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13 December 1938: The birth of ONCE, help for the blind

Presentation of the Príncipe de Asturias prize in 2013.
Presentation of the Príncipe de Asturias prize in 2013. / EFE
  • Old ONCE 'cupones', or lottery tickets, are collectors' items, with designs changing to represent major events in Spanish history

On 13 December 1938 ONCE, an organisation to provide assistance to blind people in Spain, was created.

A government decree endorsed its foundation and granted the then national organisation of the blind the right to sell the so-called "pro-blind" lottery tickets, to provide members with a livelihood. The very first draw was held on 8 May 1939.

ONCE stands for Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles (national organisation for Spanish blind people).

Although ONCE now has several gambling products available, the organisation's traditional product is the charity lottery ticket known throughout Spain as the 'cupón'.

Sales of the ticket are the main source of income for ONCE and can carry huge tax-exempt cash prizes. The draw has different tickets for different days of the week, a special weekend ticket as well as special tickets with higher prizes at different times of year.

The draw has for many years been broadcast live every night on Spanish TV channels, including Telecinco, Cuatro and CNN+. From January 3, 2017, it has been shown on the Spanish television channel La 1.

The basic graphic designs on the cupón are always the same, but the theme changes to correspond to current events, for example when the Euro became legal tender in 2002, or cultural references such as national or local monuments. Collecting old issues of the cupón has become a hobby for many people in Spain.

In September 2013, coinciding with the organisation's 75th anniversary, ONCE was awarded Spain's Príncipe de Asturias prize for Concord. From 1989 to 2003 ONCE sponsored one of Spain's leading cycling teams.

As of September 2013, membership of the organisation was 71,460 people, of whom 40 per cent were over the age of 65.

ONCE, whose work includes providing guide dogs for blind and visually impaired people, is made up of three pillars: the Directorate-General; the Foundation; and CEOSA, ONCE's business corporation. This employs over 136,000 staff, of whom 88.5 per cent are people with disabilities.

ONCE continues to raise funds to provide services for the blind and people with serious visual impairment, as well as those with other disabilities, and sellers are a familiar sight in all Spanish towns, cities and villages.