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What is the Mexican game of chance?

Mexico has a long history of games of chance and gambling that dates back to pre-Hispanic times. Many of these traditional games continue to be popular today both in Mexico and Mexican communities abroad. One of the most well-known Mexican games of chance is lotería.

What is lotería?

Lotería is a game of chance that is similar to bingo, but uses images on a deck of cards rather than letters and numbers on ping pong balls. It is played in Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Some key facts about lotería:

  • Lotería is played with a deck of 54 cards, each with an image that has a name in Spanish.
  • Common images include “la sirena” (the mermaid), “el gallo” (the rooster), “la dama” (the lady), “el catrín” (the dandy), “la araña” (the spider), “el nopal” (the cactus), “el borracho” (the drunkard), and “la muerte” (death).
  • To play, cards are drawn randomly from the deck and the caller announces the name of the image.
  • Players mark images on their lotería boards using dried beans when the image on their board is called.
  • The first player to complete a designated pattern on their board and shout “Lotería!” wins.
  • Lotería originated in Italy in the 15th century and was brought to Mexico by Spanish conquerors.
  • It is frequently played around Christmas but is enjoyed year-round.

So in summary, lotería is a Latin American bingo-style game played with images on cards instead of letters and numbers. It has a long history dating back centuries and remains popular in Mexico today.

Origins and history of lotería

Lotería has its origins in Italy in the 15th century with the game “Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia.” This early lottery-style game involved drawing numbers at random and was played by wealthy nobles.

When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico in the 1500s, they introduced a number of games of chance from Europe, including lotería. The game quickly gained popularity and became a regular pastime.

Over the next centuries, lotería evolved to become uniquely Mexican. The number cards were replaced with images that represented aspects of Mexican culture and everyday life. By the 1800s, the familiar 54-card deck featuring iconic illustrations was standardized.

Important milestones in the history of Mexican lotería include:

  • 1527 – First lotería games arrive in Mexico with Spanish conquerors.
  • 1700s – Number cards transition to images of Mexican culture and life.
  • 1813 – The Lottery Directorate regulates lotería and other games of chance.
  • 1887 – Don Clemente Jacques patents the first lotería card deck.
  • 1910 – Mexican Revolution disrupts lotería gambling. Resurges in 1920s.
  • 1986 – First National Lotería Championship held in Mexico City.
  • 1996 – Lotería game launched in the United States by Bicycle Cards.
  • 2000s – Digital lotería apps and video games are created.

So in Mexico, playing lotería and other games of chance has been a popular pastime for centuries. While the game has evolved over time, much of its original spirit and cultural significance remains.

How to play lotería

Lotería is very easy to learn and fun for players of all ages. Here are the basics:

Number of players: Lotería can be played with small or large groups. Minimum of 2 players.

Cards and boards: Each player has at least one lotería board and several markers like dried beans. The game uses a deck of 54 lotería cards with different images.

Set up: Each player places their markers on the FREE space on their boards. Shuffle the card deck and place it face down.

Gameplay: Taking turns, one player draws a card and announces its name to the other players. Players search their boards – if they have the matching image, they mark it with a bean.

Winning: The first player to mark a complete row, column or diagonal shouts “Lotería!” to win. Some games require the whole board or 4 corners.

New games: The winner keeps their board and clears beans. Players reset boards and reshuffle the card deck to play again.

So in summary, lotería has straightforward rules and requires simple supplies. The caller draws cards and announces them, while players search their boards. Matches are covered until a player completes the agreed pattern.

Lotería cards and boards

Lotería games feature boards and a deck of cards with classic images, but many beautiful and unique sets exist. Here are key details on lotería cards and boards:

Standard deck: The classic lotería deck has 54 cards, each with an image and Spanish name. There are common themes like people, plants, animals, objects, places, concepts and more.

Card categories: The images on the cards can be grouped into categories:

  • People – el negrito, la dama, el catrín, la mamá
  • Animals – el nopal, el gallo, el borrego, la araña, el venado
  • Objects – el nopal, la jarra, la botella, la canasta, el barril
  • Places – el pino, la cazuela, el mundo
  • Concepts – el corazón, la suerte, la muerte, el hombre

Boards: Classic lotería boards are 4×4 grids (16 squares total). Each square has an image that matches the deck. Players mark called cards on boards.

Variations: In addition to classic sets, there are lotería decks and boards with different themes, alternate images, fewer or more cards, personalized illustrations and more.

So while there is a traditional standard, lotería cards and boards come in many versions. The game can be customized with favorite images and designs.

How to call lotería

The lotería caller plays a key role in games. Here are some tips for being an excellent caller:

  • Know the cards: Review the deck and card names before starting. Be very familiar with the images and themes.
  • Speak clearly: Announce each card loudly and enunciate. Players need to hear the names to search their boards.
  • Keep a rhythm: Develop a steady cadence as you call cards. Don’t go too fast or too slow.
  • Build excitement: Use inflection, drama, accents, etc. to keep players engaged. Getting lively reactions to calls is part of the fun!
  • Interact: Talk to players, ask questions, and use creativity to call cards in dynamic ways.
  • Keep track: Note called cards and announce remaining cards periodically. Shuffle if needed.
  • Confirm winners: Verify completed boards and declare lotería winners definitively.

