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Is a full time gambler in the trade or business of gambling?  If the answer is yes, two results follow (one result which is good and one result which is not so good):  (1) the gambler is able to deduct under Section 162 of the Code all of the ordinary, necessary and reasonable expenses incurred in carrying on the business; and (2) the net income of the gambler, if any, is subject to self-employment tax under Section 1401 of the Code.

In 1987, the United States Supreme Court was presented with the issue of whether a full time gambler was engaged in the trade or business of gambling.  Commissioner v. Groetzinger, 480 US 23 (1987).  Justice Blackmun issued the court’s opinion.  The Supreme Court thoroughly reviewed the history of the phrase “trade or business” in the context of the Internal Revenue Code.  The court stated: “[T]o be engaged in a trade or business, the taxpayer must be involved in the activity with continuity and regularity and that the taxpayer’s primary purpose for engaging in the activity must be for income profit.  A sporadic activity, a hobby, or an amusement diversion does not qualify.”   Whether a taxpayer is engaged in a trade or business is a question of facts and circumstances.

In Groetzinger, evidence revealed the taxpayer spent substantial amounts of time preparing for and actually gambling.  He had been gambling for a long period of time; the activity was not sporadic.  It was continuous.  Mr. Groetzinger had no other “profession or type of employment.”  He engaged in gambling with the intent to make a profit.  The court ultimately concluded, gambling may constitute a trade or business, and based upon the facts presented, Mr. Groetzinger was engaged in the trade or business of gambling.

Mr. Groetzinger won the battle in that his victory allowed him to deduct is ordinary, necessary and reasonable expenses associated with his gambling activities.  He lost the war in part because his net income (if any) would now be subjected to self employment taxes.  The result was likely unsuspected by the taxpayer.

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Larry J. Brant
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Larry J. Brant is a Shareholder in Foster Garvey, a law firm based out of the Pacific Northwest, with offices in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; New York, New York, Spokane, Washington; and Beijing, China. Mr. Brant practices in the Portland office. His practice focuses on tax, tax controversy and transactions. Mr. Brant is a past Chair of the Oregon State Bar Taxation Section. He was the long-term Chair of the Oregon Tax Institute, and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Portland Tax Forum. Mr. Brant has served as an adjunct professor, teaching corporate taxation, at Northwestern School of Law, Lewis and Clark College. He is an Expert Contributor to Thomson Reuters Checkpoint Catalyst. Mr. Brant is a Fellow in the American College of Tax Counsel. He publishes articles on numerous income tax issues, including Taxation of S Corporations, Reasonable Compensation, Circular 230, Worker Classification, IRC § 1031 Exchanges, Choice of Entity, Entity Tax Classification, and State and Local Taxation. Mr. Brant is a frequent lecturer at local, regional and national tax and business conferences for CPAs and attorneys. He was the 2015 Recipient of the Oregon State Bar Tax Section Award of Merit.

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