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March Madness: Tax Rules for Gamblers

Bea Rosenberg

According to the American Gaming Association, nearly 40 million Americans filled out brackets for last year’s tournament and bet an estimated $2 billion. Total wagering on the tournament runs as high as $9 billion. If you’re planning to hit the jackpot with your bracket or other gambling ventures, you’ll need to know about the applicable federal income tax rules.

You must report 100% of your wagering winnings as taxable income on your Form 1040. The value of complimentary goodies (“comps”) provided by gambling establishments must also be included in taxable income because comps are considered gambling winnings. These amounts are subject to your regular federal income tax rate, which can be as high as 39.6%.

If you itemize deductions, you can write off wagering losses on Schedule A of Form 1040. However, allowable wagering losses are limited to your winnings for the year, and any excess losses cannot be carried over to future years. Also, out-of-pocket expenses for transportation, meals, lodging, and so forth do not count as gambling losses and, therefore, cannot be written off at all.

If you qualify as a professional gambler, your wagering winnings and losses are reported on Schedule C of Form 1040. However, deductions for wagering losses are limited to your winnings, and any excess wagering losses cannot be carried over to future years (same as for amateurs). The good news here is that you can also deduct travel expenses and other out-of-pocket costs of being a professional gambler.

In any case, you must adequately document wagering losses (and out-of-pocket nonwagering expenses if you are a professional) to claim a deduction. The government says you must compile the following information in a log or similar record:

  1. The date and type of specific wager or wagering activity.
  2. The name and address or location of the gambling establishment.
  3. The names of other persons (if any) present with you at the gambling establishment. (Obviously, this is not possible when the gambling occurs at a public venue such as a casino, race track, or bingo parlor.)
  4. The amount won or lost.

For example, the IRS says you can document income and losses from wagering on table games by recording the number of the table that you played and by keeping statements showing casino credit that was issued to you. For lotteries, your wins and losses can be documented by winning statements and unredeemed tickets.

Last but not least, be aware that amounts you win may have to be reported to you on IRS Form W-2G (“Certain Gambling Winnings”). In some cases, federal income tax may have to be withheld, too. Anytime a Form W-2G is issued to you, the IRS gets a copy. So the government will expect to see the winnings show up on your tax return.  If sharing a cash prize with a group, you’ll also need IRS Form 5754 to file your taxes.

Please call us if you have questions or want more information on the tax rules for gambling activities.

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