Archive for the ‘Gambling’ Category

The 2017 Real Winners at the World Series of Poker (London Calling, Again)

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

The main event of the World Series of Poker has completed: 7,221 ponied up $10,000 to enter. The final nine players began competing on Thursday; last night the winner was crowned. How much of his winnings does he get to keep? And why are four of the nine very, very happy that their court system considers poker to be a complete game of chance?

One 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. It is quite likely that most (if not all) of the winners were backed and will, in the end, only enjoy a portion of their winnings. I ignore backing in this analysis. Now, on to the winners.

Congratulations to Scott Blumstein of Morristown, New Jersey for winning poker’s biggest prize of $8,150,000. Mr. Blumstein came into the final table with the overwhelming chip lead and never relinquished it. Mr. Blumstein ended a long head-up battle when a deuce was the last community card and his Ace-deuce beat his opponent’s Ace-eight. A professional gambler, he’ll lose 47.11% of his winnings to federal and New Jersey tax ($3,839,429). Even though he had the largest winnings, he does not face the top tax burden among the nine (his is the second highest).

Dan Ott of Altoona, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh) finished in second place. Mr. Ott started the final table in fifth place, and worked his way into second place and a prize (before taxes of) $4,700,000. His state tax burden is the lowest among Americans (Pennsylvania’s state income tax is a flat 3.07%), but as a professional gambler he must also pay Altoona’s Earned Income Tax of 1.60%. Overall, Mr. Ott will pay an estimated $2,099,806 in tax (44.68%) to obtain after-tax winnings of $2,600,194. Indeed, Mr. Ott almost falls to fourth place based on after-tax results.

Finishing third and winning $3,500,000 was Benjamin Pollak. Mr. Pollak, originally from Paris, France, moved to London. Why would a Frenchman move from beautiful Paris to London? In a word, taxes. As a European Union resident, he could move to any other E.U. country and fall under their tax system. The US-United Kingdom Tax Treaty exempts gambling winnings from withholding. Additionally, poker winnings are completely tax-free in the United Kingdom (a court case a few years ago cemented this for now), so Mr. Pollak gets to enjoy all of his $3,500,000 of winnings.

But let’s assume that Mr. Pollak had remained living in Paris. On the positive side, the US-France Tax Treaty exempts gambling winnings from withholding. On the negative side, France is anything but a low-tax country. I cannot be certain of the taxes for 2017; the actual tax rates are voted in towards year-end so I’ve used the 2016 tax rates for my analysis. However, I doubt 2017 rates will vary significantly from last year. At an income of €152,260, the marginal tax rate is 45% (the highest in France). There’s also a surtax of 3% at an income of €250,000 or more (and this rises to 4% at €500,000 or more). Mr. Pollak would owe about 48% of his winnings in tax. No wonder London was calling for him!

You may be wondering why American professional poker players don’t hop a 747 and move to London. First, Americans owe tax on their worldwide income, so an American residing in London would still owe tax on his World Series of Poker winnings. Second, while Europeans currently can relocate to the United Kingdom per the European Union, Americans cannot.

(One thing that is very unclear today is how long Frenchmen will be able to lower their tax by moving to England. With the passage of Brexit last year sometime in the near future the United Kingdom won’t be part of the European Union; the tax benefits of residing in the United Kingdom for French poker players will vanish. But I digress….)

The individual who had the most fun at the final table was clearly John Hesp of Bridlington, England. Mr. Hesp, a grandfather of seven and the oldest competitor (he’s 64), is decidedly not a professional poker player. Indeed, his prior tournament experience was playing in £10 (about $13) tournaments at his local casino in Hull; here, he was competing in a $10,000 (about £7,695) tournament! Mr. Hesp was clearly having the time of his life; the $2,600,000 he won will make this trip to Las Vegas a great memory. Even better, he gets to keep all the money.

