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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.

By Web Politics Editor  |  October 9, 2008; 6:57 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , John McCain  
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As a professional gambler, I spend way too much time dealing with the laws regarding tax on gambling winnings...

Senator McCain is almost certainly in violation of federal tax law. Unless he never once walked away from a craps table with more money than he bought in for - which is extremely unlikely if he's been to casinos a few times a year and played several sessions each time - then he is in violation of tax law by not reporting the winning sessions.

That said, I would estimate over 99% of casino table game players either don't report winnings at all, or mistakenly believe that they only need to report net winnings on the year. How much blame does he deserve for not being one of the 1%, or maybe 0.1%, who does it right?

Furthermore, if McCain was a net loser every year - which is entirely plausible - then the only actual impact of failing to report both the winnings and offsetting losses is that he has a lower AGI, but identical taxable income. Given that he makes enough money to already be over any relevant AGI thresholds, he probably would have paid the exact same amount in tax whether or not he reported the gambling stuff correctly.

So while Senator McCain almost certainly broke the law, he probably didn't derive any benefit from it, and I don't see much scandal potential.

Posted by: jnala | October 11, 2008 1:10 AM | Report abuse

What is worse than a compulsive gambler in the White House?

One that never wins.

Posted by: nowanna3 | October 10, 2008 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Watch McCain Drop the F- Bomb, The F- Word over and over to a reporter. I think he is losing it.

See Obama Call out McCain,

Posted by: pastor123 | October 10, 2008 7:05 AM | Report abuse

In its modern usage, hubris denotes overconfident pride and arrogance; it is often associated with a lack of knowledge combined with a lack of humility. An accusation of hubris often implies that suffering or punishment will follow, similar to the occasional pairing of hubris and nemesis in the Greek world. The proverb "pride goes before a fall" is thought to sum up the modern definition of hubris. In reference to someone being in hubrity: hubrity is a fulfillment of being hubristic or a continual behavior of being prideful. Victor in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein exudes hubris in order to become a great scientist, but is eventually regretting this previous desire. Faustus in Christopher Marlowe's play Dr. Faustus exudes hubris, all the way until his final minutes of life.

Posted by: nacnudbob | October 10, 2008 2:56 AM | Report abuse

I thought this article was an analysis of McCain's plan to help the middle class "No Winnings to Declare".

Posted by: flyfishchef | October 10, 2008 1:36 AM | Report abuse

"But McCain and Palin don't want to pay their fair share of taxes to pay for these needs.

I guess they think paying taxes is just for suckers."

Posted by: jackson251

Have you been paying attention to Republican tax policies? Of course they think "paying taxes is just for suckers"? We can't make the right campaign and PAC contributions to get our voice heard.

Posted by: flyfishchef | October 10, 2008 1:35 AM | Report abuse

Great, an angry, drunk gambler for a president and a bimbo,gun freak for a VP.
Theres a winning team.

Posted by: tommyd60 | October 10, 2008 12:36 AM | Report abuse

"90% of the people who enter a casino lose. It is unlikely that McCain has been a net winner, so I fail to see the reason for outcry over his participating in a legal activity.

Posted by: gbooksdc | October 9, 2008 9:42 PM | Report abuse "

Please note: the tax code doesn't talk about "net winnings;" it talks about "winnings." If your gross winnings are over $200, then you have to report them; you can deduct from them your losses, then pay taxes on the net, if any.

But not reporting WINNINGS [gross, not net] over $200 is a crime.

Posted by: thrh | October 9, 2008 11:07 PM | Report abuse

Moron Con Econ Terrorists want to Splurge Trillions more on their Stupid Pointless Useless Illegal Wars and the Old War Criminal McMoronCon thinks it is such a great idea.
Moron Con Econ Terrorist Communists want State Owned Banks after the Communists have taken over Freddie, Fannie and AIG
Moron Con Econ Terrorists, Old Adulterer Songbird Treasonous Traitor Dirty Corrupt McLobbyist and the Born Again Pro Life Killer Moron Con Retard will destroy America, these Moron Con Econ Terrorist will finish the job Mission Accomplished Axis of Evil Born Again Faith Based Pro Life Lying WMD Mass Murderer Serial Killer War Criminal Nazi Terrorist has started.

Americans' retirement plans have lost as much over $2 trillion
$9 trillion wiped from USA stock markets in a year
Biggest Bank Bankruptcies in History
Biggest one day stock market plunge in history, first daily $Trillion loss ($1.2 Trillion)
$32 trillion has been wiped off the value of global stock markets since Oct. 31, 2007.
Biggest Insurance Failure Ever
Trillions lost in home values
Biggest Socialist Bailout in History
Trillions in Corporate Welfare to Bailout Rich Wall Street Gambling Buddies
Trillions wasted fighting Illegal Mindless Wars
The entire Investment Banking sector wiped away.

