American Gambling Stats By Income

March 7th, 2012 by 

Today, let's look at the relationship between gambling and income in America.

Lucky for us, the IRS has compiled data which shows that Americans in all income classes (even the top one percent) love to gamble. Yes, in 2016 (filing year 2017), 1.31% of Americans were lucky enough to have to pay taxes on gambling winnings.

Let's look at gambling stats in America by income.

Percentage of Tax Returns Gambling Winnings, By Income

For this first chart the percentage represents the percentage of taxable tax returns in each income bracket which reported gambling winnings.

2016 Percentage of taxable returns per income bracket reporting gambling winnings
Gambling by income: The percentage of taxable returns per income bracket reporting gambling winnings.

Percentage of All Reported Gamblers by Income Bracket

Admittedly, this chart is more confusing. We're showing the percentage of all tax returns each bracket represents and contrasting it with the percentage of all taxed winning gamblers.

Tax returns in the United States: percentage of filings by income vs. percentage of gambling winners.
Income Bracket (2016)Percentage of Tax ReturnsPercentage of Winning Gamblers
   No adjusted gross income1.393%1.29%
   $1 under $5,0006.647%2.15%
   $5,000 under $10,0007.319%3.36%
   $10,000 under $15,0007.876%3.42%
   $15,000 under $20,0007.260%4.50%
   $20,000 under $25,0006.553%5.31%
   $25,000 under $30,0005.915%3.87%
   $30,000 under $40,00010.041%8.08%
   $40,000 under $50,0007.762%7.47%
   $50,000 under $75,00013.459%17.51%
   $75,000 under $100,0008.634%13.61%
   $100,000 under $200,00012.549%20.76%
   $200,000 under $500,0003.715%6.87%
   $500,000 under $1,000,0000.595%1.16%
   $1,000,000 under $1,500,0000.128%0.27%
   $1,500,000 under $2,000,0000.052%0.12%
   $2,000,000 under $5,000,0000.074%0.18%
   $5,000,000 under $10,000,0000.018%0.04%
   $10,000,000 or more0.011%0.02%

United States Definition of Gambling Winnings

In the United States, gambling winnings are reported on Form W-2G. There are very strict instructions on when to file.

The things that trigger your need to file a form W-2G:

  1. $1,200 or more in gambling winnings from bingo or slot machines
  2. $1,500 or more in proceeds (the amount of winnings minus the amount of the wager) from keno
  3. More than $5,000 in winnings (reduced by the wager or buy-in) from a poker tournament
  4. $600 or more in gambling winnings (except winnings from bingo, keno, slot machines, and poker tournaments) and the payout is at least 300 times the amount of the wager
  5. Any other gambling winnings subject to federal income tax withholding (technically, you must report from the first dollar)

One problem with this definition we'll state upfron: it only catches the winners. (Perhaps some brackets are unlucky? Perhaps they are playing games with payouts less than $600?)

There is bias in our data below towards larger bets, which might be expected to come from people with more income. It would be nice to be able to strip table games out of this data and leave animal racing, slot machines, and lotteries - but we play the hand we're dealt!

Gambling by Income: Interesting Stuff!

So there you have it. In the United States, there are more winning gamblers among the affluent than among the poor.

It's probably not fair to call gambling a 'poor tax', unless you still think we defined away 'lottery' too easily in this article. The largest percentage of gamblers in America make between $50,000 and $200,000. We say that because – presumably – the brackets with the most winners also have the most gambling overall (the most losers as well, that is).

So there you have it. 7-figure folks are gambling at more than 2x their proportion of the total household representation. And moderate incomes up to $200,000 are gambling the most overall.

Is it a bullish sign when our $1,000,000 - $1,500,000 and $2,000,000 - $5,000,000 earners are gambling at such a clip?  How do you think this would change if we took out table games?

Do you gamble?  How does it affect your personal finances?



PK started DQYDJ in 2009 to research and discuss finance and investing and help answer financial questions. He's expanded DQYDJ to build visualizations, calculators, and interactive tools.

PK lives in New Hampshire with his wife, kids, and dog.

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