Archive for the ‘International’ Category

Israel Tax Authority Targets Poker Professionals

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

Some unknown bureaucrat working at the Israel Tax Authority was likely reading something about poker or perhaps watching the World Series of Poker on television when he asked himself, “I wonder if Israeli poker players are paying their income taxes?” He likely looked at poker websites such as Hendon Mob and did a search on ‘Israel.’ He discovered that there were Israeli poker professionals and even an Israel Poker Tour (held in Cyprus).

As an article in Globes notes, the Tax Authority wants its share. The current disputes include:

– Taxing poker as a business (at a rate of up to 50%) rather than as gambling (at 35%);
– Allowing business expenses, such as travel and tournament fees; and
– Allowing poker losses and ‘staking losses’ (where a player wins money but must give it to others) as an offset to income.

It appears that the Tax Authority has won that poker income will be taxed as a business, but has not allowed all business expenses and what I’m calling staking losses. Disputes are finding their way into Israel’s court system; it will likely be months to years before there’s a resolution of the issues.

That said, one thing is clear: With the Internet and publicity, it’s getting harder and harder to hide the fact that you’ve earned income. Sharon Fishman, the manager of criminal taxation department of Doron, Tikotzky, Kantor Gutman and Amit Gross law firm, is quoted in the Globes article:

An administrative decision was recently taken there to zero in on this segment of professional poker players. This is due mainly the accessibility of the information about them on the Internet, because there are now international websites that report who won international tournaments, who plays on the Internet, and who is traveling to overseas tournaments. They publish the names of the winners, where they come from, and how much money they earned, so the tax authorities suddenly have abundant evidence, and you can’t tell them that you weren’t there and didn’t win.

The Other March 15th Deadlines

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Today’s the deadline for filing partnership and S-Corporation returns. An extension is available by filing Form 7004. Most (but not all) states grant an automatic extension. Do realize that if your state charges a tax for your entity (i.e. New York and Illinois), you need to pay that tax even if you file an extension.

There are two other deadlines today. Form 1042-S (report of withholding of foreign individuals) must be filed today, either electronically using the IRS’s FIRE system or by mail. Also, Form 3520-A (Annual Information Report of Foreign Trusts) is due today. An extension is available for Form 3520-A by mailing in Form 7004 (Part III, Code 27). There are ridiculous penalties for late-filing Form 3520-A, so if this applies to you and you’re not ready mail that extension (certified mail, return receipt requested) today.

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.”

The Hidden Bitcoin Trap: FBAR

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

A lot of my clients have invested in Bitcoins. For those who aren’t aware Bitcoins are a “cryptocurrency.” For tax purposes, Bitcoins are treated like stocks and bonds; realized gains (and losses) are reported on Schedule D. And that’s everything you need to know, right? Definitely not.

Most holders of Bitcoins use a Bitcoin wallet such as Coinbase or Blockchain. A wallet is used like a brokerage account. That means if you have a foreign Bitcoin wallet, you may have an FBAR reporting requirement.

Coinbase is located in San Francisco; it’s not a foreign financial firm. However, Blockchain is based in Luxembourg. Any American who is using Blockchain who has a tax filing requirement must note they have a foreign financial account on Question 7a. And such an individual may have to file an FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, Form 114) to note this account (if they have $10,000 or more aggregate at any time during 2016). Additionally, it’s also possible such and individual will need to file Form 8938 with their tax return.

I suspect that many holders of Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies are unaware of this issue. Many Bitcoin holders use multiple wallets and never look at the location of the wallet. Also, many individuals deliberately choose a wallet outside of the US to avoid possible scrutiny. Given that FBAR penalties can be ridiculously high this is an issue that tax professionals and taxpayers need to be concerned about.

While I have used Bitcoin wallet Blockchain as an example, there are many such wallets located outside the United States. I will begin to include such wallets in my list of offshore gambling sites (I’ll probably split the lists next year).

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.

FINCEN Announces Due Dates for 2016 FBARs

Monday, December 19th, 2016

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN) announced the due dates for 2016 Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR, Form 114). The FBAR will now be due on the same day as tax returns with an automatic extension for six months. There is no need to file a separate extension with FINCEN for the FBAR. Basically, this means the FBAR is now effectively due on October 15th.

The new rule was required per an act passed by Congress last year. Kudos to FINCEN in implementing this in the simplest, easiest-to-comply version that was possible.

Former French Budget Minister Heading to Prison for Tax Evasion

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

We have yet another late nominee for Tax Offender of the Year. From Paris, France comes the story of Jérôme Cahuzac, former Budget Minister under President François Hollande and soon to be resident of the Bastille French Prison System.