Great lotería callers enhance gameplay and create an energetic, social atmosphere. With practice and personality, anyone can become an engaging, effective caller.

Lotería game variants

While traditional lotería is very popular, many fun variations and custom versions of the game have also been created:

  • Themed decks: Special decks featuring sports, nature, movies, holidays, celebrities and more.
  • Custom cards: Players can make DIY lotería cards with personal photos or hand-drawn art.
  • Bingo-style: Calling (not showing) cards and marking numbers on boards instead of images.
  • Charades-style: Acting out cards instead of calling them out.
  • Speed lotería: Faster gameplay by drawing multiple cards at a time.
  • Progressive patterns: Require multiple special patterns to win – 4 corners, plus an X shape, plus a border.
  • Wild cards: Include 2 “comodín” (wildcard) cards that can mark any image.

Lotería is highly customizable, so get creative with house rules! Adjusting the cards, boards, caller style and winning patterns allows endless versions.

Lotería game strategy

Lotería involves chance, but there is still skill and strategy involved. Here are some tips to up your game:

  • Know the deck – Study the cards beforehand so recogn recognizable images faster.
  • Listen intently – Focus completely on the caller and block out distractions.
  • Mark efficiently – Have beans ready to mark called cards quickly.
  • Scan strategically – Scan sections of your board methodically rather than randomly searching.
  • Play the odds – Target high probability patterns like the edges and corners.
  • Use wildcards wisely – Save comodín cards for when you need them most.
  • Stake out wins – Subtly position markers to block opponents from winning patterns.

With attentiveness, efficiency and smart board coverage, players can greatly improve their odds of shouting “Lotería!” first.

Where to play lotería

Lotería is a staple at gatherings, but there are many other places to enjoy a game:

  • Home – Playing with family and friends in the living room or backyard.
  • Schools – Teachers using lotería in Spanish language classes.
  • Restaurants/bars – Mexican restaurants and bars hosting lotería nights.
  • Church – Fundraising lotería games at church community events.
  • Town plazas – Outdoor tables in town squares for public games.
  • Senior centers – Games and tournaments at centers for older adults.
  • Festivals – Lotería at Latin cultural fairs and heritage festivals.
  • Online – Virtual lotería through video chat plus digital boards/cards.

Part of lotería’s enduring appeal is its portability – all you need is cards, beans, and boards. It can be played just about anywhere!

Benefits of playing lotería

Beyond being entertaining, playing lotería offers many benefits:

Social connection – Lotería builds bonds as players interact and share in the suspense.

Mental exercise – Quick strategic thinking is required to scan boards and recognize called cards.

Stress relief – The game provides light-hearted fun and comic relief from daily worries.

Language skills – Learning vocabulary, names of images, pronunciation, etc.

Hand-eye coordination – Using beans to quickly mark called spaces helps coordination.

Multigenerational – All ages can play together, making lotería ideal for families.

Inclusive – The simple rules allow anyone to join in on the game.

So beyond just passing time, lotería offers cognitive, social, and psychological benefits for players.

Lotería in pop culture

As a iconic part of Mexican culture, lotería has influenced and appeared across pop culture:

  • Featured in movies like “Real Women Have Curves”, “A Day without a Mexican” and “Coco.”
  • Inspired American toy/game Lotería in the 1990s, introducing it to mainstream US.
  • Lotería designs used in Mexican art, tattoos, jewelry, clothing, housewares and more.
  • Google created digital Doodles featuring lotería for Hispanic Heritage Month.
  • Popular Latino musicians like Lila Downs and Cafe Tacuba use lotería imagery in music videos.
  • Appears in TV shows like “Jane the Virgin”, “George Lopez”, “East Los High” and others.
  • Used by Chicano and Latino artists like Patssi Valdez and Pola Lopez to explore identity.

This cultural footprint shows how lotería remains an iconic part of Mexican and Latino traditions.

Lotería today

While lotería has a centuries-long history, it continues to thrive today:

  • Played by millions in Mexico, the US and Latin America for festivities and family fun.
  • Still widely available in tabletop form – bespoke cards, boards, and markers.
  • Enjoyed digitally via lotería apps and online multiplayer platforms.
  • New designs, themes and adaptations keep the game fresh and engaging.
  • Tournaments and championships held annually around the world.
  • Special collectible sets and luxury versions appeal to lotería enthusiasts.
  • Evolved from primarily gambling to more family-friendly gaming.

While lotería traditions continue, the game also adapts to modern life. Its iconic imagery persists as both nostalgic heritage and living culture.


Lotería is a quintessential Mexican game combining chance, strategy and cultural heritage. With roots dating back centuries, it has become ingrained in Mexican identity and pop culture. While maintaining its signature cards, boards and enthusiastic calls of “Lotería!”, the game continues to evolve and expand its reach today. For millions, gathering to play lotería promises an entertaining escape, healthy competition, and stronger community ties. Much more than just a game, lotería engages people through shared culture, laughter, and memories made around the gaming table.