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Mon, Oct. 14

Column:What happens in Vegas stays... with the taxman

If a slot machine goes ka-ching in Las Vegas, is the IRS listening? That is the question asked by one sad (and stupid) jackpot winner in the City of Sin. It seems John Doe (we are sparing the humiliation of using his real name) won $50,000 playing the slots at a casino in Las Vegas. But wait, the story gets better! Instead of taking the loot and leaving as quickly as he could, this very happy man started handing out big tips, buying rounds of drinks for all and drank a few too many rum and cokes - about 17. Unfortunately, all that money (and booze) went right to his head. He blew every cent before he got out of the casino!

That's right, Dear Readers, imagine winning 50 big ones and losing it all in one night. That's not all, folks, the Internal Revenue Service is demanding its share of the man's winning. The man is suing the casino because he said they "enticed him to stay, made him drunk and took advantage of him." Hey, I'm almost feeling sorry for this guy. He also claims that since he left the casino with a red cent, why should he pay the IRS?

I actually like this argument. Sometimes my paycheck is gone before I actually get to enjoy it. I have called my accountant and asked him if we spend our money as fast as we make it, do we still have to pay taxes. Sadly, his answer was "yes." Hey, what if you became instantly rich, had a night that you can't really remember and woke up in the morning in the same old financial state? Surely, the IRS would understand. Hmm... evidently not.

The man also states that an employee of the casino had bright purple hair and that combined with the free booze caused him to hallucinate. Now that's where he lost me, because we all know that purple hair in Las Vegas is nothing new. In fact, the last time I went to that City of Big Wins and Bigger Losses (which was last week - on business, of course), I saw quite a few folks that didn't look exactly normal. Orange hair with green stripes, tattoos all over and staples (or is it body piercing) stuck out of eyebrows are simply commonplace fashion statements. After all, it is Las Vegas.

I knew of a woman who won 2,000 bucks playing the slots at an Arizona casino and was so thrilled that she put the money in her purse and "ran for her life." She felt it was the "single, biggest stroke of good luck" that she had had in a while, so she left the casino "running like a wild woman."

Later, she still looks back at this as the only way to handle such "pure luck," but admits she was pretty mad that she had to pay the IRS a portion of her winnings.

Perhaps we think that a big win is something like pennies from heaven. No, if you gamble and win, there are taxes to be paid. Just like the lottery, if you play and come up lucky, you have to pay. Well, I've never been very lucky when it comes to gambling. In fact, I compare playing slots like throwing coins down a toilet. But I have to believe that if I put a quarter in a machine and pulled the handle, watching little monkeys all line up in a happy row, that I would be wise if I heard the blessed ka-ching. No drinks, no talk, just fast walk out of the Den of Thieves so I could quietly count my money and hand over a portion of it the IRS. No waitress with purple hair is going to get in my way!

What's in your wallet? Have an extra coin to throw at a slot? Remember, playing is easy, losing is harsh, but winning and immediately losing might be the worst pain of all. If you've ever dreamed of getting rich quick, stay out of all casinos! I just came back from Las Vegas, and I had plenty of fun visiting a few of those dangerous places (as an observer only). But I did so with great caution, little money, and few expectations. Was I lucky? Well, not really because I didn't win a dime. Of course, not losing makes us all winners in that wild town. Ka-ching until next week!

Judy Bluhm is a writer and local realtor who lives in Skull Valley. Have a comment or a story? Email Judy at judy@judybluhm.com.

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