Gambling winnings and losses can affect your tax bill

Posted on Sep 21, 2010

From time to time, some of you are lucky enough to win a shilling or two at your local casino, the track, or your state lottery. How will that gambling income impact your taxes? 

All gambling winnings are taxable. This is true for cash winnings and for the fair market value of any non-cash prizes you might win (e.g., a car, vacation, etc.). Depending on your other income and the amount of your winnings, your federal tax on such winnings can go as high as 35%. You don’t receive any capital gains rate break for gambling winnings, nor is there any income averaging to help lower your tax bill. 

However, you are entitled to a tax deduction for gambling losses. These are taken as an itemized deduction and your losses can’t exceed your winnings. In other words, if you report no gambling income, you can’t report gambling losses. When you gamble and lose, you must keep documentary evidence of your losses (canceled checks, credit card charges, losing tickets, ATM receipts, etc.). Many casinos keep track of your wins and losses for electronic games if you belong to their player clubs.

But gambling deductions might not be all that beneficial. You can’t simply “net out” your winnings and losses. Instead you must report your entire winnings as income, and use your losses as itemized deductions. In many cases (especially for older taxpayers with little income other than social security benefits, and with very few itemized deductions), the losses might not be tax beneficial. If you take the standard deduction rather than itemizing deductions, you will receive no tax benefit whatsoever. However, the winnings could have a significant impact on your income and may cause you to pay additional taxes (such as making some of your social security benefits taxable when they otherwise wouldn’t be)

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