It's easy to buy a lottery ticket online for El Gordo. The website is easy to find and welcoming. Unlike a lot of lotteries, you don't have to be resident in Spain – if it's legal in whatever country you live in to buy lotto tickets, the authorities in Spain will be happy to take your money, and equally happy to send you your winnings if you get lucky.
El Gordo it is a special draw of Lotería Nacional, the Spanish national lottery run by Loterías y Apuestas del Estado which is owned by the Spanish government. Its history goes back a long way; in fact, only one lottery in the world has been running continuously for longer than Lotería Nacional, which held its first draw on 4 March 1812 and the first Christmas draw on 18 December 1812. It’s been called Sorteo de Navidad since 1892.
It's legal in Spain, as long as you are 18 or over. If you're not in Spain, watch out! There's a long history of people all over the world receiving letters inviting them to buy tickets in El Gordo and assuring them that the sender of the letter is an official agent. The reality is that no legal Spanish lottery, and no agent of a legal Spanish online lottery, will ever send such a letter – or email, or WhatsApp notification, or text message, or any other kind of communication – to someone outside Spain.
Why not? Because El Gordo, in common with all other legal Spanish lotteries, is only open to Spanish residents. You don't have to be a citizen, but you do have to live there. And not on holiday – Spain must be your permanent residence. As long as you meet that requirement, yes, El Gordo is entirely is entirely legal.
Scams are becoming reasonably frequent in connection with El Gordo. One that has been reported with increasing frequency takes the form of a letter or, more often, an email, advising the recipient that the sender – purporting to be a legal, authorized agent of the Spanish national lotteries – bought a ticket in El Gordo for the recipient (wasn't that kind?) and – great news! – the ticket has won!
All the recipient has to do is send his or her bank details and the money will be deposited to their account. The very generous sender of this communication will only retain 10% of the winnings to cover their costs. You should treat one of these emails or letters exactly as you treat any other request for information about your bank account: ignore it.
Having said all that, it is not impossible for someone who is not resident in Spain but is determined to have a flutter on El Gordo. There are websites that set up addresses making them resident in countries that are not actually where they live.
Selecting the right website is important, because if you don't then you might as well have responded to one of those scams we just talked about – and, in fact, that's exactly what you have done. But make the right choice and you will find you're dealing with an organization that has integrity, that really will invest your money on your behalf, and really will share your winnings with you.
The short answer is, buy your ticket. Once you have done that, the rest is out of your hands. This is how the lottery works. First of all, the tickets are divided into ten parts (called "decimos") and you can choose to buy anything from one part to the whole ticket.
The numbers are drawn by pupils of the San Ildefonso school which, when this tradition began, was reserved for the orphaned children of public servants. Another, related tradition was that winners would donate some of their prize money to the school. As the children draw the numbers, they sing the results. The whole thing is broadcast on television.
The children use two large spherical cages, in the first of which are 100,000 small wooden balls, each with a unique 5-digit ticket number on it, from 00000 to 99999 while in the other are 1,807 small wooden balls, each one representing a prize written in Euros:
- 1 ball for the first prize
- 1 ball for the second prize
- 1 ball for the third prize
- 2 balls for the fourth prizes
- 8 balls for the fifth prizes
- 1,794 balls for the small prizes
The overall odds of winning a prize are pretty good at 1:6.5. Of course, that includes the almost 1800 small prizes; but the odds of winning the big one and the second and third prizes are 1 in 100,000, which is considerably better than the odds in winning the top prize in many of the world's largest lottery draws.
This falls to 1 in 50,000 for the fourth prize and 1 in 12,500 for the fifth. The reason that these odds are better than for many other draws is that 70% of all ticket sales are returned in the form of prizes – and that is a high percentage by international standards.
Tip number one should probably be: If you don't live in Spain, move there. the next may be to buy your ticket early. Tickets go on sale months before Christmas, the number that will be sold is large but not infinite – it's a raffle and there is a point at which sales will stop – so, if you want to win, the worst thing that can happen is that you wait too long and all the tickets are gone. Buy a whole ticket. And consider finding one of those websites that:
- Allow you to buy a ticket as though you are resident in Spain, even though you are not; and
- Run an El Gordo lotto syndicate.
If you join the syndicate, you will share in its winnings. Yes, you'll get less than you would have if you'd bought the whole of the single ticket that won the top prize – but the odds of winning that is something will be a great deal higher.