The Real Winners of the 2024 World Series of Poker

July 18th, 2024

I was not one of the 10,112 entrants (a record field) in the 2024 Main Event of the World Series of Poker. Yesterday saw the winner being crowned. He received a cool $10 Million, but how much of the winnings would he keep? For the record, 1,517 of the entrants (about 15% of the field) received part of the $94,041,600 prize pool with a minimum cash being $15,000.

One important note: I do need to point out that many of the players in the tournament were “backed.” Poker tournaments have a high variance (luck factor). Thus, many tournament players sell portions of their action to investors to lower their risk (and/or “swap” action with other entrants). It is quite likely that most (if not all) of the winners were backed (or had swaps) and will, in the end, only enjoy a portion of their winnings. I ignore backing and swaps in this analysis (because the full details are rarely publicized). Now, on to the winners.

Congratulations to long-time professional poker player Jonathan Tamayo of Humble, Texas (suburban Houston). Mr. Tamayo’s ten days of grinding poker culminated when his eight-three outflopped Jordan Griff’s nine-six on a nine-eight-three flop. The turn and river didn’t change anything, and Mr. Tamayo walked away with a cool $10 million…before taxes. As a resident of Texas he avoids state income tax; however, he does owe both federal income tax and self-employment tax. Overall, he’ll pay an estimated $3,992,302 to the IRS (just under 40% of his winnings).

The second place winner is the aforementioned Jordan Griff. Mr. Griff, a resident of Schaumburg, Illinois (suburban Chicago) and his wife are expecting their first child soon. An amateur gambler, Mr. Griff avoids self-employment tax; however, as a resident of Illinois he will be paying state income tax on his winnings. I estimate he will owe $2,210,808 to the IRS and $297,000 to Illinois (an estimated total of $2,507,808).

Niklas Astedt of Goteborg, Sweden is widely considered one of the best (if not the best) online poker player in the world. His third place finish showed he’s no slouch at live poker. The US-Sweden tax treaty exempts Mr. Astedt’s winnings from US withholding (and taxation). Sweden does not tax gambling winnings in Sweden (the companies offering poker in Sweden do pay tax, of course). It appears that Mr. Astedt’s US winnings of $4,000,000 will be subject to about 35% taxation in Sweden (or $1,400,000 lost to tax).

Jason Sagle of Sudbury, Ontario was unlucky to finish in fourth place; his pocket jacks were cracked by the Ace-three of Niklas Astedt. Mr. Sagle, a former paramedic and insurance salesman, received $3,000,000 for his finish. Canadians with gambling winnings in the United States face 30% withholding (but can file a tax return to recover part of the withholding based on gambling losses). Professional gamblers in Canada may (in the future) be facing taxation on their winnings (court cases are working their way through the Canadian judicial system on this, with decisions expected late this year). For now, Mr. Sagle gets to enjoy $2,100,000.

Finishing in fifth place for $2,500,000 was Boris Angelov of Sofia, Bulgaria. The professional gambler benefits from the US-Bulgaria tax treaty (there is no withholding on his winnings). Mr. Angelov also benefits from the Bulgarian tax regime; his gambling activity in Bulgaria is not taxed (the online and live cardrooms in Bulgaria do pay taxes). Bulgaria has a flat 10% income tax rate, so he gets to keep 90% of his winnings ($2,250,000).

Andres Gonzalez, a professional poker player from Cartagena, Spain, finished in sixth; he was another victim of Niklas Astedt. Mr. Gonzalez was unlucky when his pocket jacks lost (what poker players call) a race to Mr. Astedt’s Ace-Queen. Like Mr. Angelov and Mr. Astedt, he won’t be paying any US taxes (the US-Spain tax treaty exempts gambling winnings). However, Spain is not a low tax environment; he’s facing an estimated 47% income tax rate on his $2,000,000 of winnings (losing $940,000 to tax).

Noted high-stakes professional player Brian Kim (a regular on the Triton Series) finished in seventh place for $1,500,000. A resident of Las Vegas, Mr. Kim avoids state income tax but does have to pay self-employment tax. He’s estimated to pay 39.41% in tax (about $908,874).

