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Gambling and taxes, part 1: fantasy sports leagues

In Texas and across the country, the "Friday night lights" are back on. Colleges and the NFL have kicked off new seasons as well, as football again takes center stage in many people's leisure activities.

Of course, football-following fever goes way beyond going to a stadium or watching games on TV. Internet-based sites now enable the creation of fantasy leagues that pay out real dollars to the winners.

Are these fantasy leagues a form of gambling? We will address that question in the first of a two-part post on gambling and taxes.

Fantasy sports leagues aren't exclusive to football. They also exist for NBA basketball, baseball and other sports.

Fantasy players typically pay a fee and participate in a draft to choose real players for their teams. Once the teams are chosen, points are awarded based on how the real players perform statistically.

Until recently, the amount of money involved was quite modest. But in 2015, big-money sites such as Draft Kings moved into the market, offering the potential for multi-million dollar winnings in some cases.

Regardless of whether the amount won is large or small, however, it is a legitimate question how income (or losses) from fantasy sports leagues should be reflected when filing taxes.

The law in this area is by no means settled. Indeed, there is considerable uncertainty about how fantasy sports should be classified for tax purposes.

Classifying fantasy sports as gambling is one of the possibilities. But fantasy sports could also conceivably be classified as a hobby or even as an activity or business.

And even within the classification of gambling, there are distinctions between casual gambling and professional gambling.

In short, the question of the tax status of big-time fantasy sports is up in the air, like a kickoff lofting toward the end zone.

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