How Everyone in This One Small Town Became Millionaires Overnight

Except for one unlucky resident, everyone in this debt-ridden farming community became incredibly wealthy when their lottery numbers were called. But here's what they really won.

By Lia Grainger
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine April 2014

town of gold coinsDan Saelinger for Reader’s Digest

The Farming village of Sodeto sits perched atop a dusty outcropping of land in northeastern Spain. It’s barely a dot on the map—consisting of about 240 people. Identical stone houses and barns sit in rows, and automobiles caked with mud line the grassy town square. There are no overt signs of wealth, but if you peek through any of the kitchen windows, you’ll see something odd: enormous flat-screen TVs and sleek marble countertops so freshly installed, they’d look more appropriate in a display condo.

At Bar Cañamoto, the town’s sole drinking establishment, you’ll usually find a half dozen residents drinking botellitas of Estrella beer after a long day of laboring in the fields. But unlike the locals in other towns, these farmers and truck drivers pay for their one-euro beers with 50-euro bills, and the mood is always jovial, like they haven’t a worry in the world. “People are happier now,” explains Pedro, a 33-year-old long-distance truck driver, as he breaks into a smile.

On December 22, 2011, at 9:57 a.m., the entire population of Sodeto became winners of the biggest lottery in the world. La Lotería de Navidad, or El Gordo (“The Fat One”), as it is known, dishes out as much as two billion euros every year in prize money, and in 2011, everyone in Sodeto held a portion of the winning number. As El Gordo was announced on television, Sodeto’s residents streamed out of their homes and into the square, embracing and shrieking in disbelief. “I had four tickets. How many did you have?” “I had seven!” “I had 12!”

Tears and champagne flowed as the realization set in that every single person in Sodeto had won a share of the largest amount of prize money, worth a combined 720 million euros. (Everyone, that is, except for one resident, but more about him later.)

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