March Madness: Tax Tips for Gambling Income and Losses

By Rocky Mengle, Tax Editor

The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament–better known as March Madness–is one of the most exciting sporting events on the calendar. From Selection Sunday (March 17) to the cutting of the championship nets (April 8), millions of people are tuned in to the tournament and following their favorite teams for three straight weeks.

And, of course, there’s the betting. Through office pools, casinos, online gambling and more, billions of dollars are wagered on the Big Dance each year. But if you’re lucky enough to win some cash for having the best bracket or correctly picking the Final Four, don’t forget that Uncle Sam wants his cut, too. So, before you run out and spend your March Madness jackpot, here are 9 things to remember about taxes on gambling winnings.

You Have to Report All Your Winnings

Whether it’s $5 or $5,000, from an office pool or from a casino, all gambling winnings must be reported on your tax return as “other income” on Schedule 1 (Form 1040), line 21. If you win a non-cash prize, such as a car or a trip, report its fair market value as income.

And, please, make sure you report all your gambling winnings. If you won $500, report $500. The IRS isn’t hunting down office-pool winners, but you still don’t want to think of yourself as a tax cheat.

You Might Get a Form W-2G

You may receive an IRS Form W-2G if your March Madness winnings are at least $600 and the payout is at least 300 times the amount of your wager. Your reportable winnings will be listed in Box 1.

If a W-2G is required, the payer (casino, etc.) will need to see two forms of identification. One of them must be a photo ID. You’ll also have to provide your Social Security number or, if you have one, an individual taxpayer identification number.

In some cases, you’ll get the W-2G on the spot. Otherwise, for this year’s winnings, the payer must send the form to you by January 31, 2020. In any event, if your bet was with a casino, we’re fairly certain you’ll get the W-2G. But if your bet was with a friend or you won the office pool … well, don’t count on it.

Withholding Might Be Required

If you win more than $5,000 on a wager and the payout is at least 300 times the amount of your bet, the IRS requires the payer to withhold 24% of your winnings for income taxes. The amount withheld will be listed in Box 4 of the W-2G form you’ll receive. You’ll also have to sign the W-2G stating, under penalty of perjury, that the information listed on the form is correct.

When you file your 1040 next year, include the amount withheld on line 16 as federal income tax withheld. It will be subtracted from the tax you owe. You’ll also have to attach the W-2G form to your return.

Again, this is what to expect when you plunk down a bet at a casino or with some other legally operated gaming business…don’t expect your buddy or the guy in accounting who’s running the office pool to withhold taxes when you have the best bracket at work (although, technically, they should).

Your Losses Might Be Deductible

Hey, picking March Madness winners can be tough. There are always upsets (ask any Virginia fan), and a lot of brackets are busted after the first weekend. But there’s a silver lining if you lost a bet or two on tournament games–your gambling losses might be deductible. (Gambling losses include the actual cost of wagers plus related expenses, such as travel to and from a casino.)

There are a couple of important catches, though. First, unless you’re a professional gambler (more on that in a second), you have to itemize in order to deduct gambling losses (itemized deductions are claimed on Schedule A). Since the new tax law basically doubled the standard deduction, most people aren’t going to itemize anymore. So if you claim the standard deduction, you’re out of luck twice–once for losing your bet and once for not being able to deduct your gambling losses.

Second, you can’t deduct gambling losses that are more than the winnings you report on your return. For example, if you won $100 on one bet but lost $300 on a few others, you can only deduct the first $100 of losses. If you were totally down on your luck and had absolutely no gambling winnings for the year, you can’t deduct any of your losses.

If you’re a professional gambler, you can deduct your losses as business expenses on Schedule C without having to itemize. However, a note of caution: An activity only qualifies as a business if your primary purpose is to make a profit and you’re continually and regularly involved in it. Sporadic activities or hobbies don’t qualify as a business.

Report Winnings and Losses Separately

Gambling winnings and losses must be reported separately. Say, for example, you made four separate $100 bets on Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan and Kentucky making it to the Final Four. If one of those bets came through for a $500 payout, you must report the full $500 as taxable income. You can’t reduce your gambling winnings ($500) by your gambling losses ($300) and only report the difference ($200) as income. If you itemize, you can claim a $300 deduction for your losses, but your winnings and losses must be handled separately on your tax return.

Keep Good Records

To help you keep track of how much you’ve won or lost over the course of a year, the IRS suggests keeping a diary or similar record of your gambling activities. At a minimum, your records should include the dates and types of specific wagers or gambling activities, name and address/location of each casino you visited, names of other people with you at each casino, and the amounts you won or lost.

You should also keep other items as proof of gambling winnings and losses. For example, hold on to all W-2G forms, wagering tickets, canceled checks, credit records, bank withdrawals, and statements of actual winnings or payment slips provided by casinos.

Audit Risks May Be Higher

If you receive a W-2G form along with your gambling winnings, don’t forget that the IRS is getting a copy of the form, too. So the IRS is expecting you to claim those winnings on your tax return. If you don’t, the tax man isn’t going to be happy about it.

Deducting large gambling losses can also raise red flags at the IRS. Remember, casual gamblers can only claim losses as itemized deductions on Schedule A up to the amount of their winnings. It’s a slam dunk for IRS auditors if you claim more losses than winnings.

Be careful if you’re deducting losses on Schedule C, too. The IRS is always looking for supposed “business” activities that are really just hobbies.

State and Local Taxes May Apply

If you look carefully at Form W-2G you’ll notice that there are boxes for reporting state and local winnings and withholding. That’s because you may owe state or local taxes on your March Madness winnings, too.

The state where you live generally taxes all your income–including gambling winnings. However, if you travel to another state to plunk down a bet, you might be surprised to learn that the other state wants to tax your winnings, too. And they could withhold the tax from your payout to make sure they get what they’re owed. You won’t be taxed twice, though. The state where you live should give you a tax credit for the taxes you pay to the other state.

You may or may not be able to deduct gambling losses on your state tax return. Check with your state tax department for the rules where you live.

Non-Gambling Prizes Are Also Taxable

Prizes won in a contest that doesn’t involve betting are taxable, too. For instance, if you fill out a bracket for ESPN’s Tournament Challenge or CBS Sports’ Bracket Games (there’s no fee) and win a prize, you must report the fair market value of the prize (or, if cash, the amount won) as “other income” on Schedule 1 (Form 1040), line 21.

If the prize is worth $600 or more, you should receive a Form 1099-MISC with the prize amount/value listed in Box 3. The IRS will receive a copy of the 1099-MISC, too.

This article provided by NewsEdge.