Almost winning El Gordo, Spain’s national Christmas lottery

Before I went to Spain, I knew a little about the country’s national lottery tradition. The short version: insanely large jackpot, drawn at Christmas, great community-building exercise. I had set a rather vague goal of buying a ticket if I could find one. I had no expectations of winning, and figured actually trying to claim the prize could result in some, ahem, legal challenges.

I did a modicum of research, reading up on where one could buy a ticket and whether there were any arcane transactional things I needed to know. When I got to Spain, it took 10 minutes on the ground to find a ticket agent.

El Gordo spain christmas lottery
For the record, the ticket on the left was 13 away from a 60,000€ prize.

How El Gordo Works

Each ticket is 20€, well, it’s 20€ for a fraction of a ticket – one-tenth or décimo, to be precise. If you have 200€ burning a hole in your pocket, you can buy an entire ticket, a billete, but my understanding is that this is a completely selfish and mean-spirited thing to do. Part of the fun is pooling your resources with your family and friends and sharing in the winnings, however big or small they may be. To make it slightly more confusing, there were 180 series of tickets in 2011, each five-digit number existed as 180 full billetes (or 1,800 décimos). To add to the confusion, tickets are subdivided and resold in countless ways. Wikipedia also gives this explanation a good try.

Buy an El Gordo ticket in Sevilla

Fast-forward to Seville. While visiting La Macarena district, I spent a lot of time at Basilica of Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza Macarena (Calle Bécquer, 1-3). <Fun tangent starting> As a guide at another Seville landmark pointed out, “It’s a vir-hen and not the dance,” but then she mimed the dance anyway.</tangent>

Outside of the Basilica, there was a lovely, friendly man stationed at a small table, talking with everyone who went in the building.

El Gordo spain christmas lottery sevilla hermandad la macarena
You try to say no to this guy if he wants to sell you something

He was a representative of the Hermandad de la Macarena, the organization associated with the Basilica which raises money for La Macarena’s charities and organizes the annual Holy Week procession, the most famous in Seville. My basic understanding of Spanish revealed El Hermandad de la Macarena sells further fractions of tickets as a fundraiser. Señor spoke no English, I only speak “traveler” Spanish, yet somehow, we managed a 2,50€ transaction that resulted in me acquiring a participación – 1/100 of a ticket – while making a 0,50€ donation to the Hermandad. For me, the real prize was the ticket itself. Behold, it is stunning (click to enlarge):

el gordo macarena 2011 spain sevilla participación
Heavens! That’s the best-looking lottery ticket I’ve ever seen!

I put the ticket in my trip journal and promptly forgot about it until visiting my parents over the holidays. Once news of the lottery draw started making its way to North American newscasts, I sprang into action and hit the internet for news and ticket numbers. I found a link to the official winning numbers and started scanning the document furiously:


My parents heard my anguished cry from the living room. Assuming some horrible accident had occurred, they inquired about my well-being. They were right to do so. A stupid twist of fate meant ticket number 52684 won 1,000€, instead of my 52648. I had missed out on a sweet, sweet jackpot of 10€.*

*Minus travel expenses back to Spain and a cut to the Spanish national or resident who would have to claim the prize for me.

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