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How The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) Affects Fantasy Sports

Fantasy sports is becoming increasingly popular, with 59.3 million people playing in the United States and Canada, creating a $7 billion industry. With this though, comes tax implications for winners.  The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) provides tax opportunities and drawbacks that fantasy players should understand.

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There is currently an ongoing debate how winnings should be classified and where they should be reported. Are the winnings considered gambling income or hobby income? The TCJA does not clarify the definition of gambling and to date the IRS has not weighed in as to whether fantasy sports winnings are hobby or gambling income. If fantasy sports are not considered gambling, then the hobby loss rules would apply. In this case, the TCJA eliminates the taxpayers’ ability to deduct any fantasy expenses even if there is fantasy income. Prior to the TCJA, hobby losses were deductible as miscellaneous deductions subject to the 2% adjusted gross income (AGI) floor.

Many have argued that fantasy sports are ‘wagering transactions’ thereby allowing fantasy sports losses to be deductible to the extent of their winnings. Previously, gambling losses were assumed to be the cost of placing the wager, but TCJA suggests that other expenses that are ordinary and necessary to execute wagering transactions are deductible. For traditional gamblers, this includes the ability to deduct expenses related to travel, lodging, etc., to the extent of winnings – but fantasy players may have different ‘ordinary and necessary’ expenses. Potentially deductible fantasy sports expenses under TCJA include: fantasy-related online subscriptions and magazines; cost of any office equipment/space exclusively dedicated to fantasy sports; 50% of food costs at fantasy sports draft parties; and cost of any punishments for losing in a fantasy sports league. Losses from other gambling activities, like traditional casinos, could also be used to offset fantasy sports winnings.

For casual fantasy players, the increase in the standard deduction under the TCJA will reduce the number of taxpayers that itemize, thereby eliminating any potential benefit of fantasy-related expenses, since the deductions allowed are classified as “other itemized deductions” on the schedule A.

For the serious fantasy player, treating gambling as a trade or business may be useful. It is important to remember that taxpayers who recognize profits on their schedule C will be subject to both income and self-employment taxes, so it may not always be beneficial to consider yourself a professional. In the case of the serious professional fantasy player, income and expenses will be reported on schedule C, negating the need to itemize in order to take advantage of the deductions.  The TCJA does have one downfall for professional gamblers; prior to the new tax law, gambling expenses such as travel and lodging were not considered gambling losses, which meant they were not limited to gambling winnings. This allowed professional gamblers to have a net loss on gambling activities. Under the TCJA, these expenses are defined as wagering losses, therefore are limited to the extent of gambling winnings. Those who identify themselves as professionals have the burden to prove their activity is regularly pursued full-time, and to produce a livable income. Taxpayers should expect to hear from the IRS when claiming to be a professional.

Whether a taxpayer is a professional or a casual player, it is very important to keep all records as the burden of proof is on the taxpayer. While gambling is reported on W-2G, fantasy sports sites typically issue 1099-Misc to players winning more than $600. The IRS suggested that the net method of reporting (reports winnings from contests less the entry fees for any contest won) was the appropriate way to calculate winnings, but not all fantasy sports sites comply. It is important for a taxpayer to know how the site they are using reports winnings.

In summary, under the TCJA, fantasy players may benefit by treating their fantasy sports as gambling and claiming fantasy-related expenses that were not previously deductible.

Important Dates In Post-Revolution American Tax History

The Revolutionary War was sparked in part by the British imposing taxes on the American colonists without their permission or consent.

Once the colonists had freed themselves from British rule, it was time to establish a government that could pay the debts it had incurred during the conflict.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

1777 – Articles of Confederation

This was the first constitution of the newly formed United State. It favored decentralization of power, which means that Congress was not given the power to tax.

1781  – Report on Public Credit

Robert Morris, Superintendent of finance, wanted the federal government to own the debt it incurred then issue interest-bearing debt certificates while imposing tariffs and internal taxes.

His proposal was shut down by numerous states over the next few years.

1787 – Ratification of the Constitution

The ratification of the Constitution shifted the focus of power to the federal government and away from individual states.

