Sports Betting Tax Tips And Advice From An H&R Block Analyst

Written By Sean Chaffin on March 12, 2020 - Last Updated on March 13, 2020

Tax Day is right around the corner, and sports wagering winnings should be part of a bettor’s annual filing.

Nathan Rigley, a lead tax research analyst at H&R Block, spoke with to offer advice for bettors making preparations for 2018 and beyond.

The first thing to realize is that any winnings are taxable and bettors should include it on a tax return.

“Just because a taxpayer doesn’t receive a tax form, (it) does not make the winnings tax-free,” he said. “Taxpayers still have a responsibility to report their prize on their tax return as ‘other income.’”

Don’t neglect to report it

Don’t be caught unaware. No matter the amount, gambling winnings are taxable. Those winning a substantial amount are likely to receive a tax form, and the IRS will also receive that form.

Those winnings will usually be reported via form W-2G or 1099-Misc. The IRS will then compare the information to the taxpayer’s return. Not reporting can be costly, triggering penalties and interest.

“Failing to report the prize as income is the surest way to get audited,” Rigley said.

That could certainly be uncomfortable and cause the type of scrutiny most bettors would like to avoid.

Record keeping 101

Serious bettors must not only be savvy with betting lines, but also with record keeping. The IRS advises gamblers to keep an accurate diary or record to substantiate wins and losses on a tax return.

Plato keep track. A little extra work can pay big dividends in the long run. Rigley recommends bettors include the following in their records:

  • The date and type of each wager.
  • The name and location of the bet.
  • The names of other people with the bettor at the betting establishment.
  • The amount won or lost.

Bettors should also keep verifiable documentation of losses, which include:

  • Wagering tickets
  • Canceled checks
  • Credit card records

Mobile wagering makes keeping track of wagers much easier. Players should have easy access to bets made throughout the year. That helps in reporting overall wagering income.

Track those wins and losses

Bettors should keep track of their winnings, but also their losses. If they won big and show a profit for the year, they can offset winnings with losses to help lower a tax burden.

Only winners can deduct losses, and the full amount of winnings and losses must be reported when filing. However, Rigley notes that gamblers may deduct losses, but only by as much as they report in winnings.

For example, suppose a taxpayer entered two betting pools: One at the office and one among friends. Both had a $10 entry fee, and the player won $100 from the office pool. The bettor should report $90 in winnings, deducting the $10 fee.

For itemizing, the entry fee from the losing pool and other gambling losses could be taken as an itemized deduction. That would be capped, however, at a maximum of the amount won being reported, in this case, $90.

Do the new tax laws have any impact?

Taxpayers will notice some changes when filing this year. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changed many aspects regarding itemized deductions. That includes the elimination of some deductions that were subject to a 2% floor of adjusted gross income.

“This has been impactful for many taxpayers,” Rigley said. “Luckily, the deduction for gambling losses, though a miscellaneous deduction, was not subject to this floor.”

This is advantageous to gamblers. They can continue to claim gambling losses as an itemized deduction to the extent of their gambling income.

Sports betting as a full-time job

The majority of bettors may fall into the recreational or hobby group. But those who bet professionally as their sole means of earning a living have different benefits and requirements.

These bettors would need to file as a business with a Schedule C form.

Filing as a business allows deducting expenses, but also subjects them to self-employment tax and possibly quarterly estimated payments. It’s as if that bettor runs his or her business and files accordingly.

The new tax laws have had some changes on this aspect, however. Bettors can no longer deduct non-wagering business expenses in excess of net wagering income. Thus, reporting a loss as a gambler isn’t possible.

Planning for next year

The new sports betting landscape has brought many more into the wagering ecosystem. Players new to betting may want to start planning for filing their 2019 taxes.

Rigley strongly advises maintaining detailed gambling records.

“The foundation of any tax return is one’s records,” he said. “In order to ensure the best outcome on the tax return, you have to make sure you can back up anything reported on your return, including the reporting of inherently personal activities like gambling.”

And if you do make a nice score, Rigley suggests making that first check to the tax man.

Set aside an estimated payment on taxes you’ll owe on those winnings.

“This is essentially a deposit toward your tax liability,” he said. “The reason we suggest this is that it helps to avoid any underpayment penalties for failing to deposit enough taxes throughout the year. And, psychologically, it seems easier to write that check when the income is new rather than be hit with the balance due down the road when the return is filed.”

Here’s hoping that big win comes, though bettors should plan on paying Uncle Sam.

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Sean Chaffin

Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and host of the True Gambling Stories podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @PokerTraditions.

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