Spanish town gets visit from 'fat one'

Associated Press
Published December 23, 2005

VIC, Spain - The fat man came early to this Catalan town known for churches and convents, blessing it with Christmas lottery winnings of $612-million.

The sweepstakes known as "El Gordo" - the Fat One - sprinkled more than $2.4-billion in cheer throughout Spain on Thursday - a 200-year-old tradition that shuns jackpots in favor of thousands of shared numbers that spread the wealth.

All 1,700 first-prize tickets, each worth $360,000, were sold by one lottery office in Vic, a town of 30,000 about 40 miles north of Barcelona.

"I won't believe it until I see the money," said Alexandra Montaner, 18, giggling as revelers chugged bottles of sparkling wine and sprayed it on each other on the streets of Vic. "I have never seen so many people on the streets."

Montaner, who works at her family's catering company, plans to buy a new car and treat her parents to a fancy vacation with the proceeds from her winning ticket.

Police had to cut off a street where crowds thronged the lottery office that sold the top prize tickets.

"This has absolutely overwhelmed us," said Miquel Colina, the office manager.

Spaniards were in suspense for nearly three hours until the first-prize number - 20085 - fell from a golden tumbler during a televised ceremony. It takes so long because nearly 1,800 numbers bring rewards ranging from the ticket's $24 face value to the top prize - "El Gordo."

It was not the first time one town came away with all "El Gordo" tickets. It happened last year in another town in Catalonia, one named Sort - Catalan for "luck." In 2000, the fortune befell the town of Segovia, 30 miles north of Madrid.

Bars and restaurants traditionally buy many of the tickets to resell, either for the face value or divided into shares.

Some $216-million of Vic's windfall went to the employees and customers of Carme Criviller's restaurant - except for two. A cook and a waitress opted against the gamble "because they are antilottery," Criviller told the news agency Efe. "We are going to have to do something for them, give them a gift," she said, wine bottles popping all around her.

Criviller and her husband bought several tickets, winning $1.4-million.

Although other lotteries have bigger individual top prizes, Spain's is billed as the world's richest lottery for the total sum of prize money dished out.

The total prize money is up from $2.1-billion last year.