Can a Professional Gambler Take the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion?

I was asked that question this past week: Can a professional gambler take the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion? The Exclusion allows one to exclude about $100,000 of income from income tax.

The IRS website (which is quite good) has a page on the general rules for the Exclusion. The IRS notes,

Self-employment income: A qualifying individual may claim the foreign earned income exclusion on foreign earned self-employment income. The excluded amount will reduce the individual’s regular income tax, but will not reduce the individual’s self-employment tax. Also, the foreign housing deduction – instead of a foreign housing exclusion – may be claimed.

A professional gambler (unlike an amateur) will have self-employment income. A professional gambler files a Schedule C, and that qualifies as “earned income.” As the name implies, you must have earned income to take the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

But there are other requirements. Your “Tax Home” must be in a foreign country. Your Tax Home is where your main place of business, but there are other rules that influence the location of your Tax Home. One thing, though, is certain: If your Tax Home is in the United States you won’t qualify for the Exclusion.

Let’s assume your Tax Home is abroad. You also need to meet one of two other tests: The bona fide resident text or the physical presence test. A bona fide resident is an individual who, in the view of US tax law, resides in another country. Generally, you must be a citizen or official resident of another country (more than just being present in another country via a “tourist visa”). Additionally, you must be a bona fide resident for an entire calendar year to qualify under this test. If you’re residing in, say, the United Kingdom for the entire year and have a work permit for the U.K., you’re likely a bona fide resident of the United Kingdom.

The physical presence test is simpler. You must be outside of the United States for at least 330 days out of a 365-consective day period that includes part of the tax year involved. (If the 365-day period is split among two calendar years, the maximum exclusion is pro-rated based on the number of days in the tax year that fall in the 365-consecutive day period.) There are some other rules about this test: A day in (or above) international waters is considered a day in the United States; if you change planes in the United States (say you’re flying from Toronto to Mexico City), that does not count as a day in the United States; and any portion of a day in the United States (other than transit between foreign points) is considered a full day in the United States.

Finally, the Exclusion only covers foreign earned income. Let’s say a professional gambler qualifies for the Exclusion, earning $80,000 outside the United States. But he spent a week in the United States, and earned $20,000 while in the U.S. That $20,000 isn’t eligible for the Exclusion.

So let’s circle back to the original question: Can a professional gambler take the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion? Assuming he (a) is a professional gambler, (b) with foreign-source income, (c) has a Tax Home outside the United States, and (d) qualifies by either the bona fide resident or physical presence tests, he can take the Exclusion. Do note that while the Exclusion impacts income tax, it does not impact self-employment tax.

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