A Gambling Man, But No Winnings to Declare
By Paul Kane and Glenn Kessler
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is on a losing streak. No, not in politics. That won't be decided until Nov. 4.
But McCain has gone at least several years without winning at casinos.
Upon question from The Trail today, McCain's campaign acknowledged that the senator -- who is an admitted aficionado of craps tables -- has been a net loser going back to at least 2005.
"He had no gambling winnings in 2006 or 2007. If he had, they would have been disclosed on his tax returns," Brian Rogers, a McCain spokesman, told The Trail.
Rogers did not address prior years. But, given his assurance that, had McCain had such winnings, they would have shown up on McCain's 2006 and 2007 tax returns, that suggests that previous years' winnings also would have appeared on tax returns. McCain has only released his tax returns for 2006 and 2007.
The Trail's question to McCain was prodded by a release from a liberal-leaning watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which asserted that McCain has not disclosed any casino winnings on his Senate financial disclosure forms going back to 2000. (CREW also filed a complaint against McCain with the Senate ethics committee, which treats such election-season filings as a nuisance to be considered the following year once the heat of the political season has died down.)
The CREW complaint, however, provides a window into McCain's gambling nature; assuming he abides by all Senate and federal tax laws, McCain's not much of a winner at the craps table.
Under Senate rules, all gambling winnings would be treated the same way as pension plans, book royalties, or other winnings from competitions such as lotteries that are open to the public. They are considered "earned income."
So, under Senate rules, at the end of each year, McCain was required to tally up those gambling trips and determine if he netted at least $200. If he had, he was required to report such winnings on his disclosure forms.
Federal tax law is even more strict: "All gambling winnings must be reported irrespective as to whether any portion thereof is subject to withholding. In addition, you may be required to pay an estimated tax on your gambling winnings."
(For anyone who's ever spent a weekend in Las Vegas, this would appear to be one of the most loosely enforced tax rules ever. However, there are plenty of online guides to explain how McCain, or even once-a-year gamblers, are supposed to report wins and losses while legally gambling.)
As CREW noted, McCain has not reported any gambling winnings on his Senate forms dating back to 2000, meaning his winnings, if he had any, were negligible. Or he didn't report them. To knowingly fail to report would be a violation of Senate rules and federal laws.
CQPoliticalMoneyLine (subscription required) keeps disclosure forms dating back to 1997, which show McCain has never reported any gambling winnings.
Some liberal groups have tried to gin up thematic outrage about McCain as a gambler, on the theory that his risky behavior as a gambler is an example of how he'll act as president, but Obama also has acknowledged his own penchant for poker.
"I read the other day that Senator McCain likes to gamble. He likes to roll those dice. And that's OK. I enjoy a little friendly game of poker myself every now and then," Obama told a crowd in Colorado. "But one thing I know is this -- we can't afford to gamble on four more years of the same disastrous economic policies we've had for the last eight."
For what it's worth, Obama's financial disclosure forms show no records of gambling winnings, either.
Posted at 6:57 PM ET on Oct 9, 2008
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