Archive for the ‘Gambling’ Category

Online Gambling Addresses (Updated for 2014)

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

With the United States v. Hom decision, we must again file an FBAR for foreign online gambling sites. An FBAR (Form 114) is required if your aggregate balance exceeds $10,000 at any time during the year.

There’s a problem, though. Most of these entities don’t broadcast their addresses. Some individuals sent email inquiries to one of these gambling sites and received politely worded responses (or not so politely worded) that said that it’s none of your business.

Well, not fully completing the Form 114 can subject you to a substantial penalty. I’ve been compiling a list of the addresses of the online gambling sites. It’s presented below.

Note: This list is presented for informational purposes only. It is believed accurate as of June 22, 2014. However, I do not take responsibility for your use of this list or for the accuracy of any of the addresses presented on the list.

The list is in the cut text below.

If anyone has additions to the list feel free to email them to me.

Just File the FBAR

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Several of our clients have asked, “The decision on poker accounts being ‘banks’ is nonsensical. Do I really have to file an FBAR for those accounts?”

I am in general agreement with the individuals questioning the ruling. Banks and financial institutions generally offer investments, credit cards, loans, checking accounts, securities, and similar products. An online gambling site does take client’s money–but solely so that the client can gamble.

The United States has, for various laws, lumped casinos in with banks. For example, casinos fall under the same currency transaction reporting rules as banks. If you take $20,000 into your local casino and deposit it at the casino cage, a Currency Transaction Report is supposed to be issued. Casinos have to issue Suspicious Activity Reports.

If you go back to 2009, the FBAR was required for online gambling accounts. (That was the advice given to us from the IRS FBAR group.) In 2011, when new regulations came into play, the IRS no longer said that. The new regulations appeared to make an online gambling site not a reportable foreign financial account.

However, a federal judge disagreed.

Section 5312(a)(2) lists 26 different types of entities that may qualify as a “financial institution.” Based on the breadth of the definition, our court of appeals has held that “the term ‘financial institution’ is to be given a broad definition.” United States v. Dela Espriella, 781 F.2d 1432, 1436 (9th Cir. 1986). The government claims that FirePay, PokerStars, and PartyPoker are all financial institutions because they function as “commercial bank[s].” Section 5312(a)(2)(B). The Fourth Circuit in Clines found that “[b]y holding funds for third parties and disbursing them at their direction, [the organization at issue] functioned as a bank [under Section 5314].” Clines, 958 F.2d at 582 (emphasis added).

It may be that this decision will be reversed. It’s possible another court would come to a very different conclusion. But the laws on the FBAR are draconian, including willful penalties that are a minimum $100,000 fine. My thinking is simple: I’d rather be safe than sorry. Thus, my strong advice is, “Just file the FBAR.”


We sent out a special newsletter to our clients on this issue. Here’s what we wrote:

The FBAR is due June 30th and there are no extensions. There are significant penalties (including possible imprisonment) for FBAR mistakes.

The general rule on whether you have to file an FBAR is if you have $10,000 or more aggregate in one or more foreign financial accounts at any time during the year you must file an FBAR. If your aggregate balance remained under $10,000, you will not have an FBAR filing requirement.

Even if you don’t have an FBAR filing requirement you must still disclose your foreign financial accounts on your tax return. At the bottom of Schedule B are a few questions which include, “At any time during 2013, did you have a financial interest in or signature authority over a financial account, (such as a bank account, securities account, or brokerage account) located in a foreign country?” This question must be answered yes if you have a non-US based online gambling account.

There are two choices in filing an FBAR. We can file it for you (we would need you to complete and return Form 114a; if you need us to send you this form, let either Aaron or me know) or you can file it yourself at the BSA efile system.

Here are answers to some questions relating to this issue:

1. I had $6,000 maximum in my PokerStars account. I cashed it out and moved that same $6,000 into my foreign bank account. Do I need to file an FBAR? No. You never reached $10,000 aggregate in your foreign financial accounts.

2. I already filed my FBAR for 2013 but I have online gambling accounts that must be reported. What do I do? You will need to file an amended FBAR.

3. My tax return has already been filed; I did not note any foreign financial accounts on Schedule B. Will I need to amend that return? Yes.

