El Gordo trumps politics as lottery fever grips Spain

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El Gordo Lottery to Bring Christmas Cheer

MADRID, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Lottery fever gripped Spain on Tuesday as thousands celebrated wins in the El Gordo draw with prizes totaling 2.24 billion euros ($2.45 billion), offering a welcome distraction from political concerns after an inconclusive election.

Winners from across the country flocked to local retail outlets to toast their good fortune with bottles of sparkling cava in the traditional Christmas lottery, the world's largest.

See more from the joyous celebrations in Spain:

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Lottery fever in Spain, 'El Gordo'
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El Gordo trumps politics as lottery fever grips Spain
A group of people celebrate in a street of Villanueva de la Concepcion, near Malaga, as they hold a ticket wlth the first prize of the Spain's Christmas lottery named 'El Gordo' (Fat One) on December 22, 2015. This year's winning number is 79140 representing takings of 4 million euros (£2.9 million). The Gordo lottery first took place in 1812 in Cadiz and has not missed a year since, continuing through Spains civil war between 1936 and 1939. In 1938, there were actually two Christmas lotteries, one held in Burgos by dictator General Francos Nationalist regime, and the other in Republican-ruled Barcelona. AFP PHOTO / JORGE GUERRERO / AFP / Jorge Guerrero (Photo credit should read JORGE GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images)
A man hugs two girls in a street of Villanueva de la Concepcion, near Malaga, where some locals won the first prize of the Spain's Christmas lottery named 'El Gordo' (Fat One) on December 22, 2015. This year's winning number is 79140 representing takings of 4 million euros (£2.9 million). The Gordo lottery first took place in 1812 in Cadiz and has not missed a year since, continuing through Spains civil war between 1936 and 1939. In 1938, there were actually two Christmas lotteries, one held in Burgos by dictator General Francos Nationalist regime, and the other in Republican-ruled Barcelona. AFP PHOTO / JORGE GUERRERO / AFP / Jorge Guerrero (Photo credit should read JORGE GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images)
Officials verify the balls with the numbers during the draw of Spain's Christmas lottery named 'El Gordo' (The Fat One) at the Teatro Real in Madrid, on December 22, 2015. The Gordo lottery first took place in 1812 in Cadiz and has not missed a year since, continuing through Spains civil war between 1936 and 1939. In 1938, there were actually two Christmas lotteries, one held in Burgos by dictator General Francos Nationalist regime, and the other in Republican-ruled Barcelona. This year's 'El Gordo' winning number represented takings of 4 million (£2.9 million). AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman holds her tickets as he attends the draw of Spain's Christmas lottery named 'El Gordo' (The Fat One) at the Teatro Real in Madrid, on December 22, 2015. The Gordo lottery first took place in 1812 in Cadiz and has not missed a year since, continuing through Spains civil war between 1936 and 1939. In 1938, there were actually two Christmas lotteries, one held in Burgos by dictator General Francos Nationalist regime, and the other in Republican-ruled Barcelona. This year's 'El Gordo' winning number represented takings of 4 million (£2.9 million). AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)
A man shows his tickets as he attends the draw of Spain's Christmas lottery named 'El Gordo' (The Fat One) at the Teatro Real in Madrid, on December 22, 2015. The Gordo lottery first took place in 1812 in Cadiz and has not missed a year since, continuing through Spains civil war between 1936 and 1939. In 1938, there were actually two Christmas lotteries, one held in Burgos by dictator General Francos Nationalist regime, and the other in Republican-ruled Barcelona. This year's 'El Gordo' winning number represented takings of 4 million (£2.9 million). AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)
An official waits for the balls with the numbers to be poured into the rotating drum before the draw of Spain's Christmas lottery named 'El Gordo' (The Fat One) at the Teatro Real in Madrid, on December 22, 2015. The Gordo lottery first took place in 1812 in Cadiz and has not missed a year since, continuing through Spains civil war between 1936 and 1939. In 1938, there were actually two Christmas lotteries, one held in Burgos by dictator General Francos Nationalist regime, and the other in Republican-ruled Barcelona. This year's 'El Gordo' winning number represented takings of 4 million (£2.9 million). AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 22: A woman wearing drum costume waits the start of the traditional Spanish 'El Gordo' Christmas lottery draw at the Royal Opera House in Madrid, Spain, 22 December 2015. (Photo by Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 22: A man holds his lottery ticket as he wait the start of the traditional Spanish 'El Gordo' Christmas lottery draw at the Royal Opera House in Madrid, Spain, 22 December 2015. (Photo by Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A worker holds out the ball with the top prize of euro 4,000,000 ($4,352,160) during the Spanish Christmas lottery draw, known as 'El Gordo' or 'The Fat One', in Madrid, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015. Celebrations were guaranteed Tuesday in the southern beach town of Roquetas de Mar, southern east Spain, where tickets bearing the top prize number of 79140 in Spain's Christmas lottery, known as "El Gordo" (The Fat One) were sold. The number appeared on 1,600 tickets, known as âdecimosâ (tenths) with each holder winning 400,000 euros ($434,800). The tickets are usually sold in many different lottery sales points making it virtually impossible to win the entire 640 million euros assigned to the top prize number. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
