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Can You Net Gambling Wins With Gambling Losses on Your Tax Return?

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Can You Net Gambling Wins With Gambling Losses on Your Tax Return?

tax attorney newport beach

Taxpayers who gamble casually (meaning they do not qualify as being professional gamblers under the tax code) can net wins and losses within a single session of gambling, but not from different days. The total of multi-session wins would be reportable as “other income” on Form 1040 but the total of multi-session losses would be reported on Schedule A under “Other Itemized Deductions,” up to the amount of your winnings.

Because casinos report larger winnings to the IRS on Form W-2G, failing to use this method may cause the IRS to see a discrepancy and trigger an audit. The general IRS advice on this topic can be found on the IRS’s website (click here).

The netting of wins and losses is addressed by the Tax Court in Shollenberger v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2009-306 (2009), where the court followed IRS guidance in stating:

A key question in interpreting §165(d) is the significance of the term “transactions.” The statute refers to gains and losses in terms of wagering transactions. Some would contend that transaction means every single play in a game of chance or every wager made. Under that reading, a taxpayer would have to calculate the gain or loss on every transaction separately and treat every play or wager as a taxable event. The gambler would also have to trace and recompute the basis through all transactions to calculate the result of each play or wager. Courts considering that reading have found it unduly burdensome and unreasonable. See Green v. Commissioner, 66 T.C. 538 (1976); Szkirscak [sic] v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 1980-129. Moreover, the statute uses the plural term “transactions” implying that gain or loss may be calculated over a series of separate plays or wagers.

The better view is that a casual gambler, such as the taxpayer who plays the slot machines, recognizes a wagering gain or loss at the time she redeems her tokens. We think that the fluctuating wins and losses left in play are not accessions to wealth until the taxpayer redeems her tokens and can definitively calculate the amount above or below basis (the wager) realized. See Commissioner v. Glenshaw Glass Co., 348 U.S. 426 (1955). For example, a casual gambler who enters a casino with $100 and redeems his or her tokens for $300 after playing the slot machines has a wagering gain of $200 ($300-$100). This is true even though the taxpayer may have had $1,000 in winning spins and $700 in losing spins during the course of play. Likewise, a casual gambler who enters a casino with $100 and loses the entire amount after playing the slot machines has a wagering loss of $100, even though the casual gambler may have had winning spins of $1,000 and losing spins of $1,100 during the course of play. [Fn. ref. omitted.]

Thus, the net win from the session as a whole (e.g., when the taxpayer actually cashes out for the day) would be reported under “other income” while the net loss from another day’s session would belong on Schedule A.

Fortunately, those who use casinos’ player cards often can get a statement from the casino breaking down daily wins and daily losses. Some casinos, however, decline to provide this level of detail to their own customers despite having such records. Instead, those casinos will provide only an annual net win or loss statement. As this may cause problems in an IRS audit if the auditor is a stickler for technicalities, a taxpayer may prefer to patronize casinos which provide the additional detail as a higher-level of customer service.

The author of this post is Daniel W. Layton, a former IRS trial attorney and ex-federal prosecutor in the Tax Division of the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney’s Office. He is a tax attorney representing private clients in Newport Beach and Fullerton, Orange County, California.

Posted on 12/11/2019 by Daniel Layton.

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