Recession-Hit Spain Holds Huge Christmas Lottery

The winners of Spain's cherished Christmas lottery — the world's richest — celebrated around the country Sunday, a moment of joy and relief after another year of a brutal financial crisis.

Millions had been glued to their televisions on Sunday as 2.5 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in prize money was distributed. The drawing is so popular that most of Spain's 46 million people watched at least part of the live four-hour show, hoping they would hear their ticket as school children called out the lucky numbers.

Unlike lotteries that offer one large jackpot, Spain's yuletide drawing sprinkles a variety of winnings on thousands of ticketholders.

The top prize — known as "El Gordo" (The Fat One) — gave lucky winners 400,000 euros ($546,200) per ticket Sunday, while the second-best number netted them €125,000 ($170,700).

However, this year for the first time, the tax man will claim 20 percent of winnings above 2,500 euros ($3,400), as the Spanish government strives to right an economy saddled with a sky-high unemployment rate of 26 percent.

Winning El Gordo tickets this year were sold in at least eight locations throughout the country, including Madrid, Barcelona and the northern industrial city of Modragon, where large electrical appliance manufacturer Fagor Electrodomesticos filed for bankruptcy in October.

El Gordo winner, Raul Clavero, 27, a mechanic living in the Madrid suburb of Leganes said he had been watching the drawing in bed when he realized he'd won.

"We jumped out of bed and ran out," he said, adding that he would "pay the mortgage, that's the first thing, and then just enjoy the rest."

Clavero said he was one of five members of his family who had bought the same number ticket.

The entire lot of second-prize tickets — worth 1.3 million euros ($1.7 million) — was sold in the town of Granadilla de Abona on the Canary Island resort of Tenerife.

Among the audience watching the draw in person at Madrid's Teatro Real Opera House was Jesus Lorente, who said he bought his second-prize ticket at a gas station in Granadilla de Abona.

The beaming 27-year-old caterer said he would use his winnings to "plug gaps" in his personal finances.

Before Spain's property-led economic boom imploded in 2008, ticket buyers often talked of spending their winnings on new cars or second homes by the beach or going on fancy vacations. Now many Spaniards are just hoping to avoid having their homes or cars repossessed.

"The ticket is stored in a safe place at home," Lorente said.

More ABC News