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Lottery excites recession-hit Spain

– The winners of Spain’s cherished Christmas lottery – the world’s richest – celebrated around the country Sunday, a moment of joy and relief after another year of a brutal financial crisis.

Millions had been glued to their televisions on Sunday as $3.4 billion in prize money was distributed. The drawing is so popular that most of Spain’s 46 million people watched at least part of the live four-hour show, hoping they would hear their ticket as school children called out the numbers.

Unlike lotteries that offer one large jackpot, Spain’s yuletide drawing sprinkles a variety of winnings on thousands of ticketholders. The top prize – known as “El Gordo” (The Fat One) – gave winners $546,200 per ticket Sunday, while the second-best number netted them $170,700.

This year for the first time, the tax man will claim 20 percent of winnings of more than $3,400 as the Spanish government strives to right an economy saddled with a sky-high unemployment rate of 26 percent.

Winning El Gordo tickets this year were sold in at least eight locations throughout the country.

El Gordo winner Raul Clavero, 27, said he had been watching the drawing in bed when he realized he’d won. “We jumped out of bed and ran out,” he said, adding that he would “pay the mortgage, that’s the first thing, and then just enjoy the rest.”

The entire lot of second-prize tickets was sold in the town of Granadilla de Abona on the Canary Island resort of Tenerife.