The lottery obsession in Madrid

I would never pass up the opportunity to spend a few days in Madrid. On my way from Portugal, I couldn´t be so close and not come here for some tapas and paella. When asked if I prefer Barcelona over Madrid (and I have been asked this question more than once) Madrid would get my vote. I can´t really explain why.

There is only so much one can write about Madrid that hasn´t been written already. What surprised me the most is the Spanish obsession with playing the lottery. It took me a few hours to figure out why there has been a consistent, long line (and I mean long, hundreds of people–see picture) at the Puerta del Sol. Then a friend told me that people regularly line up here to buy lottery tickets. ¨The Spanish people are very superstitious,¨ she explained. Apparently, no other country on Earth has such religious lottery-following, even though other countries´s top prizes are much higher than here. The Spanish state-run National Lottery dates back nearly 250 years.

The most eagerly-anticipated draws of the National Lottery are those which take place over the Christmas period, El Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad or El Gordo (The Fat One), and El Niño (The Boy). The purse in El Niño is held on January 6th (hence the line yesterday and today) and the top prize in each series is 2 million euro. You can still buy a ticket, folks!

Some people say that in order to win, you have to buy your ticket at the Dona Manolita, a lottery vending shop which opened in 1931 and has become a Spanish institution. They apparently sell all the winning tickets. Now, that is what I call superstition!

Spain to be home to Europe’s largest casino

Spain’s lottery market is one of the largest in the world; it is home to the world’s fattest Christmas draw (El Gordo) that amounts to Euro2.20 billion(!), the country has slot-machines in almost every bar, and countless mini-casinos in every city.

I don’t know what the scene is like in other European countries, but trying your luck at some sort of gambling on a daily basis can totally be considered part of Spanish culture and tradition. With the high variety and demand of national and local level daily ‘money-winning’ opportunities in the country, gambling has often, and rightly, been called a national obsession.

So, it is no surprise that Spain has just declared building what will be Europe’s largest casino resort in Zaragoza — the 5th largest Spanish metropolitan that is located about 200 miles from Madrid. Tentatively called “Gran Escala” (Grand Scale), this ‘Vegas’ will cover 5000 acres, include 32 hotels and 5 theme parks.

A few years ago, the estimated amount spent on gambling by Spaniards was Euro22.68 billion, with older figures showing that every Spaniard spent Euro435 annually on the same. The country’s gambling market is expected to grow to Euro39 billion by 2010.

I guess everyone would love to sweep the table in a game of poker or win the lottery and never have to work again; here Spaniards try day-in-day-out to make that dream into a reality.