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Comments on NJ iGaming Regs Part II: Account Transfers and Staking

We continue our discussion of New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement draft regulations for internet gaming with player-to-player transfers and staking considerations.

New Jersey’s draft iGaming regulations expressly prohibit player-to-player fund transfers.

N.J.A.C. 13:69O-1.3(g) reads: “A casino licensee shall not permit a patron to transfer funds to another patron.”

Nevada, the only jurisdiction in the U.S. currently with live real-money internet poker taking place, has promulgated the same prohibition in its interactive gaming regulations.

Why, at least initially, are states prohibiting player-to-player fund transfers?

The transfer of funds from one account to another inherently raises money laundering questions.

In the United States, the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) is the primary anti-money laundering federal statute. Under the BSA, casinos are required to report to the U.S. Department of Treasury certain suspicious financial transactions. (Read this for background discussion on how the BSA may apply to intrastate iGaming in the U.S.) It’s possible a player-to-player transfer on an iGaming site could be deemed suspicious, implicating the BSA.

Player-to-player transfers would require iGaming operators to have suitable mechanisms in place to ensure compliance with the BSA. Developing and testing such mechanisms would almost certainly significantly prolong the process an operator must endure before receiving approval from the regulators to launch an iGaming site.

Primarily for this reason, I believe New Jersey regulators, like Nevada, feel that the benefits from authorizing player-to-player transfers is outweighed by the added burdens in the early stages of the iGaming market.

Why do we care about having player-to-player transfers?

A player-to-player transfer adds much ease to engaging in staking activity. Suppose Player 1 agrees to pay for Player 2’s online poker tournament buy-in of $1,000. With transfers authorized, Player 1 could simply send from his online account $1,000 to Player 2’s account to buy the seat.

Without a player-to-player transfer, a number of other fund delivery methods are available, such as bank account transfer, writing a check, or delivering cash.

With alternative transfer options, what’s the big deal if there are no player-to-player transfers on an iGaming site?

Following the money for tax purposes.

Let’s follow the money with and without authorized transfers in the Player 1 and Player 2 example. If Player 2 places in the money, they agree to split the winnings 50-50.

With iGaming Account-to-Account Transfers

Suppose Player 2 wins $20,000 (net of the buy-in) in the tournament. Assuming Player 2 is a U.S. resident, the iGaming operator would normally issue a Form W-2G to Player 2 reflecting the winnings.[1]

A W-2G of $20,000 to Player 2, however, does not mirror the economics of the transaction between Player 1 and 2. Player 1 and Player 2 actually won $10,000 apiece.

Player 2 could have to explain to the IRS with sufficient documentation the staking arrangement. This could create an unnecessary burden for Player 2, as many IRS employees do not understand gambling issues. It could take several months before a case disputing with the IRS is transferred to someone knowledgeable at the IRS who does understand the issues. It would be much better to avoid the situation altogether, if possible.

To avoid the accounting issue for its players, an iGaming site could have an option set up that actually has Player 1 directly buying Player 2’s seat for a $1,000 entry online poker tournament, with the players also letting the site know before the tournament of their agreed percentage distribution of winnings, if any.

That way, when Player 2 wins the $20,000, the site already knows that $10,000 is attributable to Player 1. The site could automatically credit each account $10,000 instead of crediting Player 2’s account $20,000 and leaving it to Player 2 to transfer the $10,000 to Player 1.

It’s easy to follow the money with account-to-account transfers: Player 1 buys Player 2’s seat for $1,000. Player 2 wins $20,000, and the site credits Player 1 and Player 2’s accounts $10,000 apiece, also issuing W-2Gs to each for the same amount. Very transparent and easy to explain to the tax authorities if questioned.

Without iGaming Account-to-Account Transfers

Without a transparent transfer between Player 1 and 2 on the iGaming site, is there any way for the players to have the operator issue two W-2Gs of $10,000 apiece?

Possibly.

The IRS created Form 5754 to address the situation. Upon placing in the tournament, Player 1 and 2 could provide to the iGaming operator a completed 5754 so that the operator issues two W-2Gs, similar to above.

Unfortunately, however, I don’t see all iGaming operators accepting the form, similar to the brick and mortar casino situation.

If an operator doesn’t accept 5754, then the players are left in the cold to prepare other documentation to substantiate each step of the staking process.

Under these circumstances, it would be foolish for Player 1 to give Player 2 the buy-in money in cash. How would Player 2 then prove to the authorities that the buy-in wasn’t his original funds? Receipt of the funds by check or bank wire would make far more sense.

Plus, the players would likely have to prove that they agreed to split the winnings, and that the winnings, if any, were distributed pursuant to the agreement.

Miss any of these crucial steps in “following the money” and Player 2 could have insufficient evidence to prove that half of the winnings were in fact not his. Then Player 2 could be responsible for paying income tax on the full $20,000. Not a situation Player 2 wants to be in.

Yes, player-to-player transfers and staking activity for iGaming are for the benefit of the players. An iGaming site shouldn’t care how player’s winnings are distributed.

As gaming industry stakeholders jockey for position in the emerging iGaming industry in the U.S., it’s easy to lose sight of adequately looking out for the players. Considering the express prohibitions on player-to-player transfers, this issue may be just one of many examples.


[1] If Player 2 is not a U.S resident, then the operator would issue a Form 1042-S and withhold thirty percent of the winnings. For this post, we will keep the discussion to U.S. residents. Read this for a detailed discussion of the issues facing nonresidents for staking activity.

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