4. Do online gambling accounts count for Form 8938 on the tax return? (Form 8938 is similar to the FBAR and reports certain foreign financial accounts.) Yes

5. Do I need to go back for prior years and file amended FBARs and tax returns? This is unclear at the present time, but the answer is probably yes. The statute of limitations on FBARs is six years from the due date, so 2009-2013 are open (2008 will be beyond the statute of limitations on July 1, 2014). However, gambling accounts were considered foreign financial accounts for 2009, so this impacts solely 2010-2012 for FBAR purposes. For tax returns, only 2011 and 2012 are open (assuming timely filing). Note also that the first year for Form 8938 was 2012.

I and other practitioners have asked the IRS and FINCEN for more information regarding this. I do expect to obtain a response regarding this within a couple of weeks. I will be updating this issue on my tax blog (http://taxabletalk.com) when I have more information.

6. My only online gambling accounts are in Nevada and New Jersey with the regulated sites in those states. Do I need to file an FBAR? No. Those accounts are not considered foreign financial accounts.

7. My online gambling accounts are with current US-facing sites; their legality is questionable. Must I report my accounts on an FBAR? Yes, as long as you have $10,000 or more aggregate in one or more such accounts.

8. Can I access my PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker accounts while in the United States? Yes, you can. PokerStars sent us instructions on how to do this:

Your deposit, cashout, transfer and playing transaction history is now available for request directly from the PokerStars software. To request this information from the PokerStars Lobby screen, select:
‘Requests’ -> ‘Playing History Audit’
From the pop-up window that appears, you can select a date range to request the specific information required. You will also need to select a password for the file. You may choose any password you wish; however, we do not recommend using the same password as for your PokerStars account. If you wish to view your FPP/VPP information, please ensure the relevant box is checked.
Finally, you will need to select the output format. The options available are Excel (97-2003), HTML and a text file. Then click on OK to submit the request. You will be prompted to enter your PokerStars password to confirm the request. An email with further instructions will be sent to your registered email address.
If the file provided will not open, it indicates you have an older compression program that does not support the encryption used on the file. To resolve this and open the file, you will need to update your compression program or download a new compression program. We recommend using WinZip 11 (or newer) or 7-zip which will allow you to open the file. You can access these programs from the following links:
WinZip – http://www.winzip.com/prod_down.htm (Choose ‘Download’ > ‘Get WinZip Free’)
7-zip – http://www.7-zip.org/


I will be posting a list of online gambling addresses next week.

More on the Hom Decision

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Jack Townsend of the Federal Tax Crimes Blog has a post on United States v. Hom today. In his post, he notes that Mr. Hom represented himself. Indeed, the court is still looking for a pro bono counsel to represent Mr. Hom:

Defendant John Hom is not indigent and therefore does not qualify for appointment of pro bono counsel with the Court’s federal pro bono project. This tax action, however, involves novel questions of law regarding the interpretation of the Bank Secrecy Act and related regulations. Accordingly, the Court seeks counsel to volunteer to represent defendant on a pro bono basis for the remainder of this action. Pro bono counsel will be allowed to re-brief the pending summary judgment motion, which is currently held under submission. In addition, a case management schedule has not yet been set.

If any counsel is willing to volunteer to represent defendant, please email the undersigned judge’s courtroom deputy, Dawn Toland, at whacrd@cand.uscourts.gov by JUNE 12, 2014.

While Mr. Townsend notes that the Court applied the duck test, I remain unconvinced that the Court got this right. It did if you had to decide that all three foreign accounts in this case were foreign financial accounts or none were; however, if the Court could look at each individually the Court likely would have come to a different conclusion.

In any case, as of today we’re stuck with this decision. And no, I haven’t heard from the FBAR group at the IRS yet.

Back to the Past: Poker Sites and FBARs. Poker Sites Are Again Reportable Foreign Financial Accounts

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Back in the past, I asked the FBAR group at the IRS whether or not poker sites needed to be reported. In January 2009, they told me they did have to be reported. In prior years, the FBAR group said they did not have to. Thus, FBARs (then, Form TD F 90-22.1) were sent to FINCEN with poker accounts.

Come early 2011, FINCEN issued new regulations. These regulations made it clear at the time that poker accounts would no longer be considered reportable foreign financial accounts. However, yesterday a judge disagreed.

In United States v. Hom defendant Hom was charged with violating the Bank Secrecy Act for not reporting three accounts at FirePay, PokerStars, and Party Poker.