Joe Serock, another professional poker player from Las Vegas, was the eighth place finisher for $1,250,000. Mr. Serock’s Ace-Jack fell to Niklas Astedt’s pcket queens. I estimate that Mr. Serock will lose just over 39% of his winnings to tax ($491,091).

Malo Latinois, a native of France but a resident of the Dallas suburb of Carrollton, was the first player knocked out at the final table of nine when his Ace-King fell to Jordan Griff’s pocket threes. France does not tax its citizens residing outside France (unlike the United States), so Mr. Latinois will only be paying US income tax. He faces an estimated tax bite of just over 39% ($391,057).

Here’s a table summarizing the tax bite:

Amount won at Final Table $31,250,000
Tax to IRS $8,576,384
Tax to Skatteverekt (Sweden) $1,400,000
Tax to Agencia Tributeria (Spain) $940,000
Tax to Illinois Department of Revenue $297,000
Tax to National Revenue Agency of Bulgaria $250,000
Total Tax $11,463,384

That means 36.68% of the winnings at the final table goes toward taxes.

Here’s a second table with the winners sorted by their estimated take-home winnings:

Winner Before-Tax Prize After-Tax Prize
1. Jonathan Tamayo $10,000,000 $6,007,698
2. Jordan Griff $6,000,000 $3,492,192
3. Niklas Astedt $4,000,000 $2,600,000
5. Boris Angelov $2,500,000 $2,250,000
4. Jason Sagle $3,000,000 $2,100,000
6. Andres Gonzalez $2,000,000 $1,060,000
7. Brian Kim $1,500,000 $908,874
8. Joe Serock $1,250,000 $758,909
9. Malo Latinois $1,000,000 $608,943
Totals $31,250,000 $19,786,616

Once again, a player ended up placing higher than his actual finish based on after-tax results. This year, Mr. Angelov of Bulgaria effectively finished in fourth place because of Bulgaria’s flat 10% income tax rate.

The Internal Revenue Service did not end up with taxes that exceeded the first place winnings; the agency will have to be content with finishing in second place (based on pre-tax prizes) with a haul of just $8,576,384. Still, you can’t say that the IRS didn’t do poorly because the house always wins.

US-Russia Tax Treaty Mostly Suspended Beginning August 16th

June 21st, 2024

The IRS announced today that based on a request from Russia last August that most of the US-Russia Tax Treaty will be suspended beginning August 16, 2024.  One impact: Russians who have gambling income in the US that’s subject to withholding (for example, poker tournaments) will be facing 30% withholding from August 16th onward.  That does not impact this year’s World Series of Poker (currently running at the Horseshoe and Paris casinos here in Las Vegas), but will impact the 2025 WSOP.

Is IRS Correspondence Broken?

May 30th, 2024

As a tax professional with quite a few clients, our clients receive IRS notices. Much of this correspondence (not all, but a large portion) has to be responded to.  My three most recent cases are making me think there are major issues with the IRS handling mail.

Client #1 received an Automated Underreporting Unit (AUR) notice alleging four items: two 1099-NECs not reported, one 1099-MISC, and some capital gains.  We timely responded in December pointing out with backup documentation where all the alleged unreported income was on the tax return (it was all there).  Earlier this month we received a notice reducing the alleged unreported items to three (one of the 1099-NECs was removed from the list). We just sent basically the same response with the same documentation to the AUR group (and hope it won’t take four back-and-forths to go through a four-item list).

Client #2 received a notice alleging a “Math Error” on his return.  You have exactly 60 days to respond.  We did so–and this is required to be mailed using certified mail, return receipt requested (which we did). The IRS alleged we didn’t timely respond. I sent back documentation proving we timely responded.  It’s been several months, and we’re still waiting on a response.

Client #3 received a notice alleging his return was untimely filed. His return was required to be mailed; he was outside the United States and sent it with tracking from New Zealand (timely). It wasn’t received timely (but that’s the fault of the Postal Service, not my client) and doesn’t impact him; there’s a rule in tax called the Postmark Rule which governs this situation. My client has now received a letter from IRS Collections even though we disputed the entire issue months ago.

It’s not just me. If you’re a tax professional, prepare to be very depressed when you read this Twitter/X thread from a CPA in Indiana named Mike Sylvester.  An excerpt:

…[The Taxpayer Advocate agent’s] case load has tripled since 2019.

