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Spanish catch $1.7bn lottery fever

1,800 tickets bore the jackpot winning number 8103
1,800 tickets bore the jackpot winning number 8103

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MADRID, Spain -- Lottery fever has swept Spain as the winners are announced in the annual Christmas game of luck which this year is worth $1.7 billion.

The annual lottery, called El Gordo -- or The Fat One -- is billed as the world's richest lottery and was drawn on Sunday.

It is based on a complex system of number-sharing that seeks to spread the winnings among millions of people holding ticket numbers ranging from 00001 to 66,000.

Complicating matters further, each of the 66,000 numbers is repeated 1,800 times.

About 10,000 numbers win some kind of prize, with the 1,800 first prize tickets worth up to $200,000 each.

The three-hour process, during which dozens of winners of small prizes were revealed, ended with the announcement of the first-prize number -- 08103.

As expected, the winners were spread all over Spain, but once again the central town of Segovia -- which hit it big in 2000 when its residents took all $255 million in first-prize money -- accounted for $2 million in winnings.

Another fortunate town was Alcantarilla, in the Murcia province, where vendors sold locals tickets worth $200 million.

Among them was electrician Norman Manfredo Aguirre, an Ecuadorian immigrant whose wife bought a ticket Saturday night that read 08103, scooping the couple $200,000.

"Viva Espana!", Aguirre shouted outside the lottery office that changed his life. He moved to Spain three years ago.

Spaniards spend money year-round on a dozen lotteries, but they go all out at Christmas, with three-quarters of the country's 40 million people taking part in El Gordo, officials say.

Forty percent of those who try their luck win up to $30 or more, says the state-run Centre for Sociological Studies.

Morning newspapers put out a special afternoon supplement to report the sea of lucky digits.

Spain holds another big lottery in early January to mark the Feast of the Epiphany. It is known as El Nino, or child, referring to the baby Jesus.

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