Antonie Saout of Morlaix, France finished fifth and won $2,000,000 before taxes. Mr. Saout also lives in London (in fact, he shares an apartment with Mr. Pollak) so he, too, benefits from the United Kingdom’s great treatment of poker players. His after-tax winnings are his pre-tax winnings of $2,000,000. Had Mr. Saout remained a resident of France he would have owed about 48% of his winnings to the France Tax Agency. This was the second time Mr. Saout made the final table of the WSOP main event: He finished in third place in 2009.

Bryan Piccioli of San Diego ended up in sixth place and won $1,675,000 before taxes. Mr. Piccioli is a professional poker player and faces the highest percentage tax burden among the final nine: an estimated $489,328 to federal tax and $201,695 to California income tax (a total tax burden of $791,023, or 47.23%). Based on after-tax winnings, Mr. Piccioli finished in eighth place.

Damian Salas of Buenos Aires, Argentina finished seventh. Mr. Salas is a former attorney who is now a professional poker player. He earned $1,425,000 for his efforts. Argentinians love gambling and gambling winnings are not subject to income tax in Argentina. (Casinos in Argentina do pay significant taxes.) However, the United States and Argentina do not have a tax treaty; thus, Mr. Salas will lose 30% of his winnings to the Internal Revenue Service.

In eighth place was Jack Sinclair of London; he received $1,200,000 in winnings. Like the others residing in the United Kingdom he gets to keep all of his winnings. In one sense Mr. Sinclair was the biggest winner despite finishing eighth. Based on after-tax winnings of $1,200,000 Mr. Sinclair finished sixth. It’s always nice when your after-tax income is the same as your pre-tax income.

Ben Lamb, a professional poker player from here in Las Vegas, finished in ninth place. This was Mr. Lamb’s second time finishing in the top nine of the main event (he finished third in 2011). Mr. Lamb loses an estimated $408,483 (40.85%) to federal income tax. As a resident of the Silver State Mr. Lamb doesn’t have to worry about state income tax on his winnings.

Here’s a table summarizing the tax bite:

Amount won at Final Table $26,250,000
Tax to IRS $6,390,860
Tax to New Jersey Division of Taxation $754,196
Tax to Franchise Tax Board (California) $201,695
Tax To Pennsylvania Department of Revenue $144,290
Tax to Altoona Earned Income Tax $75,200
Total Tax $7,566,241

That’s a total tax bite of 28.82%. That’s fairly low for the main event because four of the winners face no taxation at all.

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

Winner Before-Tax Prize After-Tax Prize
1. Scott Blumstein $8,150,000 $4,310,571
3. Benjamin Pollak $3,500,000 $3,500,000
2. Dan Ott $4,700,000 $2,600,194
4. John Hesp $2,600,000 $2,600,000
5. Antoine Saout $2,000,000 $2,000,000
8. Jack Sinclair $1,200,000 $1,200,000
7. Damian Salas $1,425,000 $997,500
6. Bryan Piccioli $1,675,000 $791,023
9. Ben Lamb $1,000,000 $597,517
Totals $26,250,000 $18,683,759

As noted previously, Bryan Piccioli finished in sixth place but based on after-tax winnings he ends up in eighth place. While taxes may be the price of civilization, the price in the United States is high.

This was an off-year for the IRS. The IRS’s total of $6,390,860 didn’t match the first place prize of $8,150,000. Still, it did exceed the first place winner’s after-tax prize of $4,310,571. That’s because we all know that the house (the IRS) always wins.

WSOP and Taxes: 2017 Update

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

The poker world is about to descend on Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and a score of other tournament series. The tax environment has changed, so I’ve decided to do a thorough update of the tax situation. I’ll cover the basics of the tax situation, backing, foreign (non-US) backing, and non-American winners and what they will face with taxes. This post will be somewhat long, so I’m going to break this into sections that you can click on to open. The focus is on tournaments where tax paperwork is issued.

The Tax Basics

Backing by Americans of Americans

Backing: Non-Americans

Non-Americans and ITINs

[Note 1]: I recently became aware of a lawsuit in the Midwest where Caesars’ policy is being challenged. The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in late January 2018.

[Note 2]: 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 Caesars.” It’s a classic Catch-22.