The story begins in the 1990s. Then Dr. Cahuzac (a cosmetic surgeon) had a successful practice specializing in hair transplants. He was elected to Parliament in 1997. Around the same time, the Cahuzacs decided to move some money offshore. It’s apparent that French law here mimics US law: There’s nothing wrong with having foreign financial accounts; however, you better report them and the income you receive. That apparently didn’t happen. Meanwhile, Mr. Cahuzac was appointed to lead a finance commission for Parliament in 2010. In 2013 Mr. Cahuzac served as Budget Minister.

Unfortunately for Mr. Cahuzac, news of his foreign accounts came out. It was discovered later in 2013 he had a secret Swiss bank account for ten years (from 2000-2010). That led to his resignation in 2013. Mr. Cahuzac lied to the French Parliament, lied to the French government (not revealing another secret bank account—this one on the Isle of Man–that was used in moving €2.7 Million ($2.85 Million) to the Swiss bank account), and admitted his lies on his own blog. Oops! He was tried and convicted this past September for tax fraud.

Mr. Cahuzac received three years in prison; his wife received two years. Reyl Bank of Geneva, the bank that the Cahuzacs used, was fined €1.875 Million ($1.98 Million). Mrs. Cahuzac received a €100,000 ($106,000) fine; Mr. Cahuzac and two intermediaries he used must also pay a €100,000 fine.

Mr. Cahuzac’s attorney is arguing that the sentence is too long and that they will appeal asking for a lesser sentence. Apparently in the French justice system an appeal opens up both a lesser sentence (what Mr. Cahuzac’s attorney wants) and a longer sentence. In any case, it will like be several months before the appeal is heard.

This is yet another case of the fox guarding the henhouse. Mr. Cahuzac was also barred from seeking public office for five years. The French Socialist Party also kicked him out, and I suspect the chances of his successfully running for office is today zero.

Five Sentenced for Tax Fraud; Justice Department Gets ITINs Wrong

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

A Justice Department press release caught my eye. Five individuals, all Mexican nationals residing in the US, were sentenced to ClubFed for terms between 33 months and 121 months. The five individuals had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and they had indeed done so:

Beginning in 2014 and under the direction of Natividad Medina, the defendants conspired to steal money from the U.S. Treasury and U.S. taxpayers by exploiting the ITIN system. The Medina sisters began by collecting Mexican identification documents from unknown people in Mexico and used those to fraudulently obtain ITINs. The Medina sisters then used those ITINs to submit false and fraudulent income tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service Center in Austin. They requested that the IRS mail refund checks to residences or to one of more than 200 post office boxes in and around the Houston area which Lopez had rented and maintained on behalf of the Medina sisters.

Kudos to the DOJ and IRS Criminal Investigation for stopping these individuals.

Unfortunately, either the Department of Justice or the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas needs to learn more about Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs). Here’s what they say about ITINs:

According to court records, in 1996, the Internal Revenue Service began issuing Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, or “ITINs”. By obtaining an ITIN, an individual who is already disregarding federal law by living in the United States illegally is given the opportunity to comply with federal law by filing taxes. If the applicant can furnish sufficient proof (i.e. foreign birth certificate, national identification card, passport, etc.) that he or she is living in the United States illegally, the IRS will issue that person an ITIN.

While that’s true, there are other purposes ITINs are used for. If a US citizen is married to a non-American, an ITIN can be issued for the spouse. An ITIN can also be issued for a dependent of a US citizen. A non-citizen who has a US tax filing responsibility (and who is not in the US illegally) will also be issued an ITIN. One would think that the DOJ or US Attorney’s Office might look at an IRS web page (like this one) to see the legitimate reasons why one would obtain an ITIN.

While I was on vacation came the news that ITINs will now expire, with ITINs with middle digits of “78” and “79” expiring this year. While a renewal application (Form W-7) will be available by October 1st, and you won’t need to file a tax return to renew the ITIN, I’ve had lots of problems with the ITIN office (lost applications, lost paperwork, problems even when the Taxpayer Advocate Office handed the paperwork in) that I’m glad it appears none of my clients are in the first group of renewals. If you get the idea that I’m expecting problems, you’re right. But I digress….

In any case, I do say well done to the DOJ for putting these scofflaws behind bars. However, next time read up on why some people who are either visiting the US quite legally or are related to a US citizen really need an ITIN in order for them (or a US citizen) to comply with their US tax filing responsibilities.