People watch the Spanish Christmas lottery draw known as "El Gordo" or "The Fat One" in Madrid, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015. Celebrations were guaranteed Tuesday in the southern beach town of Roquetas de Mar where tickets bearing the top prize number of 79140 in Spain's Christmas lottery, "El Gordo" were sold. The number appeared on 1,600 tickets, known as âdecimosâ (tenths) with each holder winning euro400,000 ($434,800). The tickets are usually sold in many different lottery sales points making it virtually impossible to win the entire euro640 million ($696,346,000) assigned to the top prize number. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
People celebrate in a street of Villanueva de la Concepcion, near Malaga, after winning the first prize of the Spain's Christmas lottery named 'El Gordo' (Fat One) on December 22, 2015. This year's winning number is 79140 representing takings of 4 million euros (£2.9 million). The Gordo lottery first took place in 1812 in Cadiz and has not missed a year since, continuing through Spains civil war between 1936 and 1939. In 1938, there were actually two Christmas lotteries, one held in Burgos by dictator General Francos Nationalist regime, and the other in Republican-ruled Barcelona. AFP PHOTO / JORGE GUERRERO / AFP / Jorge Guerrero (Photo credit should read JORGE GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images)
A group of people celebrate in a street of Villanueva de la Concepcion, near Malaga, as they hold a photocopy of a ticket with the first prize of the Spain's Christmas lottery named 'El Gordo' (Fat One) on December 22, 2015. This year's winning number is 79140 representing takings of 4 million euros (£2.9 million). The Gordo lottery first took place in 1812 in Cadiz and has not missed a year since, continuing through Spains civil war between 1936 and 1939. In 1938, there were actually two Christmas lotteries, one held in Burgos by dictator General Francos Nationalist regime, and the other in Republican-ruled Barcelona. AFP PHOTO / JORGE GUERRERO / AFP / Jorge Guerrero (Photo credit should read JORGE GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images)
A group of people celebrate in a street of Villanueva de la Concepcion, near Malaga, as they hold a ticket wlth the first prize of the Spain's Christmas lottery named 'El Gordo' (Fat One) on December 22, 2015. This year's winning number is 79140 representing takings of 4 million euros (£2.9 million). The Gordo lottery first took place in 1812 in Cadiz and has not missed a year since, continuing through Spains civil war between 1936 and 1939. In 1938, there were actually two Christmas lotteries, one held in Burgos by dictator General Francos Nationalist regime, and the other in Republican-ruled Barcelona. AFP PHOTO / JORGE GUERRERO / AFP / Jorge Guerrero (Photo credit should read JORGE GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images)
A group of people celebrate in a street of Villanueva de la Concepcion, near Malaga, as they hold a ticket wlth the first prize of the Spain's Christmas lottery named 'El Gordo' (Fat One) on December 22, 2015. This year's winning number is 79140 representing takings of 4 million euros (£2.9 million). The Gordo lottery first took place in 1812 in Cadiz and has not missed a year since, continuing through Spains civil war between 1936 and 1939. In 1938, there were actually two Christmas lotteries, one held in Burgos by dictator General Francos Nationalist regime, and the other in Republican-ruled Barcelona. AFP PHOTO / JORGE GUERRERO / AFP / Jorge Guerrero (Photo credit should read JORGE GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images)
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SEE ALSO: Man homeless for 6 years wins lottery, wants to reconnect with daughter

This year's top prize - the eponymous El Gordo, or The Fat One - went to the coastal tourist town of Roquetas de Mar, in the southern province of Almeria, where a group of residents will share at least 452 million euros ($496 million).

Every year millions of Spaniards club together with friends, family or co-workers to each buy fractions of the same ticket in the over 200-year-old lottery which, on winning numbers, pays out 400,000 euros for every 20 euros wagered.

This year's draw, like others a huge collective affair, provided a welcome distraction from Sunday's national election, which plunged the country into a political stalemate and ended almost four decades of two-party rule.

Laujar, another Almeria town of 1,600 people, won 320 million euros.

"Almost everyone in the town has a share, and even if it's split between everybody, it will go to working people, to those that need the money a lot," its mayor told Europa Press as people danced in the street.

Spaniards spent close to 2.6 billion euros on tickets this year, according to the government agency that runs the draw, with some waiting for hours in queues that snaked around city blocks.

Many then stayed glued to TV screens for hours more as schoolchildren plucked lottery balls from a rotating drum, singing out the resulting numbers in a chant that filled offices and homes.

Ticket sales were higher than last year, suggesting a loosening of the purse strings in a country that is rebounding from an economic crisis that left nearly one in four workers out of a job.

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