[Note 3]: In prior years the WSOP has allowed winners to leave their money with the WSOP and obtain their winnings later. Anyone choosing this option should confirm with the WSOP that this can be done.

Do You Need a License to Sell Bitcoins?

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Let’s say I own some Bitcoins. I want to sell them to a friend. Do I need a license to do that? This question came up after I was informed that a Missouri man pleaded guilty to operating an illegal money transmitting business.

First, a disclaimer: I am not an attorney. For legal advice, go speak to an attorney specializing in money transmittal law. I am not that person.

If you are in the business of exchanging currency for currency, you need a money transmittal license. Let’s say you open a check cashing store; you may need that license. These licenses are generally on the state level and possibly also from FINCEN (the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network). So clearly Bitcoins, which are property for tax purposes, aren’t a currency, right?

Not so fast. Bitcoins are property in the world of the IRS, but in the view of FINCEN they’re a currency. Bitcoin advocates consider Bitcoins to be a digital currency (or a cyrptocurrency). So two different units of the same government agency (the IRS and FINCEN both fall under the Department of the Treasury) treat the same thing quite differently.

So let’s say I have lots of Bitcoins, and I trade them with a US Bitcoin exchange such as Coinbase. Do I need a money transmittal license? My thinking is no: Coinbase is a licensed money transmittal business, so my selling to them is part of their business.

Let’s say my Aunt Rose gave me five Bitcoins and I sell them to my friend Scott. It’s the only transaction I have in Bitcoins. It’s hard to see how I’m in the business of selling Bitcoins.

On the other hand, suppose I’m a poker player who does quite well on a poker site such as Ignition, and every month I receive some Bitcoins. Rather than selling them to an Exchange I decide to start selling them to others and make more money. That sounds like a business to me, and it might to the US government, too. In that case you should consider speaking with an attorney immediately to determine if what you’re thinking of doing complies with federal, state, and local laws.

Back in the days when Neteller was serving US poker players one of my clients considered going into business facilitating other poker players being able to move money from poker site to poker site. He had a lot of money on Neteller so he was able to deposit money onto (say) Absolute Poker and, in exchange, take money from PokerStars. When he spoke with me I mentioned to him that this might run afoul of the money transmittal laws and strongly suggested he speak with an attorney. The attorney he consulted advised him that my instincts were accurate. I suspect if someone were facilitating such Bitcoin transfers today this, too, would also run afoul of the money transmittal laws.

Getting back to my original question: Do I need a license to sell Bitcoins to a friend? The answer is likely no. But if I go into the business of selling Bitcoins the answer appears to be yes.

No, The Law Hasn’t Changed: Professional Gamblers Cannot Deduct Gambling Losses in Excess of Wins

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

The Internal Revenue Code (IRC) is law. It was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. One section of the law is IRC §165(d). It reads:

(d) Wagering losses
Losses from wagering transactions shall be allowed only to the extent of the gains from such transactions.

Courts have interpreted this the same for amateur and professional gamblers: You cannot take gambling losses in excess of wins. A few of my professional gambling clients have asked me if the law recently changed (they were told it had). It has not changed.

The Tax Court most recently looked at this in 2014. In Lakhani v. Commissioner (142 T.C. No. 8), a full precedential decision of the Tax Court, the Court wrote,

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]

(For those wondering, Section 23(g) is from the Revenue Code of 1934 and reads identically to Section 165(d) of the current IRC.)

Is it fair that a professional gambler is held to a different standard than anyone in a different profession? Definitely not. However, it’s the law; until Congress changes it I can take a Net Operating Loss if my business loses money but a professional gambler cannot.

Another client asked about running gambling through a business entity so that he can take losses that way. That, too, will not work. Put simply, until IRC §165(d) is repealed gamblers cannot take losses in excess of wins.