She said the cases she sees now the IRS is wrong almost every time. She said The IRS correspondence system is beyond broken. Her words, not mine.

She said the IRS broke during Covid and still has not recovered.

Then the part that just floored me. Understand the long time policy of The Taxpayer Advocate is only contact them as a last resort. Try to work the problem with the IRS hard yourself first.

I told her another problem I am having and how many times the IRS and I have gone back and forth. She told me I was wasting my time and I should have opened a Taxpayer Advocate case several months ago.

She said I need to open cases faster…

I am still shocked by this.[emphasis in original]

There is plenty more, and reading through the comments made me depressed. One comment is that there are fewer than 12 individuals working at the IRS Philadelphia Service Center to handle correspondence! My experience with the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS)–when they get to your case–has been excellent. However, it’s clear they are buried.

Major work is needed with correspondence, and tax professionals and taxpayers are suffering. TAS is supposed to be a last resort; it should not be a necessity most of the time. Yet it may become so (if that has not already occurred).

The “Joy” of 1959 Technology

May 13th, 2024

Clients of ours (call them John & Betty) just received their IRS refund.  It was off by $1,250, exactly the amount of an estimated tax payment they made.  They made that payment using IRS Direct Pay (and I saw their transaction receipt), so it wasn’t a question–as it often is–of whether or not the clients made that estimated payment.  Why didn’t the IRS see that estimated payment?

Betty made that estimated payment in early January, noting it was for the 2023 tax year.  She used her social security number, so she did everything correctly.  However, she didn’t reckon with the IRS’s antiquated technology: The main IRS computer system dates to 1959.

You read that correctly.  The main IRS computer system is likely older than most of the readers of this blog.

On John & Betty’s tax return, John’s name is listed first (along with his social security number).  Betty made that estimated tax payment using her name and her social security number.  “But my name is right on the tax return; why can’t the IRS match that payment with the return?”  There is no good answer to that question, but the correct answer is because the main IRS computer system dates to 1959 and cannot handle this.

There was another issue with their refund: they received no explanation of why their refund was short $1,250.  I explained to them that the refund is issued from one IRS office while the explanatory notice comes from a different IRS office; the notice can come four weeks before to four weeks after the refund.

“How do we get that refund?” Betty asked.  The only way is to call the IRS, explain the situation, and the IRS agent can verify that the estimated payment is sitting in Betty’s account and move it.  It will then process, with a second refund being issued (by check) with interest.  John asked, “We’ll really be paid interest on that?” I told them they will–interest works both ways–but that interest is taxable.

I told them to prevent this in the future they should use John’s social security number for making estimated payments.  They’ll do that this year.  But this exposes another issue: What should taxpayers do who sometimes file jointly ans sometimes file separately do?  There’s no good answer today for them (nor is there for taxpayers having marital issues); my current advice is to make estimated payments under each name/social security number but realize a phone call to the IRS will likely be needed after the return is filed and processed.  The long-term solution is for the IRS to have better technology.  That’s coming, but whether it will come soon is quite another question.

Surviving a Residency Audit

May 7th, 2024

A few years ago, one of my clients (call him Bob) moved from California to Nevada.  He then had a very large capital gain (but while a Nevada resident).  At the time, I advised him that a residency examination (audit) from California’s Franchise Tax Board (California’s income tax agency) was likely.  Bob’s audit just concluded with a “no change” letter being issued.  Why did he have a successful result?

1. Bob engaged with me prior to the move.  We discussed what he needed to do, the records he needed to keep, and things not to do after his move.  Bob listened, and (as noted below) kept his records.

2. Bob moved.  Seriously, the most important aspect of not being domiciled in the state you’ve been residing in is to establish a new domicile in another state.  That means actually moving!  Did Bob’s family all move with him, or were his children still attending schools in California?  Did Bob purchase a home (or rent a home)?  Did Bob either put his old home for sale or rent it out long-term?  Was Bob’s new home a real home, and a not a summer cottage?  The Franchise Tax Board has seen all the dodges you can imagine (and probably some you haven’t) in moving without moving.  The key aspect is to really move.  Bob did.

3. Do all the little things.  Bob changed his addresses with his financial institutions, registered to vote in Nevada, obtained new Nevada driver’s licenses and registered his cars as quickly as possible; he and his family divorced themselves from California.

