jackpots

The nature of El Gordo can be confusing. This is mainly because the Spanish call anything with a big jackpot “El Gordo”. This roughly translates to “The Fat One” implying that of all the lotteries to play, this one could get you the biggest amount of cash. Unlike other lotteries, where the jackpot just keeps getting bigger and bigger over time, these particular games have a single draw on a certain day, every year.

El Niño

In Spain, people know to play lotteries at certain times of the year. Undoubtedly the most famous lottery that people play is El Gordo de Navidad at Christmas, but one week after that is another lottery with a large payout, known as El Niño, which is played on 6th January. This lottery has a smaller total payout than El Gordo, but it is still impressive, with an average jackpot payout of €700,000,000M every year.

El Niño is sort of like the Ying to El Gordo’s Yang. They fit together and help symbolise the traditions and the relationship over the festive period. El Gordo helps welcome Christmas, by being played just a few days before the festive event, while El Niño comes around shortly after New Year (on the 6th January) and helps close out the celebrations whilst preparing us for the future.

El Niño also has another name. It is commonly known as the “second chance” lottery for anyone who didn’t win on El Gordo, or simply forgot to buy a ticket before the cutoff.

El Niño uses a different system to El Gordo Christmas.

Instead of using two cages, with all the prizes in one, and all the ticket numbers in the other, a more straightforward system is used.

El Niño has 5 prize categories, let’s start with the jackpot and go to the other prizes in turn.

  • 1st Prize (El Gordo) - 5 balls determine the first prize ticket, known as El Gordo, worth €2 million.
  • 2nd Prize - 5 balls determine the second prize ticket, worth €750 thousand.
  • 3rd Prize - 5 balls determine the third prize ticket, worth €250 thousand.

These are the three big-ticket numbers that most people are looking out for.

Now the odds take over, as the chances to win get higher for those that did not already snag the top prize.

  • 4 balls determine the fourth prizes, worth €3500. These 4 digit numbers are drawn twice overall.
  • 3 balls determine the fifth prizes, worth €1000. These 3 digit numbers are drawn 14 times.
  • 2 balls determine small prizes, worth €400 each. These 2 digit numbers are drawn 5 times.

On the day of the draw, this order is actually reversed. The draw starts with the smallest prizes, before finally rising to the largest. What a nail-biting event for ticket holders!

Five large spherical cages are used in this draw. Each one contains 10 balls numbered 0 to 9. This means that the draw only lasts about 25 minutes, compared to 3 hours with El Gordo at Christmas.

You may have started to notice a trend around these lotteries. They are very tied to important holidays. It is a clever concept because it helps people remember that the lottery is coming, and it also gives you more incentive to play if other people are doing it too. You don’t want to be the only person in town without an El Gordo ticket, or you may end up the only one not able to join the celebration of winning a jackpot prize!

El Gordo de Verano

The other major player in the world on El Gordo lotteries takes place in a much warmer climate. El Gordo de Verano - The summer alternative, is designed, just El Gordo, to welcome a particular time of the year. This lottery marks the official start of summer and kicks off summer holiday celebrations. Due to the heat in Spain over July and August, it’s quite traditional for schools and workplaces to close in order to enjoy time off with family in the sunshine. This lottery, which is always drawn the first Saturday of July, signifies that it’s time to slip out of that business suit and into some swimming trunks.

The first thing that catches people’s attention with this lotto draw, is its prize. Like at Christmas, either the El Gordo or the Child's Draw, in an Extraordinary Summer draw 140 million euros in prizes are up for grabs, with a €20 million jackpot prize to any that bag the lucky number. One in three tickets drawn during this game receives a prize, giving you even better odds than the Christmas counterpart.

Thursday Nacional

The final lottery we must mention in the world of El Gordo lotteries is the game that you can play every week. Thursday National Lottery is played year-round, no matter the holiday or time of year. It is also one of only a few games in Spain to have the same jackpot every week, just like the Thunderball draw in the UK. Tickets for this lottery raffle are cheaper than other games, so if you ever wanted to see exactly how this raffle works at a lower cost to you it’s the best one to try to really get a feel for the spirit of the draw. The total weekly jackpot worth for Thursday National Lottery is €12 million euros, but just like the other lotteries, the jackpot is shared, with an El Gordo Thursday winner receiving €300,000 for every 5-digit matching ticket.

