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CASINOS AND SOCIAL SECURITY

by Jean Scott

Jean Scott is the author of the best-selling book "The Frugal Gambler," a casino guide for thrifty low rollers. She has also written "Tax Help for Gamblers," a practical guide to help gamblers cope with the complex regulations of the IRS. Her most recent book, " Frugal Video Poker," is a complete how-to guide for video poker players at all levels, from beginners to the experience. A helpful companion to that book is "The Frugal Video Poker Scouting Guide." Jeans books and software are available at a 10 percent discount in our BJI Store.

The horror stories pour in when the subject of Social Security numbers and casinos is brought up on Internet gambling forums. Here’s a sample of three recent postings:

"A couple of years ago, a friend hit a $2,000 royal flush at an Indian casino in Wisconsin. He did not carry his Social Security card with him and, as a result, they wouldn’t pay him anything. They did allow him to return later with the card and get his money, but it proved to be a huge hassle."

"One casino in Florida will withhold federal income tax if you cannot present a valid Social Security card—no exceptions—they wouldn’t even take my valid military ID card with SSN and photo on it."

"Recently my friend was playing bingo at a California casino and hit a $3000 jackpot. However, the casino would not pay her the money at that time because she didn’t have her Social Security card with her. They said she had 24 hours to bring it in and then they would pay her.This was very inconvenient for her as she lived quite a good distance from the casino and hadn’t planned on making the trip there again the next day."

We all know that identity theft is a big problem and we’ve been warned not to carry anything that has our Social Security number on it. Nevertheless, the message hasn’t seemed to have gotten to some casinos. I hear of problems with this issue, usually from someone who was playing in a small or newly-opened casino, where often employees haven’t been trained yet in federal governmental regulation areas.

There is no federal or state law that requires a US citizen to give written proof of his SS # when he is issued a W-2G; he or she can provide it verbally or write it down. However, the casino is responsible for having the correct # on the W-2G. This is why many casinos do ask for the actual SS card if your number is not already in their database (i.e. from previous W-2G's). However, you may ask how the casino can be sure that a customer gives the correct SS number. The IRS has provided a form the casino can give to the player, known as a W-9 form- Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification- (sample is in the Appendix of my book Tax Help for Gamblers). By signing this form, you are certifying, under penalties of perjury, that this is your Social Security number. This relieves the casino of the responsibility for accuracy and puts in onto the player’s shoulders.  

I hear your next question already. No, you don’t have to give your Social Security number at all – and the casino must pay you your jackpot - but in that case, the IRS requires that the casino withholds 28% of the winnings for federal income tax.

As shown by the posts at the beginning of this article, some casinos seem to mix up Social Security cards and ID cards. You do have to show a valid ID, or the casino can refuse to pay off a W-2G jackpot until you do. You do not have to show your original Social Security card. In fact, it is written right on your Social Security card that it is not be used as identification.

What can you do if a casino doesn’t seem to be following the IRS rules and requires an original Social Security card before they will pay you a W-2G Jackpot? First, I’d ask to speak to a supervisor or even a senior casino executive rather than argue with a lower-level employee. All casinos should - and usually do - have W-9 forms for you to fill out and you can strongly request/demand that the casino gives you one to sign. If that doesn’t work, you could Google the IRS Web site on your smart phone or suggest this be done on a casino computer. In fact, some gamblers who play in small or Native American casinos carry W-9 forms with them. (They can be printed out from the IRS Web site or you can order one at the IRS order-form toll-free number.)

There is another circumstance in a casino where a Social Security number problem might arise, and that’s when they have to complete a Currency Transaction Report (CTR), a form the casino is required to use (by IRS) to track financial transactions from $3,000 to $10,000. Again, the casino is not required to record your SS number on this form for amounts less than $10,000, but that won’t stop them from sometimes asking. Furthermore, if you refuse this information, the employee might count this, in his opinion, as "suspicious activity," filling out another report called the SAR (Suspicious Activity Report). This report goes to a financial-crimes tracking organization within the US Treasury. Since the casino is not required to tell you they are filling out this form, you may have no idea that your gambling information is going to a government agency.

Go to the book Tax Help for Gamblers where the chapter titled "Federal Government Issues" gives more details on this subject.

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