Casinos and ITINs: IRS Confirms Cease and Desist Letters Sent to “Several Large Casinos” (Update #2)

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

My stakeholder liaison at the IRS got back to me this morning and told me that the IRS has indeed sent letters to “several large casinos” ordering them to cease and desist issuing Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs). She was told by an IRS Attorney involved in this issue that:

Language in the PATH Act states that, “ITIN applicants residing outside of the United States must submit an application by mail or in person to the IRS (or to a consular officer). [emphasis added]”

This left no wiggle room for the IRS (in their view); thus, the letters to the casinos. Although no specific casinos were identified to me, the implication is that all casinos that had been authorized to issue ITINs have received the letter. It is a certainty that impacted casinos have either stopped issuing ITINs or will soon cease doing so.

The liaison also confirmed that a technical corrections bill is somewhere in the Congressional stream. This could mitigate this issue if it’s signed into law in the next couple of months. However, given the acrimony we’re seeing out of Washington I’m not holding my breath on that happening anytime soon.

This means it is close to a certainty that non-Americans who do not have an ITIN and are from tax treaty countries [1] will face 30% withholding on tournament winnings of more than $5,000, including at this summer’s World Series of Poker (WSOP). The earlier Twitter comments from the WSOP are simply wrong. Impacted individuals can eventually get their money back (by filing a Form 1040NR after year-end along with an application for an ITIN); however, any impacted players will wait months to get money back that they should not have had withheld in the first place.

Should a technical corrections bill show some progress I will post on it.

Prior Coverage: Original Post, Update #1

[1] As noted in Publication 515, “Gambling income of residents (as defined by treaty) of the following foreign countries is not taxable by the United States: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Russia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.”

Online Gambling Addresses for 2017

Monday, February 20th, 2017

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. (The IRS and FINCEN now allege that foreign online poker accounts are “casino” accounts that must be reported as foreign financial accounts. The rule of thumb, when in doubt report, applies—especially given the extreme penalties.)

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.

FINCEN does not want dba’s; however, they’re required for Form 8938. One would think that two different agencies of the Department of the Treasury would speak the same language…but one would be wrong.

You will see the entries do include the dba’s. Let’s say you’re reporting an account on PokerStars. On the FBAR, you would enter the address as follows:

Rational Entertainment Enterprises Limited
Douglas Bay Complex, King Edward Rd
Onchan, IM31DZ Isle of Man

Here’s how you would enter it for Form 8938:

Rational Entertainment Enterprises Limited dba PokerStars
Douglas Bay Complex, King Edward Rd
Onchan, IM3 1DZ Isle of Man

You will also see that on the FBAR spaces in a postal code are removed; they’re entered on Form 8938. You can’t make this stuff up….

Finally, I no longer have addresses for Bodog or Bovada. If anyone has a current mailing address, please leave it in the comments or email me with it.

Note: This list is presented for informational purposes only. It is believed accurate as of February 20, 2017. 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 or corrections to the list feel free to email them to me.

Casinos and ITINs: Update #1

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

On Monday I wrote about Las Vegas casinos receiving letters ordering them not to issue ITINs (Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers). When I wrote the post, I knew of one major Las Vegas casino that had received this letter; I assumed the letter was sent to all casinos that had been authorized to issue ITINs. I noted that this could have a major impact on the World Series of Poker (WSOP); the WSOP posted on their Twitter account that everything was currently the same as it had been (they were still issuing ITINs).

Since I wrote that post:

1. I have confirmed that a letter was sent to a second Las Vegas casino. I still assume that all casinos that have been authorized to issue ITINs received this letter.

2. What I don’t know is how fast the IRS ordered casinos to cease and desist from issuing ITINs. The IRS would certainly give casinos some time to implement the new policy; I would think it’s somewhere between 30 and 90 days in the future (from the date of the letter). Unfortunately, I do not know what the deadline is. It’s possible that the deadline is, say, July 31st (conveniently after the end of the WSOP) but I think that’s unlikely.

3. I made an inquiry to my IRS Stakeholder Liaison to obtain the information from the IRS. Tax professionals have stakeholder liaisons at most tax agencies to help with systemic issues (and some other items). My liaison is looking into this, but has yet to give me any answers.

4. I also made an inquiry to the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA), my professional society. They have contacts at IRS headquarters that may be able to get an answer faster than I can through the liaison.