In the case, the Court decided:

Section 5312(a)(2) lists 26 different types of entities that may qualify as a “financial institution.” Based on the breadth of the definition, our court of appeals has held that “the term ‘financial institution’ is to be given a broad definition.” United States v. Dela Espriella, 781 F.2d 1432, 1436 (9th Cir. 1986). The government claims that FirePay, PokerStars, and PartyPoker are all financial institutions because they function as “commercial bank[s].” Section 5312(a)(2)(B). The Fourth Circuit in Clines found that “[b]y holding funds for third parties and disbursing them at their direction, [the organization at issue] functioned as a bank [under Section 5314].” Clines, 958 F.2d at 582 (emphasis added).

The biggest problem that I see for the defendant is that he had an account at FirePay. FirePay was a United Kingdom-based third-party payment processor similar to Skrill (Moneybookers) and Neteller. FirePay was absolutely a foreign financial account: It issued credit cards, debit cards, and had functions that almost anyone would say are akin to what banks offer.

In this case, the defendant argued that all of his accounts were not foreign financial institutions. He did not separate out the poker sites from the third-party payment processor in his arguments. He was almost certainly doomed on the FirePay account. Still, the Court ruled that PokerStars and Party Poker were banks. What does this mean for individuals who have poker accounts?

1. As of now, plan on reporting these accounts for both FBAR (Form 114) and Form 8938 purposes. When in doubt, report is a good rule of thumb.

2. Do poker accounts need to be reported? As of now, yes.

3. Do prior year FBARs need to be filed and/or amended for poker accounts? This is unclear, but the answer is probably so. The statute of limitations on FBARs is six years from the due date. Given the FBAR is due on June 30th of the year following, the statute is about to run out on 2008. (In any case, for calendar years 2008 and 2009 poker sites were considered foreign financial accounts.) However, I would think that 2010 and 2011 FBARs would need to be filed or amended.

4. Do tax returns need to be amended to note the presence of foreign financial accounts if you have an FBAR filing requirement for poker accounts? Almost certainly they do for any tax years open (2011 – 2013).

5. Also note that tax returns may need to be amended just by the presence of a foreign financial account. The IRS now asks on Schedule B whether you have a foreign financial account. Anyone with money at PokerStars in 2011 would need to answer yes.

I have sent questions to the IRS on this issue. (The FBAR group at the IRS is one of the few groups that accepts emails.) I have asked whether they want such accounts to be reported; whether back FBARs/amended FBARs should be filed; and whether tax returns should be amended. I will both post on the response I receive and update this post when I do receive the response.


A few other things to note about the decision. This is not a precedential decision; it is a decision of a District Court Judge. A Court of Appeals has not ruled on this. The defendant lumped an account that was clearly a foreign financial account with accounts that might not be. The Court looked at them in toto rather than individually. I suspect that if Mr. Hom appeals this decision, he will also argue that the poker accounts should be looked at differently than the third-party payment processor.

I am troubled by the Department of Justice looking at poker accounts as a foreign financial account. Still, there are some other issues regarding this decision that are unclear. FBAR charges are rarely brought in isolation. I don’t know what caused these charges to be brought.

In the end, this is not a good decision for poker players or tax accountants who service the poker world. Lots more useless paper will end up being generated as a result of this decision. (Well, electrons as FBARs now must be electronically filed.) Still, the old adage of better safe than sorry holds. As of today, reporting poker sites as foreign financial accounts is back on.

Staking and the 2014 WSOP: Nothing Has Changed

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

The poker world is about to descend on Las Vegas. Over the next several weeks, many players who enter the myriad of poker tournaments from expensive tournaments at the World Series of Poker to more affordable tournaments at Binion’s and the Venetian will be “staked.” Instead of the player putting up 100% of his or her buy-in, he or she will have backers who have put up part of the entry fees. Since some tournaments will cost upwards of $10,000 (there are $25,000, $50,000 and a $1 million buy-in this summer), staking is commonplace.

There are rules you must follow when you’re staked. You must make sure proper IRS paperwork gets to your backers. A lot depends on where you will be playing. If you’re at the Venetian playing in their Deep Stack Extravaganza, you’ll find a cooperative cage ready and willing to accept Form 5754. (Form 5754 is used when you have backers). The same is true for Binion’s. However, if you are playing at a Caesars property–and this includes the Rio Hotel & Casino, where the World Series of Poker takes place–you are on your own; Caesars will issue one W-2G (or Form 1042-S) to the winner. This is a decidedly player-unfriendly attitude; it also violates IRS rules. What does this mean for the player?

