Sports betting: Get ready to pay tax on your winnings

Friends watching a game together, not worried about tax on sports betting.Image: Friends watching a game together, not worried about tax on sports betting.

In a Nutshell

A May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the door for states to legalize sports betting. Gambling winnings of any kind have always been considered taxable income. If you live in a state that’s legalized wagering on sports — and you’re planning to partake — it’ll pay to know how the IRS will tax sports betting.
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This article was fact-checked by our editors and Christina Taylor, MBA, senior manager of tax operations for Credit Karma.

Until a May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the door for every state to legalize sports betting, just four states allowed wagering on sports — Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon. Legality, however, hasn’t stopped Americans from betting on sports. In fact, the American Gaming Association estimates that Americans spend more than $150 billion a year on illegal sports betting.

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Mississippi and Rhode Island have legalized sports betting. And other states are considering laws to permit wagering on sports.

But when you gamble on sports, it won’t matter to the IRS if your winnings came from a legal bet or from one that’s off the books. Your winnings are taxable income either way.

If you plan to do some wagering in a state that’s legalized sports betting, it’s important to understand how tax on your winnings will work. Let’s take a look at how the IRS treats gambling winnings of any kind.

Sports-betting winnings are taxable income

The big question for sports gamblers: Are your winnings taxable income? As we said above, the answer is yes.

“Gambling winnings are fully taxable and you must report the income on your tax return,” the IRS says. “Gambling income includes but isn’t limited to winnings from lotteries, raffles, horse races and casinos. It includes cash winnings and the fair market value of prizes, such as cars and trips.”

Although sports betting isn’t one of the examples, it’s still covered by “gambling winnings.”

Whether sports betting is legal in the state where you place your bet doesn’t matter to the IRS. If you win, you have taxable income, which should be reported when you file your tax return.

These rules apply only to casual sports bettors. If you’re a pro — “in the trade or business of gambling,” as the IRS puts it — different rules apply.

How much tax you’ll owe depends on your personal tax situation and tax bracket.

You might also owe state income tax on any money you win from betting on sports, depending on which state you live in. For example, Nevada doesn’t have a state income tax. But Maryland does, and it considers winnings from gambling taxable income. If you win money betting on sports, check with your state to see if it taxes gambling winnings.

Form W-2G: Evidence of your sports-betting win

So you win a couple thousand bucks betting on your favorite sports team. How will the IRS know if you don’t tell it? Well, whomever you won the money from — a casino, racetrack, etc. — is supposed to report your winnings to the IRS on Form W-2G. The form tells the IRS some important information, including …

  • Contact information for the payer who awarded you the winnings, including phone number, address and federal tax identification number
  • Your name, address and taxpayer identification number
  • How much you won
  • When you won it
  • What kind of wager you made
  • And how much, if any, federal and state income tax the payer withheld from your winnings

Generally, the payer has to report your winnings if …

  • You won $1,200 or more from a bingo game or slot machine
  • You raked in $1,500 or more at keno
  • Your poker victory tops $5,000
  • You won $600 or more and your winnings are at least 300 times the amount of your bet (bingo, slots, keno and poker are exceptions to this rule)
  • The payor withheld federal income tax on the winnings

Penalties for not reporting sports-betting income

Of course, the IRS wants you to report all your taxable income, and if you don’t you could face penalties and interest on any tax you owed but didn’t pay.

Generally, the penalty for not paying income tax that you owe is 0.5% of the unpaid tax. That rate is assessed monthly until you pay the tax you owe. Unpaid tax and penalties typically accrue interest, too — 5% compounded daily from the due date of your tax return to the date when you actually pay in full the balance of any tax, penalties and interest you owe.

However, if you’re caught intentionally omitting income — like gambling winnings — from your tax return in order to avoid paying tax on that income, it could mean additional penalties. According to the tax code, trying to “evade or defeat” tax you owe on income you’re required to report could be a felony with fines of up to $100,000 for individuals or five years in prison. Plus, people convicted of tax evasion can be held responsible for the costs of prosecution.

Lose a sports bet? It might be deductible!

Just as sports-betting winnings are considered taxable income, losses may be tax-deductible if …

  • You itemize your deductions
  • You keep detailed records of your winnings and losses

“To deduct your losses, you must keep an accurate diary or similar record of your gambling winnings and losses and be able to provide receipts, tickets, statements or other records that show the amount of both your winnings and losses,” the IRS says.

Any losses you deduct cannot exceed winnings that you report when you file your return. For example, if you reported winnings of $5,000, you could deduct losses only up to that amount. Additional losses would not be deductible. And if you lost $5,000 but didn’t win anything, you wouldn’t be able to deduct those losses at all.

If you’re eligible to deduct your sports-betting losses — or any other gambling losses — you’ll do so on Schedule A.

Bottom line

More than a quarter of Americans like to bet on football, 21% are interested in betting on baseball or basketball, and 20% would put some money down on a hockey game, according to Nielsen Sports. If you’re a fan of sports wagering, it’s important to understand that tax on sports betting is nothing new.

The IRS has always considered gambling winnings taxable income, and it expects you to report all your taxable income — even the money you win betting on sports.

If you’ll be reporting gambling winnings on your federal income tax return, or hoping to write off some gambling losses, be sure to keep detailed records of your wagers and losses.

Christina Taylor is senior manager of tax operations for Credit Karma. She has more than a dozen years of experience in tax, accounting and business operations. Christina founded her own accounting consultancy and managed it for more than six years. She co-developed an online DIY tax-preparation product, serving as chief operating officer for seven years. She is the current treasurer of the National Association of Computerized Tax Processors and holds a bachelor’s in business administration/accounting from Baker College and an MBA from Meredith College. You can find her on LinkedIn.

About the author: Marcie Geffner is an award-winning freelance reporter, editor, writer and book critic. Her work has been featured online and in print by the Chicago Sun-Times, Fox Business Network Online, Los Angeles Times, The Washi… Read more.