Spain has once again drawn its annual Christmas lottery known as El Gordo or "the Fat One" worth about $1.6 billion (236 billion pesetas). It is the world's oldest lottery.

As they have done on every December 22, Spaniards huddled breathlessly at their radios and televisions on Saturday as children in a Madrid elementary school drew wooden balls from a huge golden tumbler and chanted the winning numbers.

The first prize of $1.6 million (300 million pesetas) went to the numbers, 18795. Second, third and fourth prizes amounted to more than $1.3 million (253 million). The greater part of El Gordo, totaling more than $1.25 billion (235 billion pesetas) was divided among the other winning numbers.

Three out of four Spaniards play the Christmas lottery. Most tickets are bought jointly by hundreds of people, sometimes a whole village, club or workplace. Part of this year's first prize was sold in the city of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, off the northeastern coast of Africa, but most of it went to the province of Murcia in southeastern Spain.

Although Spain, like most of Europe, is experiencing an economic slowdown, the lure of El Gordo was bigger than ever this year, rising seven percent over last year.

Since it was founded 189 years ago, the Christmas lottery in Spain has paid out in pesetas, but never again. Along with most members of the European Union, Spain is adopting the euro as its official currency on January first and the peseta will part of history.