John Daly Relied On Tax Records To Figure $90 Million Gambling Losses
You don’t think tax returns are handy?
Tell that to John Daly. Daly recently revealed that he ran the numbers and determined that his actual gambling losses were $90 million compared to $35 million in gambling wins. The numbers are so staggering that it shocked even him: he had only estimated the figures in prior conversation before deciding to review his tax records.
Daly’s net gambling losses over the period 1991-2007 totaled about $55 million. The famous golfer thought it was about half that, saying:
“We went through all my tax records to find out, because I really didn’t know, and it just came to that. I was shocked. I thought it might have been $20-25 (million), but I had no idea that it was $55-57 million. It’s crazy.”
Daly burst onto the scene in a big way in 1991 when the then relatively unknown 25 year old golfer managed a “zero to hero” win at the 1991 PGA Championship. He wasn’t even supposed to be at the tournament: he was the ninth alternate in the tournament, replacing Nick Price whose wife was having a baby.
As a college golfer, Daly had never won a tournament. As a kid, he taught himself to play, using golf balls he fished out of a pond in his native Dardanelle, Arkansas. And yet, he dominated the course, startling his competition – and perhaps himself.
His paycheck for that performance was $230,000 – nearly 40% more than he earned in total the year before. He didn’t keep his good fortune to himself, donating $30,000 of his winnings to the surviving children of a tourney spectator who had been struck by lightning and killed.
Daly’s generosity was perhaps only matched by his appetite for obsessive behaviors – like gambling and drinking – that would add to Daly’s colorful legacy. His drinking interfered with his play and his endorsements over the next several years. In 1995, he won the British Open, keeping him on the golf leaderboards. He became the only American golfer to win two major golf championships and numerous PGA championships but never participate in the invitation only Ryder Cup, prompting Daly to remark to a Canadian radio station, “I feel like I’m the Babe Ruth of golf… He always wanted to be a manager and he never got that chance. But it’s not something that breaks my heart or anything. As long as we hopefully win, that’s all that matters.”
Daly might have liked winning on the course but off the course, he just wanted the rush, win or lose. He said about gambling, “It was more about the adrenaline than the money … I loved the action.”
Sometimes, he lost more than a million dollars at a time. In 2006, he admitted that after losing a playoff to Tiger Woods, he drove to Las Vegas and gambled away $1.65 million in five hours. Over a nearly 15 year period, he threw away $90 million in losses on just $10,116,306 million in PGA tour winnings (and $35 million in gambling winnings).
Daly recognized, however, that those losses weren’t completely useless: he says that he kept detailed records of all of his big gambling sprees. That came in useful on those tax returns: while gambling winnings are fully taxable, you can also claim your losses.
Winnings are reported on your federal form 1040 as “Other Income” on line 21, including winnings that are not subject to withholding. Federal income tax generally is withheld at a flat 25% rate on gambling winnings of more than $5,000 from any sweepstakes, betting pool (including payments made to winners of poker tournaments) or lottery, or if the proceeds are at least 300 times the amount of the bet. However, gambling winnings from bingo, keno, and slot machines generally are not subject to income tax withholding: slot machines were one of Daly’s favorite targets. He admitted playing the $5,000 slots at the Wynn Casinos in Vegas quite often but says, “Now if I gamble, I play the $25 slots. If I hit something, I might move up to $100. But I don’t do what I used to do anymore.”
If you aren’t subject to withholding, you may need to pay estimated tax. If you don’t pay enough in taxes on your winnings through a combination of withholding or estimated tax, you may be subject to a penalty. That likely wasn’t an issue for Daly, who lost more than he won.
You may deduct gambling losses only if you itemize deductions on a schedule A. You claim gambling losses as “Other Miscellaneous Deductions” on line 28: they are not subject to the 2% limit. Unfortunately for Daly, you can’t report more in losses than you claim in winnings. You can’t use the net loss to offset other income or carry the loss forward or backwards to offset winnings in other years.
These are the rules for casual gamblers. You might think that Daly would qualify as a not-so-casual gambler but the burden to prove that you’re a professional gambler for tax purposes is pretty steep. Daly’s activities are less likely “pursued full time, in good faith, and with regularity, to the production of income for a livelihood” as outlined in Commissioner v. Groetzinger, 480 U.S. 23 (1987), and more believably, as a hobby. Just ask Daly. Despite tens of millions of dollars in gambling losses, Daly doesn’t seem to regret his behavior, saying, “I had a lot of fun doing it.”