As Legal Sports Gambling Grows, So Does Growth in W-2G Reporting

Jesse Rooney
March 15, 2019

With the NCAA basketball tournament approaching, the US is gearing up for its biggest gambling weeks of the year. And while most “March Madness” pools might technically be illegal, legitimate sports betting is sweeping the US following last year’s landmark Supreme Court decision allowing states to legalize sports gambling in casinos.  

As legal sports gambling grows, so does the need for casinos and other gambling-sanctioning organizations to make sure they’re compliant with IRS reporting regulations for gambling winnings and losses. Plus, developments in the evolution of gambling continue–and not all of them will necessarily lead to more wagering.

Sports gambling in new states

Before the Supreme Court decision, the only state with legal sports gambling was Nevada. Since the decision, many state legislatures have introduced bills to legalize sports betting. In nine additional states, those bills have passed. New states with legal sports gambling include: Delaware, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

Effectively, casinos located in those states can now offer sports-betting services to gamblers who physically visit casino locations. (The fate of online sports gambling is far less certain at this point.) That means potentially millions more gamblers can place legal bets on sports than prior to the Supreme Court decision, when all legal bets took place only in Nevada.

The potential revenue for casinos is massive, and the tax information reporting burden for casinos is likely to be large as well. The form used for gambling winnings and losses is the W-2G. The IRS requires casinos to report W-2Gs for gambling transactions, and individual states often do as well.

Complications with sports-betting withholding

The threshold for reporting winnings on form W-2G for sports betting is actually fairly high: The winnings must total at least $600 or more and be at least 300 times the amount of the wager. Much of the reporting complexity involved lies within the withholding requirements for sports winnings. The federal threshold for withholding 24 percent of winnings from sports bets different from the W-2G threshold. The IRS withholds 24 percent if a transaction totals more than $5000 and is at least 300 times the amount wagered. States can also withhold at different rates.

Managing different thresholds both at the federal level and in state jurisdictions will be a lot for casinos to handle as form numbers jump with legalized betting in more states. The real challenge, though, for casinos will be ensuring that they have gamblers’ correct information for reporting purposes. This is where casinos could run into some real trouble with surprised and disgruntled customers.

Failure by a gambling winner to submit a correct tax identification number (TIN) to a casino triggers an additional 24 percent federal withholding on winnings. Yes, that’s 24 percent on top of the 24 percent withheld for the $5000/300 times threshold. (States can impose further withholding.) Some gamblers could be very surprised to find almost half their winnings withheld by the IRS. Casinos absolutely need to ensure that they have correct name-TIN combinations for gamblers, something they can achieve with real-time name-TIN matching. And, of course, they need to ensure compliance with IRS reporting requirements in order to avoid financial penalties.

Uncertain future for online sports gambling

Of course, all of those regulations apply to gamblers who physically visit casinos as opposed to betting online. In fact, the future, and arguably the present, of online gambling on sports is very much up in the air.

A Department of Justice memo from November made public in January that may threaten all online gambling. The memo essentially says that the DOJ considers interstate gambling of all types to fall under the Wire Act and thus be illegal. This is a reversal from the prior DOJ understanding that the Wire Act only made interstate sports gaming illegal. Effectively, this interpretation would close down online gambling.  

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision on sports gambling, the DOJ cannot prevent intrastate gambling. However, a broad interpretation of the DOJ memo leaves open that intermediate transactions that cross state lines could still be illegal, for example, when a New Jersey bettor places an online bet with a New Jersey bookmaker but that transacts through a Maryland bank or the bookmaker’s servers are hosted in Colorado.

The rules laid out in the memo will not be enforced before June 14, and legal challenges to the memo are already in process. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, the DOJ’s decision to reinterpret the Wire Act makes for a very uncertain future on online gambling, including online sports betting.

March Madness as a reminder

So, recent developments in sports betting won’t all necessarily lead to more gambling. And illegal sports gambling is likely to come under greater scrutiny in states where sports betting is legal. For instance, a bill before the New Jersey legislature seeks to increase penalties for unlawful bets, including unlawful sports bets on events such as high school and college games.  

However, the run-up to March Madness is a reminder that casinos and other organizations that pay winnings to gamblers need to have strategies for staying in compliance with state and IRS W-2G reporting regulations. Reporting on sports betting is only going to pick up in volume and likely become more complex.


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Sovos has been helping organizations stay compliant with tax information reporting for more than three decades. Contact Sovos to find out how to stay compliant in the new world of sports betting.

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Jesse Rooney

Jesse Rooney is regulatory counsel for Sovos. His research focuses on tax information reporting. He is a member of the Massachusetts bar.
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