Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Spanish lottery, ONCE bitten...

At Xmas time, even the BBC usually finds time to run a piece about Spain's el Gordo lottery. El Gordo ('the fat one') captures headlines around the world. The annual Xmas draw (run by Loterías del Estado) is held on December 22nd and (it seems) has all of Spain tuned in or turned on to hear schoolchildren sing the numbers as they are selected in a day-long ceremony. The three billion euro prize fund attracts huge numbers of players. Factories, offices, sports clubs, it seems as though everyone has a stake, often as part of a work-based syndicate. The Spaniards even make their gambling habits 'communal'.
But while el Gordo usually makes the headlines, due to the huge amount of money to be won, Spain has another, lesser-known lottery story, which deserves our attention.
As I entered my local centro de salud (health centre) the other day, I greeted the ONCE lottery ticket-seller with a cheery, "Hola." Then, I took a snap decision. I stopped, and bought my first Spanish cúpon de lotería (lottery-ticket).

Well, it was the 11/11/11 draw, which the TV adverts had been plugging all week, and it was a good chance for me to practise my Spanish with the ticket-seller...

ONCE is a rival lottery to Loterías del Estado, and it's their story that I'm going to tell. Let's start by getting the pronunciation of ONCE sorted out. If you're an English-speaker, forget your English. Try saying 'on-say' while stressing the 'on' part and lisping the 'say'. That's better. Now, let's see what it means.
Once is the number 'eleven'. But ONCE has a different meaning. It's an acronym for Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles, which translates as The National Organisation of Blind Spaniards. It's the Spanish equivalent of the UK's RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People). But that's where any similarity between the Spanish and the UK organisations ends. For while the RNIB is best know for its work offering support and advice to blind and partially sighted people in the UK, ONCE (while performing similar functions in Spain) is undoubtedly better known for selling lottery tickets and giving employment to its members.

Founded in 1938 (during Franco's dictatorship) to aid the increasing number of Spaniards blinded during the civil war, a decision was made to award ONCE the right to run a national lottery, and benefit from the profits. Its green kioskos and walk-about ticket-sellers are now national institutions. And due mainly to ONCE's involvement in the lottery administration, the unemployment rate of Spain's blind people is zero. In the past, blind people were often reduced to the role of beggars. Franco's legacy in Spain may not be a source of much national pride, but the decision to award the lottery to ONCE has certainly turned out to be something which modern Spaniards can be proud of.
I can't help feeling that John Major missed a trick in 1993 when his government awarded the licence to run the UK lottery to Camelot (a consortium of companies including Cadbury Schweppes). Despite the money pledged to 'good causes', I always found buying my lottery tickets in the local newsagent or off-licence, to be a slightly tawdry affair, smacking of a desperate urge to 'escape' from the rat-race with a bag of Hula-Hoops and a million pounds. 
Back here in Spain, as I chatted to the partially-sighted seller outside my local centro de salud, I could sense his own feelings of inclusion and worth as he offered me advice regarding which tickets might be lucky, and explained how I would go about claiming my prize... 

My new friend outside the centro de salud offers advice and information (and Spanish practice).

And, ¡sorpresa, sorpresa! (surprise, surprise) I'm a ganador (winner). The last number on my ticket matches the last number drawn so I win... 5 euros, exactly what I'd paid for the ticket in the first place. (Top prize for this draw was eleven million euros).
So what do I do with my prize money? Well, I have another chat with my new friend outside the centro de salud and decide on two, 3 euro Cuponazo tickets for the following Friday. He's helping me with my Spanish practice, I'm another friendly customer chatting in the November sunshine.
Isn't that what they call, "Win, win"?

 A punter tries his luck at an ONCE kiosco near Valencia train station. The advert on the side boasts, 'ONCE ticket. You win, we all win'.

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