Spain's El Gordo $3B lottery shared among thousands of winners

In Spain, where a recession and government austerity lingers like a winter cold that won't go away, there's a unique Christmas ritual that offers relief for a little while. The Spanish Santa doesn't care if you're naughty or nice -- only if you're lucky.

They call it "El Gordo" -- the fat one -- and the main prize in Spain's Christmas lottery, at more than $500,000, is a good lump of money. The fervor over ticket buying has become a national institution.

But for 200 years, the Spanish Christmas lottery has had a special tradition. In addition to offering big prizes, it offers a lot of smaller ones, with more than $3 billion in total up for grabs. People form syndicates to buy tickets in the hope of spreading the windfall even further and escaping the destitution that -- with an unemployment rate stuck above 25 percent -- so many in Spain endure.

So, no simple machine spitting out balls reveals the winning numbers in Spain -- instead, it's a choir of child angels. And, as luck would have it, many of this year's winners came from some of the hardest-hit areas of the country -- a town where the main appliance plant has just gone bankrupt and laid off 2,000 people, and a working-class suburb of Madrid where there's no work.

Afonso Martinez, 53, was one of the big winners. He said the travel agents where he used to work just closed up and the bosses disappeared, and there was no severance pay.

One woman -- also a winner -- says her family has been living on welfare.

And another woman said she'd buy a house, and help her children -- all of whom are unemployed.

As economic fixes go, winning the lottery only works for the lucky.  Most people in Spain are still unlucky. Still, the annual event does offer a diversion and some hope.

CBS News' Mark Phillips added on "CBS This Morning," "One cautionary note though -- as part of its austerity program, for the first time this year, the Spanish government is going to tax any winnings above about $3,000."

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