Back in 2007 I wrote about this situation. It has now been seven years and nothing has changed. If you’re backed, you have to send out 1099-MISC’s or 1042-S’s for your backers:

  1. If you’re backed by an American get a signed and completed Form W-9 from him before you pay him. If someone refuses to complete a Form W-9, you are required to withhold.
  2. The issuance of 1099s is based on you backer profiting $600 or more for the entire year.  So realize that if you have backers who profit $600 or more, the onus is on you for sending out Form 1099-MISC’s. (The 1099s are not sent until year-end.)
  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.

As I’ve said before, eventually Caesars will be called on the carpet for their policy. Until they are the onus is on you to obey the law. When the casino ignores the rules, you effectively become the casino for your backers.

Yes, Online Poker Players Must Pay Taxes

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

The Las Vegas Review Journal has a short article on the fact that online poker players must pay taxes. The article notes that winning players must pay taxes; of course, both winners and losers are supposed to include their winning sessions on their tax returns. There is one minor error in the article: Freeroll winnings of $600 or more should be reported on a Form 1099-MISC rather than a Form W-2G.

Both Brad Polizzano and I are quoted in the article. One point that I made with David Ferrara (the writer of the article) is that proposed legislation legalizing and regulating online poker in other states (than Nevada) explicitly requires reporting wins and losses to state tax agencies.

A Second Bite at the Apple? Yes, When You Don’t Read the Fine Print

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

I previously wrote about betonsports.com, a former Internet sports betting website. One of its executive, David Carruthers, made the mistake of changing planes at DFW. Unbeknownst to him, he had been indicted. His two-hour layover got extended…to 33 months at ClubFed. Sportsbetting on the Internet is generally against US law (though intrastate sportsbetting in Nevada is legal in certain situations).

Today, as I glanced through a Tax Court case on one Gary Kaplan, I saw the dollar amounts and did some math. Mr. Kaplan was assessed tax for two years totaling $24,369,493, and additions to tax totaling $12,358,596. That’s a total bill of $36,720,089, and certainly reason to petition the Tax Court.

Mr. Kaplan is the founder of betonsports.com. He took the company public on the London Stock Exchange in 2004. Mr. Kaplan transferred his shares of the business into trusts, and those trusts then sold shares. Mr. Kaplan never filed (or paid) tax returns, so the IRS created substitute for returns and assessed the tax and penalties noted above. This occurred after Mr. Kaplan was arrested and made a plea bargain on the criminal case.

Plea bargains are binding documents. They’re binding on the government, too. And that’s the major issue of the case: Did the plea bargain stop the IRS from assessing tax and penalties? Two excerpts from the plea agreement are quite on point:

[T]he Office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri agrees that no further federal prosecution will be brought in this District relative to the defendant’s participation in the BETONSPORTS ORGANIZATION, as described in the Third Superseding Indictment, of which the Office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri is aware at this time. In addition, the Office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern [sic] of Missouri and the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, which has authorized the Eastern District of Missouri to enter into this agreement, agree that no federal prosecution will be brought in either District relative to the defendant’s involvement in a business venture known as Hope Mills Universal, of which said offices are aware at this time. In addition, the Office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri agrees that no federal criminal tax charges will be brought in this District relative to the defendant’s receipt of income from the BETONSPORTS ORGANIZATION, the sale of stock in BetonSports, plc and/or the investment of the proceeds in any such income or sale. [Emphasis added by the Tax Court.]

The second excerpt note that:

…[t]he defendant has discussed with defense counsel and understands that nothing contained in this document is meant to limit the rights and authority of the United States of America to take any civil, civil tax or administrative action against the defendant * * * except that the United States shall not seek civil forfeiture in connection with this case or any asset constituting or derived from the receipt of income from the BetOnSports Organization, the sale of stock in BetOnSports, PLC and/or the investment of the proceeds of any such income or sale. [Emphasis added by the Tax Court.]

