Culture,  Curiosities,  Mexico,  Riviera Maya

The Mexican game of Lotería: Ready to try your luck?

This post is also available in: esEspañol (Spanish)

No doubt you’ll have seen these cards in films or TV series. And you might be surprised to learn that Google also made a Doodle based on this game.But you really should know that Lotería is a very important part of popular Mexican culture, as it reflects customs, beliefs and traditions. 

Lotería is a game of chance, one of the most famous in Mexico. It consists of 54 cards and an indefinite number of “boards” (usually between 2 and 30, but more if a lot of people are playing), with 16 of the cards appearing randomly on each board in a 4×4 grid. However, there are also smaller 3×3 versions for children, as well as larger 5×5 versions. Each time a card is taken from the deck at random it’s announced, and each player who has that card marks it on their board.

It’s a family game, and is unrelated to traditional lottery games in which the winner takes away a cash prize. In the past, it was a game played by soldiers to keep themselves busy during the Mexican War of Independence. If you visit any of the travelling fairs to be found in Mexico, you’ll find that this game (also called La Lotería) comes with boards decorated with all sorts of different images. It’s a game you can play with all your friends and family.

Lottery history

Many of the authors consulted for this article agree that the origins of Lotería are to be found in 15th century Italy. At that time, there was a game known as lotto.It is thought that this game reached Spain, and so was then introduced in Mexico. When it landed in Mexico thanks to the Spanish, it was initially only played by the upper classes.

However, it became so popular that soldiers started playing it during the War of Independence, taking it back home with them once the war ended, and so further popularising it among the general population.

It was really common to find people playing it on every street corner and at travelling
fairs, but there was more than just one version. Everybody had their own home-made version with different objects and characters, all based on the personal tastes or preferences of whoever did the illustrations for the cards.

A number of very popular versions of the game exist today, such as the one created by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada, the Clemente Jacques version, and another popularly known as the “Lotería del Comal”.  

Shall we play?

You need a deck of cards to play this game. The deck consists of 54 different images, which include different objects and characters, such as the mermaid, the barrel, the star, and many others. The aim of the game is for each player to fill the board they choose before the game begins, or to complete a pattern previously selected by the players, such as a row, a diagonal, or the corners. The player who’s the first to complete their board has to shout “Lotería!”

One person is responsible for announcing the cards based on the image as each is drawn from the deck. This person is called the gritón (caller). They are responsible for calling out the cards so that the players can mark them on their boards. The caller accompanies each card with a phrase or saying that refers to the image in some way. In Mexico, these are called coplas, “short rhyming poems that are used to refer to Mexican popular culture”. The coplas are recognised by the mention of something related to the image without necessarily using its name, and this has become a tradition associated with Mexican lyric poetry as well as becoming a part of Mexican folklore. These references used to help players who didn’t know how to read, and who were guided by the images in the deck and the saying shouted out by the caller.

Here are a few coplas from the Mexican Lotería game from the magazine Literaturas
in case you feel like giving it a go yourself.

The rooster: The one that sang for St. Peter will never sing for him again

The bottle:  A bottle of tequila, a bottle of mezcal

The flag: Beautiful 5th of May, the national flag

The star: The pole star, that never stops shining

The crown: If you die, I’ll put it on your head, the imperial crown

The prickly pear: Succour for St. Luis, who they call the prickly pear

If you’d like to know more about this game after reading this article, we thoroughly recommend visiting Mexico and learning how it’s played, in real life, with local people. If you’re interested, the best place to stay is the Riviera Maya, at one of our four hotels. The birthplace of civilisations and extraordinary natural landscapes.

A fascinating destination where you can explore the traces of one of the world’s most ancient cultures. Take a stroll around Chichén Itzá, Coba, or Tulum. Or relax on the beaches of Akumal, Xpu-há, or Cozumel. Mexico will surprise you with the simplicity and feeling of ease that’s to be found absolutely everywhere.


Landscapes that contrast with the enthusiasm and vitality of the people, with the majesty of the cities, with the natural heritage, and with the ancient monuments. We recommend checking out the Bahia Principe Grand Tulum, a hotel a hotel that’s steeped in history and culture. 

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