Dare to dream. Imagine you’ve had a great year at the online casino, poker rooms, sportsbooks, etc., running up a fat, healthy profit. So fat and healthy it is, in fact, that the Canadian government quite strongly desires a piece of those gambling winnings … or else, you know what we’re saying?
Understanding tax policy in Canada for casino gambling winnings begins with understanding that two factors are of chief importance: The total percentage of income taxed which gambling winnings comprise and, believe it or not, the types of games played. That includes all type of landbased and online casino games
The Income Tax Act is the overriding law regarding taxation in Canada. Among its myriad sections and sub-sections, “income from all sources” is defined as taxable. “Taxable income” is later defined as including money earned through employment, investment and/or land ownership – but not income derived from “windfall” earnings. More on this suspiciously vague term below.
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) tweaked the Income Tax Act more than once after the casino-building boom of the 1990s, ultimately deciding that “an individual may be subject to tax on income derived from gambling itself, if the gambling activities constitute carrying on the business of gambling.” This explanation is neatly circular in its reasoning, thereby allowing legal types to slowly codify definitions of terms such as “the business of gambling.”
Likely in response to the massive expansion of online gambling in Canada and legalization of some casinos online, the CRA released results of a review of the Income Tax Act with regard to taxation of gambling income.
The conclusions are far too long, cumbersome and legalistic to be quoted in any reasonable way in this space. Canadian players should note that the intention of turning a profit at gambling is crucial. A taxpayer who spends several hours a week gambling on online poker in the expectation of turning a profit, i.e. winning, that income is taxable: Activity such as this comprises the aforementioned “business of gambling.” The same would appear to go for sports betting and daily fantasy sports: After all, DFS sites like Draft Kings and Fan Duel have argued in court that their games are based in skill.
Winnings derived from games of chance (gambling), most notably lotteries and – yes – casino winnings may be counted as “windfall” payouts. The argument goes that no reasonable player of slots and roulette is developing a system that will allow him/her to turn a profit. In Canada, one needn’t pay for good fortune, it seems.
Interesting legal action could still result in one case, though. What would happen if a Canadian blackjack player went on a run and bagged several hundred thousand, yet refused to pay? Would his own counsel have to argue in court that the element of chance is more pervasive in blackjack than skill…? Crazy!