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What are the odds of winning "El Gordo"?

People queue to buy Christmas Lottery tickets in Madrid Barcex, CC BY-SA 3.0

When we buy a décimo (one ticket = a tenth of a strip) of the Spanish Christmas Lottery we always do so in the hope that we will win the jackpot, but what are the chances of winning the first prize, worth 400,000 euros? 

Truth be told, the chances are pretty remote.

It is often said that it is easier to be struck by lightning than to win the lottery. The probability that you will be favoured by El Gordo is the same as if you pluck a hair from your head and it is your only grey hair, or that you open a dictionary right on the page that contains the word you are looking for. 100,000 numbers enter the drums at the Teatro Real (from 00000 to 99999), so the probability that your tenth is the winner with El Gordo is one in 100,000. 

The chances of winning El Gordo go up or down too, obviously, depending on the amount of tickets purchased. In addition, experts assure that there are various probabilities. One of them, the professor of applied mathematics at the CEU San Pablo University, Miguel Córdoba, says that the chances of achieving El Gordo on December 22 are 5%. On the other hand, according to Córdoba, the probability that we will not win a euro increases to 86%.

This does not deter Spaniards from participating in the draw. While some rely on key dates, others opt for what they consider to be "pretty numbers." Such numbers exist in every home, as well as various rituals to supposedly attract luck. "Everyone is free to have their own beliefs, but scientifically there are 100,000 equal balls, with the same chances of each of them coming out," says Córdoba.

For this reason, there are many who are satisfied with recovering their ticket money of around 20 euros, for which there's a 9% probability.