Posted by: mawt | October 9, 2008 10:49 PM | Report abuse

Visit the life and career of John McCain in an October article in Rolling Stone.

Posted by: NewEra | October 9, 2008 10:29 PM | Report abuse

McCain/Palen....fiddling away while Rome burns. No conscience, don't care about anything other than the two of them.

Posted by: jackwhale | October 9, 2008 10:06 PM | Report abuse

McCain may not owe taxes, but he most probably has broken the law by not reporting his winnings. It may be the case that his losses always canceled his winnings, but he's still responsible for accurate reporting whenever he has had winnings.

"Gambling winnings are taxable on your tax return. You can deduct gambling losses on your tax return only if you itemize tax deductions and only to the extent of your gambling winnings. Claim your gambling losses as a miscellaneous tax deduction on Schedule A of Form 1040."

Posted by: jchaney | October 9, 2008 10:00 PM | Report abuse

As Napoleon Bonaparte said "Give me lucky generals,"

The last thing America needs now is Jonah President like McCain!

Posted by: walker1 | October 9, 2008 9:51 PM | Report abuse

90% of the people who enter a casino lose. It is unlikely that McCain has been a net winner, so I fail to see the reason for outcry over his participating in a legal activity.

Posted by: gbooksdc | October 9, 2008 9:42 PM | Report abuse

How do you know that McCain didn't use cocaine or smoke weed??

Posted by: safmmail | October 9, 2008 9:33 PM | Report abuse

This will only become an issue when people from the casinos start testifying that McCain has won many times. Until then, its a non story.

Posted by: norcalworm | October 9, 2008 9:18 PM | Report abuse

If he has as much success gambling at craps as he does gambling on election tactics then I suggest he has correctly filed his tax showing no winnings.

Posted by: pdgnz | October 9, 2008 8:58 PM | Report abuse

Losing money isn't the worst for McCain. Failing to capture the white house isn't either, and he will surely lose there too. I feel pity for the man because he will have lost his soul in the effort. Tragic!

Posted by: tydicea | October 9, 2008 8:58 PM | Report abuse

Two "mavericks." Two tax cheats. McCain fails to report his gambling earnings, Palin fails to report her per diem expenses and travel expenses paid for her children.

No wonder they are so keen to denounce Biden for saying that it's our patriotic duty to pay the taxes we owe.

We all want a strong military, good educations for our children, first rate health care, and a solid infrastructure.

But McCain and Palin don't want to pay their fair share of taxes to pay for these needs.

I guess they think paying taxes is just for suckers.

Posted by: jackson251 | October 9, 2008 8:50 PM | Report abuse

The IRS rule is CLEAR.

You MUST report ALL WINNINGS even if you lose more money than you win.

The IRS tells you to ITEMIZE your losses to COUNT AGAINST your winnings.

Under this scenario, McCain has been violating this law since 1997.

Apparently the rules don't apply to McCain.

Posted by: bobnsri | October 9, 2008 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Here in New England, Mr. McCain is a FREQUENT visitor to Foodwoods, the gambling mecca in Connecticut.

He usually sits in the section reserved for honored guests, or heavy hitters.

Either way, it does look unseemly, since his committee regulates the Indian gambling industry.

There are even pictures of him, at Foxwoods, gambling.
(Google search)

It is hard to imagine that McCain NEVER won anything at Foxwoods.

Posted by: bobnsri | October 9, 2008 8:42 PM | Report abuse

It's kinda hard to win consistently if you hang out at the craps table!

Poker is something else entirely. Given that by all accounts Obama plays a lead aggress game, he probably wins more than he loses.

Quick, get the press, he must be avoiding taxes!

