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The Mega Millions drawing is now worth $500 million—but that’s nothing compared to what the Spanish Christmas lottery ‘El Gordo’ is giving away

December 22, 2022, 4:43 PM UTC
Children sing out a number in Spain's Christmas lottery.
Jorge Sanz—Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Image

The Mega Millions jackpot surpassed half a billion dollars Wednesday, with a new estimated jackpot of $510 million. Nobody has claimed the top prize since mid-October, and the next drawing will be Friday night. 

That means many Americans will start lining up for tickets and pondering how they’ll spend their winnings if they get astronomically lucky—many people also give out lottery tickets for the holidays. You have a better chance of being killed by a meteor or struck by lightning multiple times than winning the lottery, but fantasizing about winning the top prize can prove irresistible given high inflation and predictions of a looming recession.

While the Mega Millions drawing is impressive, it’s not even half the jackpot of the traditional Christmas lottery in Spain known as “El Gordo” (the Fat One), which totals $2.7 billion this year. 

But while that lottery, held every year on Dec. 22 and dating back to 1812, ranks as the world’s richest in terms of total prize money, the top payout is relatively small: 400,000 euros, or about $424,000. And to get it, you need to buy a 20-euro ($21.19) ticket, which would likely make many Americans accustomed to $1 or $2 lottery tickets (sometimes for much bigger top prizes) balk. That Spanish lottery ticket, known as a décimos, is given as a traditional gift to friends, coworkers, or family members, particularly this time of year. The rest of the jackpot is given out in hundreds of smaller prizes. 

Spain’s national lottery dates back to the 1760s, when it was established during the reign of King Carlos III as a charity. Later, its purpose was changed to shoring up state coffers, along with helping charities.

The winning numbers of Spain’s Christmas lottery are sung out by children in a televised event lasting about four hours at Madrid’s Teatro Real opera house, one the most prestigious in Europe.

In terms of large top prizes in a lottery, the biggest ever was seen last month in the U.S., when a staggering $2.04 billion was won in the Powerball lottery. The lucky winner bought the golden ticket at Joe’s Service Center in Altadena, California, northeast of Los Angeles.

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