Staking and the WSOP: 2011 Update

Back in 2007, I wrote this post regarding staking and the World Series of Poker. Generally, nothing has changed. Caesar’s (formerly Harrah’s) still runs the WSOP and still refuses to obey IRS rules regarding Form 5754. That means that a US player must collect Form W-9 from his American backers.

However, three new scenarios have been presented to me recently. What happens if an American is backed by an individual from a Tax Treaty country (such as Russia)? Under the US-Russia Tax Treaty, the gambling income of a Russian is not subject to US taxation. Second, what happens if an American is backed by an individual from a non-Tax Treaty country (such as Australia) or from Canada (the US-Canada Tax Treaty mandates withholding)? Finally, what happens if someone from a non-Tax Treaty country or Canada is backed by an American?

For all three scenarios, let’s assume I’m entering the main event of the WSOP (the buy-in is $10,000); my backer is paying $5,000 and is receiving 50% of my winnings. I place in the event and win $20,000, so my backer is owed $10,000 (all numbers before withholding).

Scenario #1: US Player Backed by an Individual from a Tax Treaty Country.

Let’s assume I’m playing and am backed by Ivan from Russia. I receive a W-2G for $10,000 (my net winnings). It would seem all I have to do is just pay Ivan his $10,000 share of my gross profit, right?


Even though Ivan is from a Tax Treaty country, paperwork is required or tax must be withheld. Ivan needs to provide you either a Form W-8BEN or a Form W-8ECI. The Form W-8BEN is used to note the benefits of a Tax Treaty. Ivan would complete the form, including his ITIN and note the Article of the Tax Treaty that specifies that there would be no withholding. As long as you receive the completed Form W-8BEN you can then pay Ivan his share. If you pay by cash or casino chips, make sure you get a signed receipt from Ivan acknowledging his receipt of the money.

What if Ivan doesn’t have an ITIN? Then you must withhold at 30% even though he’s exempt from withholding. You would need to complete Form 1042-S and depending on the amount withheld very quickly remit that money using EFTPS to the IRS. (EFTPS is now the only method available for making withholding deposits to the IRS.) Ivan can get the money back by filing a Form 1040NR following year-end.

If Ivan has a business operating in the US, he would provide Form W-8ECI with either his Employer Identification Number (EIN) or his ITIN. This will allow you not to withhold to Ivan.

Note: Even if no withholding is required a Form 1042-S must be submitted to the IRS. See this post.

We can see that even the easy scenario isn’t necessarily that easy.

Scenario #2: US Player Backed by an Individual from a Non-Tax Treaty Country

This case is relatively straightforward. Let’s say your backer is Jon from Canada or Australia. (Although Canadians can get some to all of their money back by filing Form 1040NR after year-end, you are required to withhold on their income per the US-Canada Tax Treaty.) You must withhold 30% of their winnings. You would pay him all of his $5,000 investment and 70% of his $5,000 winnings ($3,500) for a total of $8,500. You would complete Form 1042-S with his information and note that $1,500 of his $5,000 of income has been withheld. Depending on the amount withheld, there can be very quick deadlines for remitting that withholding to the IRS; that withheld funds must be remitted using EFTPS.

Scenario #3: Non Tax-Treaty Player Backed by an Individual from the US

This is the ugly scenario. Suppose Jon is backed by Russ from the US. Russ isn’t subject to any withholding on his money (he’s a US citizen, after all) and is more than willing to provide a completed Form W-9. Unfortunately, because Caesar’s will not issue multiple W-2Gs/Form 1042-S’s, all of the $10,000 Jon wins will be subject to withholding. So Jon will receive $17,000 (his $10,000 entry plus $7,000 of his $10,000 in winnings).

Jon is left with two bad options. He could pay Russ $3,500 (half of the amount he has won). Russ will rightly be annoyed as he should receive $5,000. Jon has no way of telling the IRS that $1,500 of his tax withheld is for Russ [See Note 1 below].

Alternatively, Jon can pay Russ $5,000 and now he only has $2,000 of his winnings (rather than the $3,500 he should have). That method probably doesn’t appeal to Jon at all.

Unfortunately, neither option is palatable to both individuals and these are the only two options available. There is a solution: Americans should not back individuals from non-Tax Treaty countries. (The better solution, Caesar’s issuing multiple W-2Gs/1042-S’s, will have to wait until the IRS goes after Caesar’s on their policy.)

There are some other things that need to be pointed out. The participant will likely have to issue 1099-MISC’s or 1042-S’s to individuals. You probably don’t want everyone to know your social security number. If you’re a professional gambler, there’s a solution: Apply for an EIN. You can do this at no charge online at the IRS website. You must have an EIN if you are going to have to withhold funds.

Next, if there’s a possibility you are going to be a withholding agent, you must have both an EIN and an EFTPS account. After you get the EIN, immediately enroll in EFTPS. Your passwords are mailed to you; this takes about 10-14 days from the date you enroll, so get this going now if you are going to be playing in the 2011 WSOP and this applies to you.

Third, you can give Caesar’s a piece of your mind (nicely, though) and let them know about the ridiculousness of their policy. That’s especially true if you’re from Australia and you would like to be backed by an American (or someone from a country with a favorable Tax Treaty with the US).

The only good news with all of this is that I don’t see me being unemployed any time soon….

[Note 1]: It is likely the IRS would reject a Form 1040NR filed by Jon noting his extra withholding. The IRS won’t understand the issue given that there is no tax treaty issue (say, Jon is from Australia) and say, “Take it up with Caesar’s.” It’s a classic Catch-22.

4 Responses to “Staking and the WSOP: 2011 Update”

  1. […] those wondering about the headaches, you can read this post I made last year. The three situations I noted regarding backing (staking) remain the same for 2012 as they were in […]

  2. […] One way around the problem is for those who have paperwork issued for more than what they earned to issue Form 1099-MISCs to the other players. That means the players involved need to exchange social security numbers on Form W-9. Not many individuals carry this form with them for a daily poker tournament. And this issue gets further complex if one of the individuals in the deal is from Canada or a non-tax treaty country where withholding is required. […]

  3. […] If you’re backed by a non-American, the situation is far more complex.  You will need to obtain a Form W-8BEN; make sure it’s the new version that was released this year.  The form must be complete in order for you not to withhold.  It must have an ITIN, a Tax Treaty Article noted, with reasoning why there is no withholding, and it must be signed and dated.  If you don’t have the complete paperwork, you must withhold even if your backer is from a Tax Treaty friendly (for gambling) country.  If you don’t, you could be held liable for the tax plus penalties and interest!  For specific scenarios, see this article I wrote in 2011. […]

  4. […] the normal staking issues (see these articles), there’s another issue: cash reporting. If you’re a business and you […]

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