Economic Woes Don't Stop Spain's Lottery Dreams

In these bleakest of times in Spain, with unemployment well over 25 percent, lottery fever still runs high. El Gordo is the biggest lottery of all, and ticket sales stay steady and have even increased during Spain's recession.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Today is Spain's Christmas lottery drawing. It's considered the world's jackpot with prizes worth more than three billion U.S. dollars. The six and a half million dollar grand prize is nicknamed El Gordo - the fat one. It's usually shared among hundreds of friends and neighbors who go in on tickets together. And as Lauren Frayer reports from Madrid, the Christmas lottery brings a little cheer amid Spain's dismal economy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in Spanish)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: It's an unseasonably warm winter day in Madrid. School's out, and there are no fewer than three Santas available for photos in the city's Puerta del Sol square. Sure, it's Christmas, but it's also lottery season in Spain.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in Spanish)

FRAYER: A lottery ticket salesman breaks out in flamenco song. Days like this, you could almost forget about the economy.

ADRIANA PANIAGUA: You believe in something, and if you win, it's very happy.

FRAYER: Adriana Paniagua is 23 and unemployed, but still spent more than fifty dollars on the Christmas lottery. That's the norm. It's a tradition.

PANIAGUA: My grandparents and my parents and every year we bought some lottery. Some years more, some years less, but every year.

FRAYER: Children from a Catholic school originally for orphans sing the winning numbers every year on live TV.

CHILDREN: (Singing in Spanish)

FRAYER: Ticket sales have been up ever since the economic crisis hit. Gonzalo Garland at Madrid's IE Business School says consumption normally goes down when people are earning less. But that's not the case with the lottery. Spaniards are willing to cut back on many other things, but not this one.

GONZALO GARLAND: They will spend less on presents for the family, and all the other things. But the hope and the dream associated with spending a little extra on the lottery gives them some reward in a way. From an economic point of view, we'll say that's a utility. We call it utility. But there's some pleasure on, at least dreaming on what you would do if you would win the lottery.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)

FRAYER: In line to buy last-minute lottery tickets is Eduardo Alban, 21, who works at a call center to put himself through school.

EDUARDO ALBAN: I'm going to spend on two - one for me, and other for my mother. She say me, buy me one, buy me one.

FRAYER: If they win, he says they'll pay off the mortgage and buy new cell phones. Does he think that's likely, I ask?

ALBAN: Well, with hope, yes.

FRAYER: For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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