4. Keep your records!  Bob kept all the records that were needed: the contract with his movers, his lease of his new home, the sales contract for his old (California) home, etc.  Digital (electronic) copies are just fine (but they need to be accessible and, depending on the tax agency, you may need to print them all out).

5. Cooperate with the auditor.  The auditor is doing his job, and if you treat them well and send everything as requested, you will likely get a better result than when you don’t cooperate.

6. Realize a residency audit might happen years after your move.  Bob’s residency audit occurred over two years after he filed the tax return noting the move.  That’s typical for California.  (I’ve only dealt with a residency audit from one other state, New York, and that also occurred two years after the return was filed.)  California’s statute of limitations is four years from due date or date of filing (whichever is later).  We recommend you keep your tax records for seven years (from the year in question); if you’re filing a California return, we recommend nine years (California’s extended statute of limitations is eight years; the IRS’s extended statute is six years).

7. A residency audit will take some time to resolve.  Bob’s residency audit ended six months after it began–about what I expected.  Residency audits involve the auditor reviewing records, and the more records you have the longer it will take.  And you want to have all the records.

8. If you’re going to have a large capital gain after moving, try to make sure the gain occurs as far after the move as possible.  Let’s say that today (May 7th) you’re moving from New York to Florida.  You then sell some stock for a $30 million capital gain.  Ideally, you would want that sale to be as late as possible after the move (not the next day).  In Bob’s case, that time period was supposed to be weeks after the move but ended up being just days after.  Bob still survived the audit–because he really did move when he said he did.  The more time between the move and the gain, the less likely a residency audit; the best audits are the ones that don’t happen.

9. Try to stay out of your old state after the move.  Bob kept out of California after his move to Nevada in the tax year in question (except for one trip related to the sale of his old home).  If you’re spending all your time in your new state and not your old state, it reinforces that you have established a new domicile.

If you have a high income and you move from a high-tax state (such as California or New York) to a low-tax state (such as Nevada or Florida), you should expect a residency audit.  If you prepare in advance for it–and you really moved–you can end up with a no change result.

An Identity Protection Unit Saga: Part 6

April 22nd, 2024

When last we left the saga of my client and his tax year 2020 refund, we were waiting for a call from the Taxpayer Advocate Office.  Well, we received the callback and my client’s refund check was issued last Friday.  Post Office willing, it should reach him in Arkansas sometime this week.

As for the Taxpayer Advocate, once I spoke with them they were (as I’ve found in the past) extremely helpful in getting this resolved. Indeed, I don’t think this could have been resolved without their assistance.  It turns out that my client’s return needed two special processes run in order to be processed and the refund issued.  That took about three months (once the Taxpayer Advocate Office was involved).  Unfortunately, all of us (as taxpayers) are paying for this: my client is receiving nearly $5,000 of interest on his refund.

Let’s examine how this could have been prevented:

1. The IRS could have had better instructions on verifying your identity.  When my client verified his identity with, he thought he had completed the process; after all, he had verified his identity.  My client was not alone in this; the IRS later changed the instructions about verifying your identity to note that you still need to verify your identity with the IRS.

2. Follow-up Letters from the Identity Protection Unit.  The IRS should send out a second letter six months after the first letter to those who have not yet verified their identity.  My client likely would have called or messaged me about this, and I would have let him know that he did have to go through the verification process with the IRS.

3. More IRS employees trained and working at the Identity Protection Unit.  Calling the IRS’s Identity Protection Unit is a saga in itself; too many times you will get the message, “We’re sorry, but due to extremely high call volume in the topic you’ve chosen we cannot take your call at this time. Goodbye.”

4. Better training of Identity Protection Unit employees. As noted in Part 3, many of these employees seem to regard tax professionals with POAs as non-persons.

5. The IRS should send letters from the Identity Protection Unit to IRS Power of Attorney (and Tax Information Authorization) representatives–especially for those who reside outside the United States.  Mail in the US is generally reliable; mail outside the United States can be hit and miss (or miss and miss).  A client of mine living in Central America recently received an Identity Protection Unit letter; it only took seven months to get to her.  As a reminder to the IRS, the taxpayer in this situation has authorized his or her tax professional to be notified (and, in the case of a Power of Attorney, to act on behalf of the taxpayer).  The IRS’s refusal to copy tax professionals on Identity Protection Unit letters is a major cause of problems.

