MADRID (Reuters) - Lottery ticket-holders in two Spanish towns - a working-class suburb outside Madrid and a town recently hit by layoffs in the Basque country - were the big winners of the 640-million-euro El Gordo Christmas draw on Sunday.
People who bought their tickets in the two towns took a combined 540 million euros of El Gordo, the top prize of a 200-year-old Christmas lottery that is a treasured tradition in Spain, with families, offices and bar regulars clubbing together to buy tickets.
Some 180 million euros ($246 million) went to the Basque town of Mondragon, the site of Spain's biggest consumer appliance company Fagor, which recently had to lay off more than 2,000 people as part of insolvency proceedings.
"I'm on cloud nine! I couldn't imagine something like this happening. We've been in the press for so many unpleasant reasons, and for something which brings such joy to happen here is a real support for the people," Jose Maria Garai, one of the officially designated ticket sellers in Mondragon, told Spanish television.
Another 360 million euros went to ticket holders in Leganes, a town of laborers and immigrants on the outskirts of the capital.
The Christmas lottery was designed in 1812 to allow as many people as possible to get a festive windfall. This year 160 "series", or versions, of the winning number were issued at 200 euros each, capable of being divided into 10ths of 20 euros each.
El Gordo, Spanish for "The Fat One", is the richest prize but there are thousands more, and the drawing takes hours. More than 2.2 billion euros were doled out on Sunday.
This year for the first time the state will tax any winnings over 2,500 euros as part of austerity measures aimed at reducing one of the euro zone's highest public deficits.
The zone's fourth largest economy has been in and out of recession since a property bubble burst in 2008, leaving almost 6 million unemployed, gutting domestic demand and forcing the government to request billions of euros in European aid to bail out its banks.
Lottery spending fell more than 4 percent this year as Spaniards continue to feel the pinch of the five-year economic slump.
($1 = 0.7315 euros)
(Reporting by Raquel Castillo; Writing by Paul Day; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)