Archive for the ‘Gambling’ Category

Professional Gamblers (and Other Gambling Businesses) Now Eligible for PPP Loans

Friday, April 24th, 2020

The Small Business Administration today released new guidance on the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loans. Included in the guidance is an FAQ that states:

Are businesses that receive revenue from legal gaming eligible for a PPP Loan?

A business that is otherwise eligible for a PPP Loan is not rendered ineligible due to its receipt of legal gaming revenues, and 13 CFR 120.110(g) is inapplicable to PPP loans. Businesses that received illegal gaming revenue remain categorically ineligible. On further consideration, the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary, believes this approach is more consistent with the policy aim of making PPP loans available to a broad segment of U.S. businesses.

This means that as of today professional gamblers are now eligible for PPP loans. If you’re a professional gambler and are out of business, now is the time to apply with your bank. While there was additional funding for PPP loans approved this week, it will likely be used up quickly. Do note that if you partake in any illegal gambling activities you remain ineligible for PPP loans.

Additionally, small pubs with gambling activity (very common here in Las Vegas) are eligible for PPP loans.

Can a Professional Gambler Apply for a PPP or EIDL Loan?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

The CARE Act added Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) for businesses to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. A question many of our clients have asked is, “I’m a professional gambler. Can I apply for one of these loans?” The answer is no.

It’s not as if a professional gambler can gamble in most locations today (casinos are closed everywhere, though those residing in states with online gambling can partake), so professional gamblers are being impacted. The problem is a regulation adopted in 1996. From 13 CFR § 120.110 (What businesses are inelgible for SBA business loans?). 13 CFR § 120.110(g) states:

Businesses deriving more than one-third of gross annual revenue from legal gambling activities.

(All illegal activities are ineligible per 13 CFR § 120.110(h).)

The American Gaming Association wants this changed; it also prevents small casinos, such as those in South Dakota, from applying for these loans. But changing a federal regulation takes time. The change must be published in the Federal Register, comments must be taken, etc. It’s a near certainty that the COVID-19 emergency will be long past when the regulation is changed (and that assumes the SBA decides to make a change).

Is this fair? No. But it’s reality.

Online Gambling and Offshore Cryptocurrency Exchange Mailing Addresses for 2020

Thursday, February 27th, 2020

If you have one or more foreign financial accounts and you have $10,000 aggregate in those account(s) at any time during 2019, you must file the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (the “FBAR”). This is Form 114 from FINCEN. (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.) You also should consider filing an FBAR if you have $10,000 or more in a non-US Cryptocurrency Exchange.

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 an address for Bodog. If anyone has a current mailing address, please leave it in the comments or email me with it.

There remains debate over whether you need to file an FBAR for foreign cryptocurrency exchanges. At a presentation last year, an IRS employee stated that for the FBAR foreign cryptocurrency exchanges did not have to be reported. Unfortunately, the instructions for the FBAR do NOT state this. (See here, here, and here.) Thus, I strongly advise that foreign cryptocurrency exchanges continue to be reported on the FBAR. There is no penalty for overreporting; there are severe penalties for underreporting.

There is no dispute, though, about reporting foreign cryptocurrency exchanges on Form 8938: They must be reported on Form 8938 (if you have a Form 8938 filing requirement).

Note: This list is presented for informational purposes only. It is believed accurate as of February 27, 2020. 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.

New York DFS & Gambling: It’s the Constitution

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

There’s a quick way of doing many things that, in the long-run, doesn’t work so well; there’s a slower way of doing those same things that will always work. That’s true in tax, and it’s true for a legislature that’s trying to raise money.

Back in 2016, the New York state legislature amended a law so that DFS could be legalized. Almost immediately, a lawsuit was filed that said the new law violated the New York Constitution. The New York Supreme Court (which is the original trial court) ruled that the law was unconstitutional (as it relates to DFS). Both sides appealed the ruling, and last Friday a decision from the Appellate Division was released. That decision mostly upheld the original ruling.

The key points within that ruling are (1) that gambling only needs an element of chance and (2) it is not the job of the courts to look at the “…wisdom of the Legislature’s enactment of laws, but on whether the NY Constitution prohibited the Legislature from enacting such laws.”

This ruling is not good news for those who would like to see DFS or online gambling in New York state. It will take amending the New York constitution–and that’s a much harder road to go than simply passing a law. It also takes far more time. But if the constitution is amended, the law would be clearly constitutional (and legal).

I expect this decision to be appealed to the New York Court of Appeals (New York’s highest court), and it’s likely the case will be taken up (there was a dissent, and the case is about a constitutional question–the kind of case that appeals to higher courts). The problem, though, is that the plain language of the state constitution is quite specific about how to add more gambling. And it’s by amending the constitution. While a stay on enforcing this ruling may be granted (allowing DFS contests to continue in New York), unless the New York state constitution is changed the future of DFS (and online gambling) in New York looks quite bleak.