The Tax Court noted that during the change of plea hearing the judge in the criminal case made sure that Mr. Kaplan knew that the government could initiate a civil tax proceeding:

[Court:] Do you understand, Mr. Kaplan, that there is a difference between a criminal tax proceeding and a civil tax proceeding?

[Petitioner:] Yes I do, Your Honor.

[Court:] And in this document, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has agreed it will not bring any criminal tax proceeding against you; however, that doesn’t preclude the initiation of any civil tax proceeding or administrative action against you.

[Petitioner:] I understand that. And we’ve agreed to that.

Mr. Kaplan argued that the statute of limitations barred the IRS’s actions. There’s an obvious problem with that: If you don’t file a tax return the statute of limitations never runs. Strike one.

The petitioner then argues that the plea agreement precludes the actions. The excerpts of the District Court’s questioning are particularly on point. The judge noted that this could happen; Mr. Kaplan said he knew it could. Strike two.

Mr. Kaplan’s last argument is that the IRS is precluded by judicial estoppel.

Under the doctrine of judicial estoppel, once “‘a party assumes a certain position in a legal proceeding, and succeeds in maintaining that position, he may not thereafter, simply because his interests have changed, assume a contrary position, especially if it be to the prejudice of the party who has acquiesced in the position formerly taken by him.’”

Unfortunately for Mr. Kaplan,

…because the plea agreement unambiguously reserved the Government’s right to bring a civil tax action against petitioner, petitioner suffered no detriment nor prejudice from any perceived “position” of the Government. For these reasons, petitioner’s judicial estoppel argument is without merit.

That’s strike three, and Mr. Kaplan owes the $36.7 million…plus interest.

If you ever make a plea deal with the government, you absolutely want to read the fine print. And if a judge points our that a civil tax proceeding could occur, you might want to inquire about that…especially if you have millions of dollar sitting around.

Case: Kaplan v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2014-43

The Moral Climate may have Changed but the Law Hasn’t

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Another professional gambler went to Tax Court seeking to stop Section 165(d) of the Tax Code–the section that stops a gambler from deducting losses in excess of wins. This ended up being a full decision of the Tax Court, so it’s worth taking a look at it.

Today’s taxpayer is a CPA from California who, in his off time, is also a professional gambler betting on horse racing. He filed his tax returns with two Schedule C’s: one for his tax practice and one for his gambling. He, though, took his gambling losses (in excess of wins) to help lower his accounting income. He also took a deduction for “Takeout” from horse racing. The IRS objected to both, and the dispute made its way to Tax Court.

Let’s deal with the more mundane “Takeout” issue. Horse race betting is a form of “pool” accounting. Individuals make wagers, they form a pool, the race happens with winners being declared, and the track pays out from the pool. The track deducts from the pool taxes and other business expenses. That’s the Takeout–it’s taken out of the pool. (It’s akin to the rake on a hand of poker).

The problem is that this isn’t an expense of the bettor; it’s an expense of the track. Thus, since the wagerer doesn’t pay it, he can’t deduct it. The Court succinctly came to that conclusion.

The more interesting part of the case is whether Section 165(d) is legal. The petitioner noted an excerpt from Tschetschot v. Commissioner (T.C. Memo 2007-38):

The moral climate surrounding gambling has changed since the tax provisions concerning wagering were enacted many years ago. Not only has tournament poker become a nationally televised event, but casinos or lotteries can be found in many States. Further, the ability for the Internal Revenue Service to accurately track money being lost and won has improved, and some of the substantiation concerns, particularly for professionals, no longer exist. That said, the Tax Court is not free to rewrite the Internal Revenue Code and regulations. We are bound by the law as it currently exists, and we are without the ability to speculate on what it should be.

The basis of petitioner’s argument is:

Petitioner responds to the last two sentences of the quoted excerpt from Tschetschot with the hope that “the judiciary is at some time [presumably, meaning this Court in this case] going to take a bold stance and help to reverse section 165(d) of the Internal Revenue Code.”

A law can be held unconstitutional if it doesn’t have a rational basis. The Tax Court looked at the Congressional commentary from when Section 23(g) of the Revenue Act of 1934 (which has identical language to the current Section 165(d)) was passed and found there was, indeed, a rational basis. First, here’s the commentary:

Section 23(g). Wagering losses: Existing law does not limit the deduction of losses from gambling transactions where such transactions are legal. Under the interpretation of the courts, illegal gambling losses can only be taken to the extent of the gains on such transactions. A similar limitation on losses from legalized gambling is provided for in the bill. Under the present law many taxpayers take deductions for gambling losses but fail to report gambling gains. This limitation will force taxpayers to report their gambling gains if they desire to deduct their gambling losses.