5. The WSOP tweeted that this won’t impact them. If this IRS policy goes into effect before the WSOP, it will impact them. As I wrote earlier, there’s no way that Caesars Entertainment will be allowed to issue ITINs and all other casinos won’t be; that fails the smell test. That the Rio can issue an ITIN today is meaningless; the question is will they be able to do so in the future.

Like many policies that the IRS has implemented, this makes little sense. Unfortunately, the IRS is interpreting a law passed by Congress. While a ‘technical corrections’ bill is somewhere in the Congressional stream, it’s not likely to be enacted that quickly given the partisan bickering we’re seeing in Washington. I also believe that member casinos will complain to the American Gaming Association once the impact of this is realized.

The reason I made my initial post (and will continue to post on this issue) is to alert poker media, with the hope that this issue will get resolved favorably: either the IRS relents on their new dictum due to pressure from the casinos, a technical corrections bill passes, or some other action that results in a solution to this issue. We shall see.

Casinos Can No Longer Issue ITINs

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Suppose you’re a resident of the United Kingdom and you come to Las Vegas to play in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) or just try your luck at a slot machine here. You have good luck and manage to win $10,000. Even better, given that the United States and the United Kingdom have a tax treaty you know you won’t owe any tax to the IRS. Imagine your surprise when the casino hands you $7,000 rather than $10,000. You’re informed that casinos are no longer allowed to issue Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) by the IRS; unless you have a valid ITIN the casino must withhold 30% of your winnings.

On Friday, the IRS sent a major casino here in Las Vegas a letter informing them that because of a provision in the PATH Act no one but the IRS can issue ITINs. I assume all casinos that had been authorized by the IRS to issue ITINs have received this letter and are implementing this policy.

If you have a valid ITIN (and have renewed it, if applicable), this new policy won’t matter to you. For all other non-Americans who would normally not be subject to withholding you need to obtain an ITIN. Unfortunately, this is anything but easy.

You used to be able to use a Certified Acceptance Agent (CAA). CAAs were in numerous countries and would be able to obtain an ITIN for those who could show a Tax Treaty reason for doing so. The PATH Act ended CAAs so that’s gone.

There used to be a few IRS employees outside the United States. You could make an appointment to see one of these individuals, show him or her the required documents, and you would have an ITIN issued. Unfortunately, there no longer are IRS employees abroad.

You can, of course, send in Form W-7 and all required attachments (this includes your passport) to the IRS. Given you just might need that passport this doesn’t look like a good solution.

That leaves just one method that I know of: Going to an IRS office, proving a Tax Treaty reason, and submitting the required documents. An IRS employee will make a copy of your passport. While you will not get the ITIN immediately (the paperwork is still sent to the ITIN office in Austin, Texas) you will still have your passport. In eight to sixteen weeks you will receive your ITIN in the mail.

But what about those winnings? If you take that money now, the casino will give you a Form 1042-S and withhold the 30%. You can then file a US tax return the following year, attaching a copy of the 1042-S, and six or so months later you will receive your withholding back. (This assumes you reside in a country that has a Tax Treaty with the US that exempts gambling winnings from taxation.)

The poker room manager I spoke with noted that you could leave the money with the casino and come back when you have your ITIN. That may work if you don’t need that money and the casino will allow that. Otherwise, you will likely be without the withheld funds for some time.

The National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) sent a letter to the IRS requesting that CAAs continue to be allowed to issue ITINs. The IRS responded by saying “blame Congress, not us.” I expect the American Gaming Association to complain to both the IRS and Congress about the inability of casinos to issue ITINs.

There’s one last issue: You can no longer just walk into an IRS office and get assistance; you must make an appointment. You have to call the IRS (at 844-545-5640; this phone number works for making an appointment at any IRS office) to make an appointment at the IRS office in downtown Las Vegas. The last time I checked if you called today the earliest you would have your appointment is two weeks from today. If you don’t have an ITIN, reside in a Tax Treaty country, and plan on playing in the World Series of Poker this summer, you may want to make an appointment with the IRS so that you can start the process of obtaining your ITIN prior to playing.