Past Draws and Winners

Total Jackpot
Winning Ticket
€2.4 billion
Awaiting Official Record
€2.38 billion
Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid, Murcia, Salamanca, Sevilla, Tarragona
€2.36 billion
Albacete, Alicante, Asturias, Ávila, Badajoz, Baleares, Barcelona,Burgos, Cáceres, Cádiz, Cantabria, Ciudad Real, Córdoba, A Coruña, Cuenca, Girona, Granada, Guipúzcoa, Huelva, Huesca, Jaén, León, Lleida, Lugo, Madrid, Málaga, Murcia, Navarra, Orense, Pontevedra, Las Palmas, La Rioja, Salamanca, Segovia, Sevilla, Soria, Tarragona, Teruel, Tenerife, Toledo, Valencia, Valladolid, Vizcaya, Zamora, Zaragoza
€2.31 billion
Cádiz, Cantabria, Huesca, Jaén, Lleida, Lugo, Madrid, Málaga, Murcia, Las Palmas, Tenerife, Valencia
€2.6 billion
€2.24 billion
€2.24 billion
Albacete, Cáceres, Cádiz, A Coruña, León, Lugo, Madrid, Murcia, Las Palmas, La Rioja, Valencia
€2.24 billion
Asturias, Barcelona, Guipúzcoa, Jaén, Madrid, Panencia, Pontevedra, Sevilla, Toledo, Valencia, Valencia
€2.6 billion
Albacete, Alicante, Asturias, Badajoz, Baleares, Barcelona, Burgos, Cádiz, Castellón, Ceuta, Córdoba, A Coruña, Huelva, Huesca, Jaén, León, Lugo, Madrid, Málaga, Murcia, Navarra, Las Palmas, Salamanca, Segovia, Soria, Tenerife, Valencia, Valladolid, Vizcaya, Zaragoza
€2 billion
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El Gordo de Navidad - The Stats and Numbers

Because of the nature of the Spanish lottery raffles, different superstitions are frequent on which numbers to choose and avoid. Much of the data produced over the years shows that the most common numbers to appear are the numbers 5 and 85, based on records dating back to the original El Gordo. The most popular cities to win include Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville.

We have only seen a number repeat itself in its entirety twice in history. In 1956 the number 15640 was the top winning ticket, but just two decades later the number appeared again in 1978 as the top prize. The other number to win twofold was 20297, but after appearing in 1903 it would take more than a century for the number to come around and win the jackpot prize once more, finally emerging victorious in 2006.

Hot and cold numbers - What’s best to play?

By taking the data into account over time, you can see that there are indeed hot and cold numbers for this lottery. These are the numbers that everyone wants to buy because they have traditionally been more fortunate than others. For example, any lottery ticket ending in a 5 is typically more profitable than any other number, as the top prize ending in a 5 has occurred 32 times so far. On the other side of the line, the numbers that typically end in a 1, 2 or 9 are less popular, because the Christmas Jackpot prize has only seen eight jackpots ending in a 1, three with a 2 and sixteen for Mr Number 9.

Is it worth the cost?

You may be reading about El Gordo for the first time and becoming flummoxed over the price. Unlike other lotteries, which only cost a couple of quid, a full ticket in Spain can cost into the hundreds. Just why are these tickets so expensive you may ask? Well, to truly purchase an entire ticket (boleto) for El Gordo, yes you would need to pay €200 or more. However, you may not even be able to buy a full ticket unless you’re quick enough, as it’s very typical in Spain to simply break the ticket into ten pieces and sell it for a much lower price. It's still going to be more costly than a ticket to EuroMillions, but not much more than a meal at a local restaurant.

Due to El Gordo prices being higher than average, this actually makes the ticket a very good Christmas gift. Instead of just putting cash in a Christmas card and calling it a day, you’re instead giving a friend or a loved one the chance to have some fun and excitement close to Christmas. It also means you don’t have to wander around the shops all day long, wondering what gift to buy when you know they already have too many things cluttering up the place.

Popular Lottery Superstitions to be aware of with El Gordo

If you have already bought a ticket, whether it be a décimo (a tenth of a ticket) or a boleto (full 10-piece ticket) there are certain things to bear in mind, especially if you are as superstitious as the people of Spain when it comes to the lottery and the yes’s and no’s of ticket etiquette.

Things that will bring good luck: Rubbing the tickets or décimos on a bald-headed friend or loved one is said to bring good fortune, rubbing the ticket on a hunchback (I suppose the Disney movie may count with this one, although this age-old tradition does not specify drawings) rubbing the ticket on a pregnant woman's belly to imbibe renewal and beginner’s luck and (if buying in Spain) walking into the lottery shop with your right foot first, as using the left hand or foot to enter the premises of a lottery establishment is considered impolite and improper. Placing the lottery tickets near the figure of a beloved saint or the Virgin Mary are said to give you spiritual guidance on your choice of a ticket. And rubbing a coin on the ticket is said to bring extra luck that you’ll get a good prize.

Things that bring bad luck include burning or tearing up old tickets, as you are draining your accrued luck, refusing to buy low numbers, and instead shooting for tickets over the 70,000s and buying consecutive numbers. The most famous bad luck charm regarding any El Gordo lottery involves buying lottery tickets and making others pay for them, or vouching for people that cannot buy tickets as this is seen to give the ticket and yourself bad karma that will eventually catch up to you.

This custom should not be confused with giving the ticket as a gift, however, a very popular and well-loved custom known around Spain at Christmastime. It is considered good faith on your part to share the wealth by buying someone a ticket that cannot afford to play themselves, such as a struggling neighbour or a family member or friend down on hard times.