Gambling With an Edge Podcast

Sunday, September 1st, 2019

I appeared on last week’s “Gambling With an Edge” podcast. We discussed the IRS letters sent to cryptocurrency users, does having a large number of W-2Gs increase audit risk, and sending tax returns by regular mail — and many other topics. You can download the podcast at the link (above), or subscribe to “Gambling With an Edge” on iTunes and other podcast services.

Location, Location, Location: The Real Winners of the 2019 World Series of Poker

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

This year was the 50th anniversary of the World Series of Poker (WSOP). And by all accounts, this year’s series of tournaments was highly successful. Attendance was up across the board. The Main Event, which concluded early this morning, was no exception. 8,569 entrants paid $10,000 each for their chance to win $10 million, the second-most entrants all time.

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 Hossein Ensan of Munster, Germany. Mr. Ensan beat second place winner Dario Sammartino when Mr. Sammartino’s two-way draw (he had both a flush and straight draw) did not catch up to Mr. Ensan’s pocket kings. Mr. Ensan’s German Wikipedia page notes that he emigrated from Iran in 1990 and is listed as a professional poker player. Whether he’s a professional or an amateur makes a huge difference for taxes. In 2017, the Federal Fiscal Court (Germany’s highest court dealing with tax issues) ruled that professional gamblers must pay income tax on their net gambling winnings (less expenses); amateur gamblers do not have to pay income tax on gambling winnings. The US-Germany Tax Treaty exempts his winnings from US taxation.

This is a huge issue for Mr. Ensan; the classification is the difference between earning $10 million and earning $5,393,531. Assuming Mr. Ensan is subject to income tax, he’ll lose $4,606,469 to the Bundeszentralamt für Steuern (BZSt). That’s a reason why many German professional poker players reside in the United Kingdom: They avoid the high German taxes.

Finishing in second place and winning $6,000,000 was the aforementioned Dario Sammartino. The native of Naples, Italy now resides in Florence, Italy after a stay in Slovenia. Italy does tax gambling winnings: Mr. Sammartino will owe an estimated $2,572,350 to Italy’s Agenzia delle Entrate (42.87%)

In third place was Alex Livingston. The resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada benefits from Canadian law on gambling: His winnings will not be subject to tax in Canada. However, he will lose a flat 30% of his $4,000,000 ($1,200,000) to the IRS per the US-Canada Tax Treaty. (He can file a Form 1040NR return for the 2019 tax year to recover a portion of his tax based on any taxes US gambling losses he had during the year.)

Garry Gates of nearby Henderson ended in fourth place. Mr. Gates, who has worked in the poker industry for years, earned $3,000,000 for his finish. An amateur gambler, he avoids self-employment tax. As a Nevada resident, he also avoids state income tax. I estimate he will owe $1,050,813 (35.03%) of his income to tax.

Another amateur gambler, Kevin Maahs of Chicago, finished in fifth place. Mr. Maahs won $2,200,000 before taxes for his finish. He owes both federal and Illinois income taxes on his winnings; he’ll likely lose $870,729 (39.58%) to tax.

Finishing in sixth place was Zhen Cai. Mr. Cai, a professional gambler residing in Lake Worth, Florida earned $1,850,000 for his efforts. One of two American professional gamblers at the final table, he must pay self-employment tax and federal income tax (as a Floridian, he avoids state income tax). I estimate he will lose $706,679 (38.20%) to tax.

Nick Marchington from London, England finished in seventh place for $1,525,000. Mr. Marchington, a professional gambler, gets to keep all of his winnings. The US-UK Tax Treaty exempts gambling winnings of UK residents from tax. And the United Kingdom doesn’t tax gambling winnings. As my mother says, location, location, location.

In eighth place was Timothy Su of Boston. Mr. Su, a software engineer, does avoid self-employment tax. He does have to pay federal and Massachusetts income taxes. There’s a slight bit of good news for Mr. Su: Massachusetts’s income tax rate dropped for 2019 from 5.15% to 5.05%. That’s not a huge change, but when you win $1,250,000 and will have to pay an estimated $491,150 in tax, saving $1,250 is still better than nothing.

The ninth place finisher was Milos Skrbtic. Mr. Skrbtic, a professional gambler, was born and raised in Serbia, but currently resides in San Diego. Had he remained in Serbia he would lose 50% of the $1,000,000 he won to tax. The US and Serbia don’t have a Tax Treaty, so 30% would be withheld by the IRS. Serbia does give a tax credit on their income tax, but only for taxes paid to a country which Serbia has an income tax treaty for. Since the US and Serbia do not have such a treaty, he would have been liable for Serbia’s 20% tax on gambling winnings. Unfortunately, Mr. Skrbtic lives in California; the Golden State is anything but a low tax environment. I estimate he faces the highest tax burden of any of the final table participants: He will owe an estimated $474,463 in tax (47.45%).

