updated 12/22/2008 4:06:54 PM ET 2008-12-22T21:06:54

Economic woes eased for thousands in Spain on Monday as the Christmas lottery — billed among the world's richest — dished out some euro2.32 billion ($3.23 billion) in prizes.

The top prize of the lottery dubbed "El Gordo" (The Fat One) went to holders of tickets bearing the number 32365 — which appears on 1,950 tickets, each winning euro300,000 ($418,000). Thousands of others cashed in on runner-up prizes.

The top number was sung out at just after noon Monday by pupils of Madrid's Saint Ildefonso School in a nationally televised draw held each Dec. 22.

Rather than a single jackpot, the lottery aims for a share-out in which thousands of numbers yield at least some kind of return.

Jubilation across Spain
The draw brought scenes of jubilation across Spain.

In the central town of Soria, Ricardo Jimenez's bar sold all 1,950 of the third prize tickets, spreading some 97 million euros ($135 million) among customers, family and friends.

Television images showed him being showered with sparking wine by celebrating clients.

"I'm still shaking," said Jimenez, who bought 15 tickets worth euro750,000 ($1 million) for himself. "But I'll keep on working. I'll share this with my three children."

Since it began in 1812, the Christmas lottery has become a favorite holiday tradition. This year, it sold an estimated euro2.8 billion euros ($3.90 billion) nationwide — nearly 3 percent down on last year.

The lottery starts at 9 a.m. (0800 GMT) and people throughout the country typically tune into the radio, television or Internet to find out if their number is called for a prize.

The 1,950 tickets with the top prize number were sold across seven of Spain's 52 provinces.

Per capita spending of $92
The state lottery agency estimates per capita spending of about 62 euros ($92) on the Gordo this year, down about 1 euro from 2007. Seventy percent of lottery sales goes back out in prizes, and 30 percent goes to the state.

Spain established its national lottery system as a charity in 1763, during the reign of King Carlos III, but its objective gradually shifted toward filling state coffers.

Spain holds another big lottery Jan. 6 to mark the Feast of the Epiphany. It is known as "El Nino" (The Child), in reference to the baby Jesus.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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