Daily Fantasy Sports And Taxes: Dissecting The 1099s

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This is the first in a four-part series about paying taxes on daily fantasy sports.

Did you receive a tax form as a result of your daily fantasy sports play in 2015? It may look like this, or this. Even if you played and won and did not receive any tax forms, there still may be an obligation to report and pay taxes on winnings.

Reporting taxes from DFS play in 2015 is not straightforward for players. The legal battles and legislative developments surrounding DFS in the United States leave us with unresolved questions that could affect how players sort through their tax situations.

Today begins a series of posts on DFS and taxes in the United States. This post will cover the impact of tax forms that players may receive as a result of DFS play.

In general, the sites do not consider DFS play as gambling, and issue tax forms based upon that assumption. To date, the Internal Revenue Service has not commented on whether it considers DFS play, or fantasy sports games in general, as gambling.

Gambling or not, all winnings on DFS sites are taxable under the Internal Revenue Code.

Some players mistakenly believe that DFS winnings are taxable only if the site issues them a tax form. What are the forms, and what do they mean?

Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income

A common practice for a DFS site is to issue a Form 1099-MISC to a player if the player won $600 or more on the site during the year. The amount of winnings should appear in Box 3, “Other income.” A copy of the form is also sent to the IRS.

How does a DFS site determine whether a player reached the $600 threshold?

FanDuel, for example, claims it computes a player’s “net profit” using the following formula for the calendar year:

Net profit = Prize Winnings – Entry Fees + Bonuses + FDP Entries

FDP stands for FanDuel Points, which are earned by players when they enter into a money game. As the points accumulate, the player may use the points to enter into paid contests.

It appears that if FanDuel issues a Form 1099-MISC, the amount reported captures all of the player’s activity for the year on the site. If FanDuel does not issue the form, the player could apply the same formula above to determine taxable winnings for the year from playing on the site.

Despite how the DFS sites calculate winnings, the IRS may nonetheless take the position that the formula above should include entry fees paid only from winning contests and exclude those from losing contests.

There is at least one indication of this position in a Private Letter Ruling issued by the IRS in 2005. In the PLR, the IRS advised an online gaming site on the appropriate Form 1099-MISC formula for computing player winnings from various games such as checkers, golf, 9-ball pool and mah-jongg.

Though a PLR binds only the IRS and the requesting taxpayer and cannot be cited as precedent by other taxpayers, this PLR may indicate how the IRS may rule on similar fact patterns in the future, as applied to DFS.

A lesson here is not to assume that all DFS sites apply the same formula as FanDuel. A player should know what is and is not included in each site’s Form 1099-MISC formula in order to be able to also report the items not included, if applicable. More on this in the next post.

Form 1099-K, Payment Card and Third Party Network Transactions

There is another tax form at play in the DFS world, the Form 1099-K. This form is not issued by DFS sites themselves. Instead it is issued by credit card or third-party merchants, such as PayPal.

In short, a payment merchant is required to issue Form 1099-K if a taxpayer receives more than 200 incoming payments that in the aggregate exceed $20,000.

A potential unfortunate outcome here is the double reporting of income.

Suppose my FanDuel net winnings for 2015 were $25,000, and I make more than 200 withdrawal requests (however unlikely) from PayPal that total $25,000. I will receive a Form 1099-MISC from FanDuel and a Form 1099-K from PayPal. My income from DFS play is $25,000. The IRS gets a copy of both forms and based on these forms alone, the IRS may think that my income was actually $50,000, rather than $25,000.

A more likely scenario is a DFS player who also runs an online business and receives payments through PayPal and other merchants. A 1099-K does not specify the activities generating the receipt of funds, so the amount reported on a 1099-K could represent a blend of DFS income and other income.

A lesson here is recognizing the 1099-K triggering thresholds and the added complications that could arise when tax forms are issued from two different companies on the same activity. It is important to remember that if the taxpayer receives fewer than 200 incoming payments from the merchant, the 1099-K will not be issued. Limiting the number of incoming payments may help avoid having to provide an explanation to the IRS later on.

Key takeaways on 1099s

How the income and expenses are reported to the IRS depend on whether DFS play is considered gambling. We will get into that next time.

Disclaimer: Nothing contained in this article is specific tax advice, as each person’s situation is different. Consult a tax professional to discuss particular facts and circumstances.