Posted by: quatzecoutl | October 9, 2008 8:19 PM | Report abuse

How the Senator Lost it at a Puerto Rican Casino
For this entire presidential campaign, the media have been waiting for John McCain’s famous temper to explode. A few small examples have been reported without anyone trying to make a big deal about it. The rule seems to be that if he can keep it bottled until November 5, he’s home free. But if he explodes in the interim, it becomes an official issue. This isn’t completely nuts. If he can’t hold it in for just the few months he is under maximum scrutiny, then he has a real problem. Otherwise, hey—Bill Clinton also had a temper, it was said, along with other uncontrollable passions.
Until recently this anger business didn’t bother me much. There is a lot to be angry about. Furthermore, I was not confident that McCain’s anger passed the whose-ox-is-gored test: As an Obama supporter, would I be equally alarmed if my preferred candidate had anger issues? (Which some folks say he does, by the way.) Then I heard the following story.
McCain immediately turned to the woman and said between clenched teeth: ‘DON’T TOUCH ME.’ The woman started to explain...McCain interrupted her: ‘DON’T TOUCH ME,’ he repeated viciously. The woman again tried to explain. ‘DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU’RE TALKING TO?’ McCain continued, his voice rising and his hands now raised in the ‘bring it on’ position. He was red-faced. By this time all the action at the table had stopped. I was completely shocked. McCain had totally lost it, and in the space of about ten seconds. ‘Sir, you must be courteous to the other players at the table,’ the pit boss said to McCain. “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? ASK ANYBODY AROUND HERE WHO I AM.”
This being Puerto Rico, the pit boss might not have known McCain. But the senator continued in full fury—“DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU’RE TALKING TO? DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”—and crisis was avoided only when Jeff offered to change places and stand between McCain and the woman who had touched his arm.
What is bothersome about this story, if it’s true, is only partly the explosive anger. More, it’s the arrogance. At the craps table, who cares who he is? And there’s the recklessness of such a performance in a casino full of journalists (unless McCain absolutely couldn’t control himself, which is even scarier). But this gamble paid off. Although there were published reports that McCain had gambled late into the night, which properly treated that matter as charming, this particular episode has gone unreported until now. Maybe no journalist saw it. Or maybe this illustrates the unwritten rule of political journalism that all human-interest anecdotes must reaffirm a previously established belief. Arrogance is something McCain is not known for. Quite the opposite. Logic might dictate that an anecdote showing that, say, Obama has webbed feet would be more interesting than one showing that he is a skinny guy with big ears. But that’s not how it works.

Thanks for posting on this event. Your story was forwarded by another
industry friend who noted a missing piece from your retelling. I was at the
same 2005 AMC representing our family's then 55 year old craft
magazine publishing company (it has since been sold), and actually arrived
at the craps table shortly after the scene you and Jeff retold.

Following the conference%u2019s opening banquet, I approached the table
with a young woman I had just met, and in an attempt to somehow impress
her, I asked if she wanted to meet John McCain. (Of course, I'd never even
seen him in person). She shyly passed, but throughout our conversation,
McCain would periodically look over at us.

Finally, after about twenty minutes, McCain looked in our direction. He
looked her up and down. He looked me up and down. He looked her in the eyes
and said, "What is a girl like you doing talking to a guy like

She walked over and spent the rest of the evening bringing him luck.

I've kept in touch with this woman and other witnesses, if
you'd like any verification.


-Jeff Clapper

Posted by: TruthWalksOnWater | October 9, 2008 8:19 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry but this whole "story" is such a load of BS. I go to Vegas regularly on business and always find a few minutes for a video poker machine. Believe me, it's entirely possible to gamble for a year and end up with a net loss. As the old saying goes, "They didn't build Las Vegas on the winners." And I don't consider myself a "gambler". When I'm playing, it's a chance to forget about your day to day problems and have some fun. Yeah, maybe I lose a hundred bucks in the process. So what? Give John McCain a break on this one. And, for JRM2 - how dare you refer to John McCain as a coward. He's got his weaknesses just like the rest of us. But he put his life on the line for you, me and everyone else in this country. Shame on you.

Posted by: Boomer54 | October 9, 2008 8:02 PM | Report abuse

For the guy who said "at least McCain didn't snort cocaine": Obama himself disclosed his (very limited) drug use as a teenager. McCain's wife, on the other hand, stole drugs from her own charity, causing it to be disbanded, and McCain pulled strings to avoid criminal prosecution of his wife. In the process, the McCains ruined several lives, including that of the doctor who Cindy McCain talked into signing fake prescriptions.

McCain and his apologists should be more careful - their smears always come back to bite them.

Posted by: mouse2talk2u | October 9, 2008 7:55 PM | Report abuse

dcwsano, I'm sure you can find a quote from Obama saying that then?

Posted by: MarkInAustin | October 9, 2008 7:53 PM | Report abuse


Obama quit using drugs decades ago. McCain still gambles.

Posted by: dcwsano | October 9, 2008 7:47 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: MarkInAustin | October 9, 2008 7:18 PM | Report abuse

Now there's a good moral trait - gambler, not to mention a bully and a coward.

Posted by: JRM2 | October 9, 2008 7:11 PM | Report abuse

What's with all the blinking? I want to watch the debates but it really bugs the cr@p out of me.

Winky and Blinky.

Posted by: JRM2 | October 9, 2008 7:10 PM | Report abuse

So, the WaPo is saying that McCain is (a) a tax cheat and/or (b) really bad at craps?

Posted by: MarkInAustin | October 9, 2008 7:04 PM | Report abuse

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