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Spanish town wins big in lottery

$612 million rains down on Catalan community

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People in Vic, Spain, celebrate Thursday after winning a portion of the main prize.

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VIC, Spain (AP) -- A lottery known as "El Gordo" -- the Fat One -- sprinkled more than euro2 billion (US$2.4 billion) in Christmas cheer around Spain on Thursday, with this Catalan town known for its churches and convents blessed with a quarter of the windfall.

There are lots of ways to win at least something in Spain's nearly 200-year-old Christmas sweepstakes but the luckiest gamblers this year held the first-prize number 20085.

The lottery features a complex system of shared numbers designed to spread wealth rather than concentrate it in a jackpot. Each five-digit number ranging from 00001 to 85000 appeared on 1,700 tickets costing euro20 (US$24) apiece.

And this year all 1,700 tickets with the number 20085 were sold by one lottery office in Vic, 70 kilometers (40 miles) north of Barcelona. Each was worth euro300,000 (US$360,000). So in one fell swoop, winnings of euro510 million (US$612 million) rained on Vic.

The office regularly offered that number among its tickets every year but it had never struck lucky until now, said Miquel Codina, son of the lottery office manager. "We have been waiting for this for years," he told the news agency Efe.

That lottery office sold tickets both to individuals and to bars and restaurants, which as per Spanish custom then turned around and sold them to customers, either as they were or divvying them up into smaller shares.

Vic restaurant owner Carme Criviller did that, selling 10-euro shares that ended up fetching euro180 million (US$216 million) in winnings for employees and customers.

But two of her 10 employees, a cook and a waitress named Diana and Ana, decided not to gamble "because they are anti-lottery."

"I think we are going to have to do something for them, give them a gift," Criviller told Efe.

With bottles of sparkling wine popping all around her, Criviller -- she and her husband won euro1.2 million (US$1.4 million) -- said she had already turned away three customers Thursday because of the merry mayhem that has engulfed her eatery.

"A group of 40 people were coming today for lunch. I don't know what we are going to do because it is all out of control," she said.

The lottery is a hallowed Spanish tradition that marks the official start of the holiday season. It takes more than three hours because nearly 1,800 of the numbers read out after falling from a large gold tumbler bring some kind of prize. They range from the face value of the ticket to the main prize, known as El Gordo.

This year's version was full of suspense because it took about two-and-a-half hours for the luckiest number to emerge.

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

Keeping with a nearly 200-year-old tradition, children from a school that was once an orphanage sang out the five-digit lottery numbers and corresponding prizes in a pageant broadcast live on virtually every Spanish TV channel.

The idea is for the big money to trickle through Spanish society, where office workers, relatives, sports clubs and other groups often pitch in to buy tickets together.

The total prize money is up from euro1.8 billion last year.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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