6. Better IRS computer systems.  This is not something that the IRS can really control, but hopefully the computer improvements that are coming will assist in this area (it certainly can’t hurt).

7. Acknowledgments and more realistic time-frames from the Taxpayer Advocate Office. The representative I dealt with is buried; he told me that the four months it took for him to get to my client’s case was “typical.”  The intake individuals at the Advocate need to be aware of this and communicate this to people who are obtaining the Advocate’s services.

Finally, let’s consider Joe and Mary Doe.  As I wrote in part 4,

They desperately need their $20,000 tax refund…and they’re stuck in limbo. If they did exactly what Mr. Smith did, they would have done everything correctly…and be stuck in limbo. If you wonder why there’s frustration with the IRS, and why members of Congress have IRS liaisons, look no further.

I wish I could tell you with certainty that things with the Identity Protection Unit will improve in the future. I think they will, but some of these issues appear systemic; it will take top-down changes at the IRS to cause improvements in this area.  We can always hope.

Previous posts on this:

An Identity Protection Unit Saga: Part 1
An Identity Protection Unit Saga: Part 2
An Identity Protection Unit Saga: Part 3
An Identity Protection Unit Saga: Part 4
An Identity Protection Unit Saga: Part 5

Bozo Tax Tip #1: Use a Bozo Tax Professional!

April 12th, 2024

The IRS recently highlighted that taxpayers should choose tax professionals wisely; I agree.  I’ve had this as a Bozo Tax Tip in the past, but a new client highlighted this issue for me.  In the previous iteration of this “tip,” I noted:

Here’s another Bozo Tax Tip that keeps coming around. The problem is, the Bozos don’t change their stripes. In any case, here are some signs your accountant might be a Bozo:

– He’s never met a deduction that doesn’t fit everyone. There’s no reason why a renter can’t take a mortgage interest deduction, right? And everyone’s entitled to $20,000 of employee business expenses…even if their salary is just $40,000 a year. Ask the proprietors of Western Tax Service about that.

– He believes that the income tax is voluntary. After all, we live in a democracy, so we don’t have to pay taxes, right?

– Besides preparing tax returns, he sells courses on why the Income Tax is Unconstitutional or how by filing the magical $2,295 papers he sells you will be able to avoid the income tax.

– He wants you to sign over that tax refund to him. After all, he’ll make sure you get your share of it after he takes out his 50% of the refund.

– He believes every return needs at least three dependents, no matter whether you have any children or not.

If your tax professional exhibits any of these behaviors, it’s time to get a new tax professional.

Well, it’s apparent there are some new strategies in this area (well, at least new to me).  Julie (not her name) came to me this year because something struck her wrong about her former tax professional.  She was in the waiting room and overheard the following:

“Yes, we guarantee that every client will get a refund of at least $2,000.”

Bluntly, that’s impossible.  Our job as tax professionals is to make sure your return is complete and accurate, and that your tax is the least that’s legally possible.  For most, a refund means your withholding and/or estimated payments exceeded your tax.  (Various tax credits–the Earned Income Credit and certain energy efficiency credits among them–can also cause tax refunds.)  A refund might not be a great thing; most of the time, it means you’ve given an interest-free loan to the government.  But Julie’s former tax professional wasn’t done.

“My clients never get audited–it’s a near guarantee.”

Julie knew that was wrong because her parents were randomly selected for an IRS research examination (audit).  The IRS conducts 5,000 to 10,000 of these each year; everyone has a chance of being selected.  (Over my 25-year career as a tax professional, I’ve had four clients selected for these kinds of audits.)  The IRS also conducts research audits into various professions; for example, they recently looked at employees in Las Vegas who worked at the clubs located in the major casinos.  (And given that tax professional’s guarantees, I suspect many of his clients will be audited in the future not on a random basis.)

Julie had enough and left–but there was one other thing she didn’t know (until I showed her this on her return from last year): She had used a “ghost” tax professional.  At the bottom of page two of Form 1040 is a place for a tax professional’s information (his or her firm name, address, phone number, Employer Identification Number (EIN), and the tax professional’s PTIN–the Preparer Tax Identification Number); on her return, that information was blank.