Here’s a table summarizing the tax bite:

Amount won at Final Table $30,825,000
Tax to BZSt (Germany) $4,606,469
Tax to IRS $3,313,395
Tax to Agenzia delle Entrate (Italy) $2,572,350
Tax to Illinois Department of Revenue $108,900
Tax To Franchise Tax Board (California) $108,414
Tax to Massachusetts Dept. of Revenue $63,125
Total Tax $11,972,653

That means 38.84% 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. Hossein Ensan $10,000,000 $5,393,531
2. Dario Sammartino $6,000,000 $3,427,650
3. Alex Livingston $4,000,000 $2,800,000
4. Garry Gates $3,000,000 $1,949,187
7. Nick Marchington $1,525,000 $1,525,000
5. Kevin Maahs $2,200,000 $1,329,271
6. Zhen Cai $1,850,000 $1,143,321
8. Timothy Su $1,250,000 $758,850
9. Milos Skrbtic $1,000,000 $525,537
Totals $30,825,000 $18,852,347

Mr. Marchington finished in seventh place but ended up in fifth based on after-tax income. As my mother says, it’s location, location, location.

The Internal Revenue Service didn’t end up as the biggest winner at the final table this year. Thanks to two of the top three winners being exempt from US taxation, the IRS had to be content with earning just a bit more than fourth place money. The German Tax Agency, Bundeszentralamt für Steuern, is the biggest winner among tax agencies. As usual, the house–the tax agencies–ended up with more than first place money. The house always wins.

WSOP and Taxes: 2019 Non-Update

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

The 50th World Series of Poker begins today at the Rio Hotel and Casino here in Las Vegas. Good luck to all those who are participating this year.

Regarding taxes and the WSOP, nothing has changed from 2018. Thus, you can look at this post from last year to see how taxes will impact you.

Last week, I watched an excellent presentation from CNBC on commercial backing of poker tournament players. If you’re considering backing or being backed, I strongly suggest you watch the presentation. If you use one of the two current major commercial companies that back (YouStake and StakeKings), I would make sure you and them are aware of who is responsible for sending out tax paperwork and withholding from winnings if you are lucky enough to cash. As my mother likes to say, an ounce of prevention is a worth a pound of cure.

Oklahoma Limits Itemized Deductions; Big Hit for Amateur Gamblers

Saturday, March 30th, 2019

Suppose you’re an Oklahoma resident and enjoy gambling one of the many casinos in the Sooner State. You have $100,000 of gambling winnings and $100,000 of gambling losses. You itemize on your federal return anyway (you have mortgage interest, state taxes, and charitable donations), and the wash is just fine. On your Oklahoma return, you’re surprised to find your Oklahoma charitable donations are limited to $17,000 (plus the amount of medical and charitable donations).

Yes, Oklahoma has joined the states that are bad for gamblers. In my hypothetical, an amateur gambler would pay tax on $83,000 of phantom income. This change is the result of a law passed in April 2018.

Can a California or Massachusetts Professional Gambler Take a Business Loss on His or Her State Tax Return?

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) eliminated the ability of a professional gambler to take a loss on his Schedule C based on his business expenses; Congress specifically overrode the Mayo v Commissioner decision. But what about state taxes? Can a professional gambler who had a losing year take a loss on those returns?

First, no professional gambler can take a loss based on his gambling results. Internal Revenue Code Section 165(d) prohibits gambling losses in excess of wins. Every state with a state income tax conforms to this.

But state conformity to the TCJA is decidedly mixed. California does not conform to almost any part of the TCJA. The Franchise Tax Board produced a publication showing each change in law and the impact to California. At the bottom of page 89 is the beginning of the discussion on Section 11050 of the TCJA (which changed the rules for professional gamblers). The FTB publication notes:

California conforms, under the PITL, to the federal rules relating to the deduction for losses from wagering transaction[s] under IRC section 165(d), as of the specified date of January 1, 2015, but does not conform to the federal limitation on the deduction.

Thus, a California professional gambler can take a loss based on his business expenses on his state tax return.

Massachusetts also doesn’t conform to federal law in this area. However, Massachusetts does not allow losses from any business to be reported on its tax returns. Thus, a Massachusetts professional gambler wasn’t able to take a loss based on his business expenses in the past and cannot today.

State conformity on the provisions of the TCJA will vary among the states. If you reside in or must pay state taxes, this is a key issue that you must discuss with your tax professional.

Tax Help for Gamblers

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

Jean Scott, the proprietor of the website “Frugal Vegas” (she’s also known as the “Queen of Comps”) called me last year and asked if I would be willing to assist her with the fourth edition of her book, Tax Help for Gamblers. I agreed to do so, and if you’re a gambler looking for information on taxes I think you will be pleased with the effort. The book is due out shortly, and you can pre-order it on sale for $15 (including shipping) rather than the retail price of $24.95. The book is available from Huntington Press at this link.