The Tax Court’s conclusion is that Congress must change the law:

The basis for the enactment of section 23(g), as set forth in the last sentence of the foregoing committee report, still pertains to taxpayer reporting of gambling gains and losses. Therefore, it still constitutes a “rational basis” for the continued application of section 165(d) to the losses. There being no constitutional impediment to the continued application of section 165(d), we reiterate our admonition in Tschetschot that this Court “is not free to rewrite the Internal Revenue Code and regulations * * * [but is] bound by the law as it currently exists”. [footnote omitted]

Thus, until Congress changes the law a professional gambler cannot deduct gambling losses in excess of wins.

Case: Lakhani v. Commissioner, 142 T.C. No. 8

Taxes and Daily Fantasy Sports: The Duck Test

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it just may be a duck.

So said someone (this quote has been attributed to Walter Reuther among others), and it’s one of those cliches that have an impact in taxes. When something has the elements that make it look like something, generally the Tax Code will make it into that something.

Why am I bringing this up? Because of the popularity of daily fantasy sports sites. These sites allow contests based on the outcome of a day’s games in a sports league. For example, you can take various players in today’s NBA games and play against others who select their own players. Should your ‘team’ do better than your opponents’ teams, you win the contest.

The sites consider themselves to be skill games and contests and not gambling. They issue Form 1099-MISC’s to the winners, and put the income on line 3 (“Other Income”). They do not issue Form W-2G’s (“Gambling Winnings”) to their winners. For individuals who partake in these contests, how should they treat the income?

First, it’s income and must be included on the tax return. All income is taxable unless Congress exempts it; Congress hasn’t exempted daily fantasy sports income. So it must be included on your tax return no matter if you receive a Form 1099 or not.

Let’s say you play three contests, win $2,000 and never lose. You receive a 1099 noting $2,000 of “Other Income.” In this simple case, just include the income as “Other Income” on your tax return (line 21, Form 1040). No mater what the flavor of Other Income is you’ve included it.

Let’s say you make a living playing daily fantasy sports sites. You win $250,000 from various sites, and have $50,000 of losses. With that kind of income you are probably a professional fantasy sports player and should include the income and associated business expenses on a Schedule C. It sure looks like you’re in the profession of daily fantasy sports player–the first instance of the Duck Test.

Now let’s consider Jane. She plays daily fantasy sports occasionally. She receives a 1099-MISC noting her $30,000 of wins. She also has $20,000 of daily fantasy sports losses. For the sake of discussion, we’ll assume she has records proving those losses. Can she take those losses?

If you were to ask the daily fantasy sports sites, they would say no. They operate under the sweepstakes/skill game laws; there is no such thing as losses with skill games.

However, we’re concerned with Jane’s taxes, not a daily fantasy sports site’s taxes. A fundamental principal of US taxation is to look at the activity itself to determine what it is no matter what it calls itself. Ah yes, another instance of the Duck Test.

The tax laws on wagering (aka gambling) are different. You are allowed to take wagering (gambling) losses up to the amount of your winnings (§165(d) of the Tax Code). So we need to determine if daily fantasy sports are a wagering activity.

This is more difficult than you might think; wagering isn’t defined in the Tax Code. However, there are plenty of IRS and Tax Court rulings on this, and all say basically the same thing. For something to be gambling, three elements must be present:
1. A prize;
2. Chance; and
3. Consideration.

Clearly daily fantasy sports have elements 1 and 3. There’s a prize and there’s a cost to enter each event. Is there chance?

Gambling does not have to be 100% chance to be considered gambling. For example, poker is considered gambling under US tax law yet there’s plenty of skill involved with it. (Indeed, I’d argue that skill predominates over luck; however, there’s absolutely an element of luck in poker.) Let’s look at what’s involved with a daily fantasy sports contest. You generally select a team to play in a day’s events. Let’s say you selected Carlos Boozer and Shane Battier for today’s NBA daily fantasy sports contest. Those players scored 8 and 3 points, respectively. On the other hand, had you selected Taj Gibson and Chris Bosh you would have done far better; they scored 20 and 28 points. Yet before a single game who know what each player will score? If you had selected NBA star Lebron James you would normally do quite well; however, he didn’t play today.