Don’t be a bozo.  If you use a tax professional, use an ethical preparer.  You may pay more and get a lesser refund, but you will rest a lot easier.

That’s it for the Bozo Tax Tips for the 2024 Tax Season.  We’ll be back with normal posting soon.

Bozo Tax Tip #2: Withhold, but Don’t Remit, Your Employment Taxes!

April 11th, 2024

This Bozo Tax Tip—and do remember, these are things you really, really, really shouldn’t try—is aimed at the business owner who is having troubles. Business owners, unlike the federal government, can’t just print money. So let’s assume our hypothetical business owner has payroll tomorrow but doesn’t have the money for everything. What should he do?

Well, one strategy is to not remit the payroll taxes. Sure, they’re “trust fund” taxes but the government can print money and I can’t, so they’ll just let it slip by. And my state government won’t care either, right?

The above strategy is likely one of two quick and easy ways to get on the road to ClubFed. The IRS doesn’t like it when trust fund taxes don’t make it to the government. The penalties are substantial. The liability goes to the owners (and check signers) of the business. IRS Criminal Investigation will investigate this. Don’t do this!

One of my clients recently was interviewed about such a case. He was paid, but apparently the IRS wasn’t. It’s not hard for the IRS to find out about this: After all, every employee is going to file a tax return claiming withholding but the IRS won’t find it. That’s exactly what happened in this case. I suspect that very soon two nice looking individuals (accountants with badges and guns; now that’s a scary thought) will be knocking on a door and saying, “You have the right to remain silent….”

Business troubles aren’t fun. However, if you don’t pay the IRS your employment taxes you will find your troubles multiplying.

Bozo Tax Tip #3: Publicize Your Tax Crimes on Social Media!

April 10th, 2024

Social media is really, really big these days. You can follow me on Twitter. I may even update my Facebook page one of these days. Of course, I’m not a tax criminal, and my posts hopefully add knowledge for others.

Of course, where you and I won’t go the Bozo contingent is quite happy to do so. Take, for instance, Rashia Wilson. Ms. Wilson posted a wonderful picture on her Facebook page:

Rashia Wilson (Image Credit: Tampa Police Department)

In the same post, she bragged:

“I’m Rashia, the queen of IRS tax fraud,” Wilson said May 22 on her Facebook page, according to investigators. “I’m a millionaire for the record. So if you think that indicting me will be easy, it won’t. I promise you. I won’t do no time, dumb b——.”

She’s doing 21 years at ClubFed. Oops…

A helpful hint to the Bozo tax community: Law enforcement does read social media. Indeed, the IRS will do a search of you on the Internet prior to a field examination (audit). So if you decide to go on the dark side of life, don’t brag about it online. A better course would be not to go on that dark side to begin with, but that rarely occurs to the Bozo community.

Bozo Tax Tip #4: The $0.68 Solution

April 9th, 2024

With Tax Day fast approaching it’s time to examine yet another Bozo method of courting disaster. And it doesn’t, on the surface, seem to be a Bozo method. After all, this organization has the motto, Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night can stay these messengers about their duty.

Well, that’s not really the Postal Service’s motto. It’s just the inscription on the General Post Office in New York (at 8th Avenue and 33rd Street).

So assume you have a lengthy, difficult return. You’ve paid a professional good money to get it done. You go to the Post Office, put proper postage on it, dump it in the slot (on or before April 15th), and you’ve just committed a Bozo act.

If you use the Postal Service to mail your tax returns, spend the extra money for certified mail. For $4.40 you can purchase certified mail. Yes, you will have to stand in a line (or you can use the automated machines in many post offices), but you now have a receipt that verifies that you have mailed your return.

About fourteen years ago one of my clients saved $2.42 (I think that was the cost of a certified mail piece then) and sent his return in with a $0.37 stamp. It never made it. He ended up paying nearly $1,000 in penalties and interest…but he did save $2.42.

Don’t be a Bozo. E-File (and you don’t have to worry at all about the Post Office), or spend the $4.40! And you can go all out and spend $3.65 and get a return receipt, too (though you can now track certified mail online). For another $2.32 you can get the postal service to e-mail the confirmation that the IRS got the return (for the OCD in the crowd). There’s a reason every client letter notes, “using certified mail, return receipt requested.”