Nine individuals came to Las Vegas on Monday and Tuesday to compete for the championship at the World Series of Poker (WSOP). Who would be the lucky winner? And who really got to keep the money?
Congratulations to Ryan Riess of Las Vegas. Mr. Riess, a professional poker player, beat out amateur player (and casino VIP host) Jay Farber and took down $8,359,531…before taxes. Mr. Riess, who went by the nickname “Riess the Beast,” kept holding good hand after good hand and came from behind to beat Mr. Farber. Riess’s final hand was AK (which dominated his opponent’s Q5). When neither player made a pair, Riess’s Ace-high won him the hand, and the tournament.
Gambling winnings are taxable in the United States for both amateurs and professionals. Mr. Riess doesn’t have to deal with state income tax (Nevada doesn’t have a state income tax). However, he does have to pay both federal income tax and federal self-employment tax. I estimate that Mr. Riess will owe $3,478,818 to the IRS (a 42% tax rate). Mr. Riess, who in interviews say he has trouble in the past saving money, will hopefully save up the $3.5 million he’ll owe in taxes.
Mr. Farber didn’t do badly by finishing second; he earned $5,174,357. As an amateur gambler he doesn’t have to worry about self-employment tax. Still, he’ll have to fork over an estimated $2,026,527 in tax (39%)
In third place was professional Amir Lehavot from Weston, Florida. Mr. Lehavot will have to be satisfied with the $3,727,823 he received (before taxes). A professional gambler, Mr. Lehavot (who is married) will lose an estimated $1,549,200 to federal taxes. Mr. Lehavot, a resident of Florida, does not have to worry about state tax on his winnings.
A note before I move on: Mr. Lehavot sold pieces of his action (backing). It’s likely that his true winnings will be significantly less than the amount shown above. Unless I know with certainty from public sources regarding backing, I ignore it for this analysis.
Finishing fourth was the man who I think was the biggest winner, Sylvain Loosli. Mr. Loosli, a Frenchman, relocated to London, England. I suspect taxes were definitely one of his motives with his move: The United Kingdom does not tax gambling winnings from its residents including professional gamblers (Mr. Loosli is a professional). The tax climate in France is anything but pleasant; Socialist President François Hollande has asked for a 75% marginal tax rate! While President Hollande has been rebuffed on that rate, the current maximum French marginal tax rate is 49%. That nice round zero in the United Kingdom sure sounds good in comparison to that! While Mr. Loosli finished fourth, his net winnings put him into third place. (The US-UK Tax Treaty exempts gambling income from UK residents from US tax.) His gross (and net) winnings were $2,792,533.
J.C. Tran, a professional poker player from Sacramento, finished fifth for $2,106,893. Mr. Tran led the final nine players going into final table action but had a disappointing day on Monday. Mr. Tran may also be disappointed when he learns how much of his income will go toward taxes; he faces the highest tax bite for an American at the final table (47.56%). Mr. Tran will end up with a very high 13.3% marginal tax rate on his California taxes; he must also pay federal tax (including the new 39.6% rate) and self-employment tax. Mr. Tran will owe an estimated $1,001,977 in tax.
The sixth place finisher was Marc-Etienee McLaughlin of Brossard, Quebec. Mr. McLaughlin will lose 30% of his winnings “off the top” to US tax withholding (though he can file a return to recover some of this based on his other US gambling losses). Additionally, he probably owes Canadian and provincial tax on his winnings.
The tax regime in Canada for gamblers is not as certain as it is in the US. The Quebec tax authorities are more aggressive than other provinces in collecting income tax from professional gamblers. Additionally, the rulings of Canadian courts on the taxation of gambling have not been consistent. For example, a professional gambler in British Columbia was recently found not to owe Canadian income tax on his gambling winnings. (That ruling may be appealed, though.)
Still, given that Mr. McLaughlin lives in Quebec I think he’ll end up having to pay tax on his winnings. He should get a full tax credit for the tax withheld by the US. Unfortunately, Quebec has the highest marginal tax rate in Canada for income–50%. Overall, Mr. McLaughlin will likely owe over 49.5% on tax ($792,935 of his $1,601,024 of winnings).
Michael Brummelhuis of Amsterdam finished seventh. The US-Netherlands Tax Treaty exempts his income from US taxation. The Netherlands taxes gambling winnings at a flat 29%; thus, Mr. Brummelhuis will owe $355,353 on his winnings of $1,225,356. Note that while Mr. Brummelhuis finished in seventh place, on an after-tax basis he finished in sixth.
Finishing eighth was David Benefield of New York City. Mr. Benefield, a student at Columbia University, is a former professional poker player. While he won’t owe self-employment tax, Mr. Benefield does have to pay both state and city income tax on his winnings. Of the $944,650 he won, I estimate he’ll owe $437,201 in tax (46%).
Mark Newhouse of Los Angeles finished in ninth place. A professional poker player, Mr. Newhouse did not win anything additional to the $733,224 he took home in July. I estimate he’ll lose just over 44% to tax ($322,879)
Here’s a table summarizing the tax bite:
|Amount won at Final Table
|Tax to IRS
|Tax to Belastingdienst (Netherlands)
|Tax to Franchise Tax Board (California)
|Tax to Canada Revenue Agency
|Tax to New York Dept. of Taxation & Finance
That’s a total tax bite of 37.18%.
Here’s a second table with the winners sorted by their estimated take-home winnings:
|1. Ryan Riess
|2. Jay Farber
|4. Sylvain Loosli
|3. Amir Lehavot
|5. J.C. Tran
|7. Michael Brummelhuis
|6. Marc-Etienee McLaughlin
|8. David Benefield
|9. Mark Newhouse
Once again the big winner was not the man who came in first; rather, it was the Internal Revenue Service. The tax agency has been rocked by scandals this past summer but it did very well at the Rio. The IRS will collect $8,626,311 for the United States Treasury. That’s more than the pre-tax first place prize of $8,359,531, over $3 million more than the after-tax first place prize, and more than the combined first and second place after-tax amounts. That’s because we all know that the house–the IRS–always wins.