There sure looks to me to be at least some elements of chance involved with who you select. While Carlos Boozer averages 14.8 points a game, he had only 8 today. On the other hand, Taj Gibson had 20 while he averages 12.9. Is that skill (that is, against the opponent they faced those players would play differently than their average) or is it luck? It’s probably some of each.

So daily fantasy sports have at least some element of luck. Then from a tax standpoint they sure look to be a form of wagering activity. There’s a prize, chance, and consideration. The Duck Test again: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it might just be a duck.

So can players on daily fantasy sports sites treat their play like gambling? That’s something worth discussing with your tax professional if you partake in daily fantasy sports.


There’s a corollary to this: Do daily fantasy sports sites violate various gambling laws? (I am not an attorney and the following is just my speculation and not legal advice.) While the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) provides a carve-out for fantasy sports, there are numerous other gambling laws. Additionally, most states have laws on gambling. The daily fantasy sports sites all state they’re legal but I suspect that they probably violate various laws, mostly on the state level.

I looked at two sites. The first stated that the US government and most states consider fantasy sports to be a game of skill (this site doesn’t allow residents of AZ, IA, LA, MT, and WA to play). The second site used basically the same language and prohibits players from the same five states.

Unfortunately, many states look at just an element of chance to determine if something is gambling. And there’s no doubt that daily fantasy sports have such an element. The problem is that these sites are starting to bring in large dollars. That attracts attention, and some state attorney general is going to wonder the same thing that I am. He or she will conclude that the Duck Test applies and that these are gambling sites in violation of his or her state’s laws.

What Are the Tax Impacts of the FullTiltPoker Remission Payments?

Friday, February 21st, 2014

In less than one week, many poker players will finally receive their balances that they had at FullTiltPoker when that online poker site was shut down as a result of “Black Friday.” According to the Garden City Group (the claims administrator hired by the US Department of Justice to handle the remission claims), the first payments will be made by the end of February. So how much of the money you receive will be income? Will 1099s be issued?

The answer to the first question–how much of the remission payment you receive is taxable–is “it depends.” This will depend on each individual’s facts and circumstances. I did an interview with CardPlayer last year and talked about some hypothetical cases. Some of this will be a repeat of that article while some of this will be new.

For most individuals, the amount of money you will pay tax on from the remission payments is the amount you receive less the amount you deposited less any money you receive that you’ve already paid taxes on. Let’s take three individuals, all of whom receive their full balances next week.

1. Joe receives $1,700. He earned it all in 2011, starting with a freeroll. He’ll have $1,700 of income that will need to be reported on his 2014 tax return.

2. Russ receives $1,700. He earned it all prior to 2011, and has already paid tax on all the money he’s receiving. He will not owe any tax on the remission.

3. John receives $1,700. He had a balance on January 1, 2011 of $500 (he paid taxes on this in previous years). He withdrew $500 during 2011 (and paid taxes on that). He’ll owe 2014 tax on the $1,200 he receives that he hasn’t paid tax on.

Those are all relatively simple scenarios. I can imagine far more complex ones; indeed, I spoke with someone today who has such a scenario. There are people with disputed balances, “Red Pros,” affiliates and others who still don’t know what they’ll receive. Anyone who doesn’t have a simple, straightforward scenario should consider speaking with a competent tax professional regarding their remission payments.

The other major question is whether or not GCG will issue Form 1099-MISCs to recipients. We don’t know the answer to this, and we likely won’t know until early February 2015. GCG hasn’t said they would (nor have they said they wouldn’t); they’ve been silent on this issue. It may be they simply don’t know. If 1099s will be issued, the deadline for mailing them out will be January 31, 2015.

The problem with issuing 1099s is that for most individuals the amount of money being received will not all be income. Almost everyone deposited something on FullTiltPoker; the return of those deposits is clearly not taxable. I could speculate on whether 1099s will be issued, but it would be just that: speculation. Until GCG makes a pronouncement or we’re one year from today (when 1099s would have been received), we just don’t know. My hope is that 1099s will not be issued because almost every one of them would be wrong. If there is official guidance on this from GCG I’ll update this post with that information.

So we are definitely nearing the end of the FTP remission process. That is definitely good news.