Hopefully, the IRS and/or Congress will reconsider this policy. Until then, the IRS is playing the role of the Grinch for many gambling winners.

UPDATE: The World Series of poker tweeted that they will still be able to issue ITINs:

While I hope that @WSOP is correct, based on what I’ve been told they’re wrong (unless Congress changes the law or the IRS changes their mind). The problem is that the IRS has interpreted the PATH Act that only they can issue ITINs. The individual I spoke with is certainly in the know, and the casino he works act has issued ITINs in the past and would like to continue issuing ITINs. The IRS can’t discriminate and allow Caesars Entertainment’s casinos to issue ITINs while MGM/Mirage, Venetian, and Wynn/Encore cannot.

My hope in publicizing this decision is that the policy will change, either by Congress acting or groups such as the American Gaming Association pressuring the IRS.

Consulting, Gambling; There’s No Difference, Right?

Monday, February 6th, 2017

The Tax Court looked at an individual (call him “Mr. A.”) who looked like a professional poker player, appeared to have an income from poker, but was described on his tax return as a “consultant.” His tax return showed less than half the income that his W-2Gs totaled. The IRS added in a negligence penalty, and the whole dispute ended up in Tax Court.

Before I get into the meat of the case, a comment about gambling and the IRS (and the Tax Court). The IRS does not have a good understanding of the mechanics of poker tournaments. The petitioner today lost some deductions because of this (and that they didn’t explain things point by point). For example, the Court stated (in footnote 4):

The parties also stipulated the authenticity of two receipts showing that Mr. A had paid buy-ins as an “alternate” to participate in “$540 No Limit Hold’em” contests at the Bellagio on July 11 and 17, 2009. As the record does not disclose whether Mr. A in fact played–and if he did not, whether his buy-in was refunded–we conclude that petitioners have not shown that Mr. A paid these buy-ins.

That’s not how alternates in a poker tournament work. Alternates are just the people who get seated when original entrants are eliminated from the tournament. I’ve never seen or heard of an alternate not being seated. But the petitioners didn’t mention this in their briefs or testimony, so the Court used what they thought the term meant, not what really happens in poker tournaments. But I digress….

The problems began with the preparing of their 2009 return.

The return was prepared by petitioners’ accountant…who has a master’s degree in accounting and had previously prepared tax returns for professional poker players. For purposes of preparing the return, Mr. A advised the preparer that his exclusive source of income in 2009 was his poker tournament winnings. He further advised the preparer that he did not have records of the expenses he incurred in order to play in poker tournaments. The preparer concluded that Mr. A was a professional poker player on the basis that poker was his exclusive source of income. Given the absence of expense records, the preparer advised petitioners to report the net income from the gambling activity on Schedule C as gross receipts but not to report any offsetting business expenses.

Let’s look at the problems here. First, the IRS computer system was almost certain to hiccup on this return. If the W-2Gs totaled $42,000 and you report $21,000, there’s a problem. I’m certain that the petitioner received an IRS automated underreporting unit notice on this issue. The second problem deals with the preparer. Tax returns have places for expenses; they aren’t supposed to be lumped with gross receipts. Additionally, there are basic standards in preparing a return. The idea of a preparer putting down, say, $10,000 for expenses when a client says he has no records of those expenses makes no sense.

The taxpayers return showed a Schedule C—the only source of income—with $20,045 of net and gross income. The Schedule C was listed Mr. A’s occupation as “Consultant.” The IRS assumed that was the case, and saw $40,395 of wagering income to be added to the return. That was the first issue. This they won:

On the basis of Mr. A’s and his accountant’s testimony and the entire record, we agree with petitioners. Other than the reference on the Schedule C to Mr. A’s business as a “consultant”, there is no evidence that Mr. A engaged in any consulting activities for compensation during 2009. He denied doing so. When called upon to explain why Mr. A’s business was described as that of a “consultant” on the Schedule C, both he and his accountant dissembled. In the circumstances, we conclude that the business was described this way in a misguided attempt to head off the closer scrutiny of the return that would likely be triggered by a description of Mr. A’s business as “poker” or “gambling”–scrutiny that would likely unearth the inadequacies in the substantiation of Mr. A’s expenses.

