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Spaniards Celebrate 'El Gordo' Victories in World's Biggest Lottery

Juan Lopez holds his lottery ticket with the winning number of Spain's Christmas Lottery "El Gordo", together with his daughter Pilar in La Eliana near Valencia, Dec. 22, 2014.

Thousands of Spaniards including humble restaurant workers and nursing home residents celebrated wins in the world's biggest lottery draw on Monday, scooping up shares in over 2.2 billion euros ($2.7 billion) in prizes doled out across the country.

El Gordo, or "the Fat One", is the top award millions vie for every year in the traditional Christmas lottery, which had Spaniards in suspense for four hours as the ceremonial draw took longer than usual to give up the big prizes.

The Gordo pays out 400,000 euros for every 20 euros spent on a number and this year's jackpot was widely distributed. There were winners from the capital Madrid to southerly Murcia, flocking to local lottery outlets or bars where they had bought their tickets to celebrate their good fortune.

Spain's Christmas lottery has been running for just over 200 years and remains a major fixture of the festive season. Sales had dropped off in recent years as the country went through a deep economic crisis, leaving over 5 million people, or nearly one in four workers, out of a job.

But this year, coinciding with Spain's recovery from recession, ticket sales were up for the first time since 2008.

The taxman now takes a slice of the winnings - 20 percent from prizes above 2,500 euros.

The build-up to the yearly Gordo has added to the prize's fame. Superstitious players can line up for hours to buy tickets from the "luckiest" vendors, where the jackpot has hit before.

Companies, sports associations, local shops and bars also order series of ticket numbers for staff, which are then swapped and shared among relatives and colleagues trying to maximize their chances of getting a top prize.

Workers from Madrid's central wax museum were among the big winners on Monday, while staff from a neighboring restaurant also got lucky.

"The first thing I'm going to do is go to Paraguay to see my family. I haven't been for years," Madrid-based Gonzalo Lovera, a caretaker who won 1.6 million euros, told state television.

($1 = 0.8155 euros)