This gave the federal legislature the power to impose tariffs and coin money, along with the flexibility to collect excises and levy taxes directly on individual citizens.

1789 – Tariff of 1789

This tax bill included the original 5% duty on imports, as well as a list of special items that would be taxed at specific amounts.

1790 – Report on Public Credit

This new tax plan worked on two basic principles:

  • Redemption – Congress would redeem at face value all the securities issued by the Confederation government. These old notes would be exchanged for new government securities with interest of about 4%. This plan aimed to intertwine the wealthy Americans who had financed the initial government with the new government.

  • Assumption – The national government would take on outstanding war debts of the states. This would concentrate the nation wealth into the hands of the wealthy merchant class so they would be able to invest in the nation’s economy and other critical innovations.

1791 – Whiskey Excise Tax

This was a tax specifically for spirit distillers and imposed a 7 cents to 18 cent per gallon tax. This was not a popular tax, as spirits were often used as a form of currency out west.

1794 – Uprising Quelled

North Carolina and Western Pennsylvania were in a state of civil unrest after being cited by the federal government for dodging taxes.

The federal government forced the states to send militia to occupy these territories and take down any organized resistance.

President Madison appealed to Congress for a Declaration of War against Britain as the tension between the two countries reached a head.

There was a lot of conflict over fundraising for the war, but Congress eventually settled on doubling the tariff schedule.

 

Important Dates In Colonial American Tax History

In the spirit of summer, we’re creating a series containing some of the important dates in US tax history.

blog dates in history

Credit: Matt Briney on Unsplash

Why is this something we talk about in July? Back on July 4, 1776, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, a document that stated the American colonies wouldn’t accept British rule — or taxation.

But that’s just one key date in the history of American taxes. Let’s look at critical years and dates that lead up to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

 1733 Molasses Act

This tax was imposed to keep the American colonies buying from the British West Indies and not the lower cost imported options. The imposition of this act was effective the first year then led to corruption.

 1764 Sugar Act

An extension of the Molasses Act, this act increased the tariff per gallon on molasses. It was enforced by prohibiting vessels from shipping directly to the colonies. Ships would have to unload their cargo, pay tariffs, then reload and proceed to the colonies. It also expanded what the Crown could tax.

 1765 Stamp Act

This act said that every official document in the colonies would need a stamp on it. This was done to solely to increase the revenue of the British government, which caused opposition to emerge.

 1766 Declaratory Act

This act repealed the Stamp Act while also declaring that the American colonies are subordinate to the British Government and so the government had the right to tax them. As you can imagine, this didn’t go over well.

 1767 Townshend Acts

This act taxed 72 addition imports including paint, tea, and paper. The revenue raised was to fund the salaries of colonial officers and its administration. The protests from this act eventually caused the Boston Massacre.

 March 5, 1770 – Boston Massacre

What started as a protest of angry American colonists harassing a single British soldier escalated to a bloody conflict where several colonists were shot and killed. This was used to fan the flames of anti-British sentiment.

 1773 Tea Act

This act established that only tea from the East India Trading Company could be sold in the American colonies. The new tea was cheaper, but it hurt independent shop owners, shippers, and smugglers, which is why it caused a backlash.

 December 16, 1773 – Boston Tea Party

Protesters dumped more than 300 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor in protest of the 1773 tea act.

 1774 Coercive Acts

The British pass a series of policies designed to reestablish authority over the American colonies. One of the provisions was Boston Harbor would remain closed until the colonist paid the East India Trading Company for the losses of the tea party.

 July 4, 1776

The Declaration of Independence is adopted after days of the discussions and 12 of 13 colonies agreeing to succeed. The actual signing of the Declaration didn’t occur until August 2.

 

Taxation is a large portion of why the American colonies felt it necessary to break away from England. Taxation continues to be a large part of America’s history, especially in the years immediately following the Revolution.

 

We’ll cover that time period next.

 

Any U.S. tax advice contained in the body of this website is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by the recipient for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code or applicable state or local tax law provisions.