The Court included gambling winnings that weren’t on W-2Gs. Yes, all income is taxable no matter if you receive a piece of paper or not. The Court noted, “On this record we find that Mr. A had poker tournament winnings of $48,686 for 2009. Given our conclusion that petitioners reported $20,045 of Mr. A’s gambling income on their return, it follows that they had unreported gains from wagering transactions of $28,641 for 2009.”

The IRS contended that the petitioner wasn’t a professional gambler. Given that the only source of income for the petitioner and his wife was his gambling, the petitioner won this argument. He also was able to deduct his losing poker tournament entries (save the “alternate” entries that the court got wrong).

The taxpayer ran into trouble with his business expenses. “Deductions are a matter of legislative grace, and the taxpayer bears the burden of proving entitlement to any deduction claimed on a return.” Mr. A. was allowed to deduct those items that he had receipts for. There were almost certainly more expenses, but a line from Tom Clancy comes to mind: If you don’t write it down it never even happened. That’s definitely the case for business expenses: Keep receipts and good records!

The IRS also asserted an accuracy-related penalty for negligence or disregarding IRS rules and regulations.

“‘[N]egligence’ includes any failure to make a reasonable attempt to comply” with the internal revenue laws. Sec. 6662(c). It connotates “a lack of due care or the failure to do what a reasonable and ordinarily prudent person would do under the
circumstances…This includes “any failure by the taxpayer to keep adequate books and records or to substantiate items properly.” Sec. 1.6662-3(b)(1), Income Tax Regs. Disregard of rules or regulations includes any careless, reckless, or intentional disregard of the Internal Revenue Code, the regulations, or certain Internal Revenue Service administrative guidance.”

Respondent contends that petitioners are liable for an accuracy-related penalty on the basis of negligence. We agree. They failed to maintain records of Mr. A’s gambling activities, including the related expenses. Lacking adequate records, they filed a return that reported an estimate of their net income as if it were gross receipts. As a consequence, they significantly understated both gross receipts and net income. They also participated in a misrepresentation of Mr. A’s business as being that of a consultant rather than a professional poker player. The failure to keep records is prima facie evidence of negligence, and the misrepresentation of the nature of Mr. A’s business falls short of a reasonable effort to comply with the internal revenue laws…

Petitioners have not shown reasonable cause and good faith with regard to any portion of the underpayment. While they were advised in the preparation of their return by an accountant, the return as prepared stated a gross receipts figure that Mr. A certainly knew to be inaccurate and further identified the nature of his business in a way that both petitioners knew to be inaccurate. Petitioners have not shown that they acted with reasonable cause and in good faith with respect to any portion of the underpayment. They are liable for the negligence penalty under section 6662(a).

Some helpful hints if you want to fade into the crowd: Accurately report your gross receipts. The IRS matches things reasonably well, and if they have records that show you have $50,000 of income and your report $20,000, there’s going to be a notice sent to you. If you’re a consultant, would you note your occupation as “professional gambler?” I assume not. The converse is also true; if you’re a professional gambler, you’re not a consultant.

Second, you sign your return, and you’re expected to review it. If you’re gross income is $50,000 and you report $20,000, that you used a tax professional will not absolve you from the accuracy-related penalty.

Finally, keep good records! Every time I get a new client I emphasize with them the importance of keeping good records. An audit is an inconvenience if you have records that substantiate what’s on your tax return. If you don’t, it will be a very painful, very expensive inconvenience.

Case: Alabsi v. Commissioner, T.C. Summary Opinion 2017-5

Gambling With an Edge Podcast

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

I am the guest on this week’s Gambling With an Edge Podcast. We discuss year-end tax planning, Caesars’ bankruptcy, tax deadline changes for 2016 returns, and how the final table players of the main event of the World Series of Poker made out with taxes. This was my third appearance on Gambling With an Edge; my other appearances are available on their website or iTunes.