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November 28, 2014

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What happens when you win a jackpot?

THE TAXMAN COMETH

Imagine: You just hit a $33 million jackpot on Megabucks. If you're lucky, you'll see half of that after taxes. It's a cruel world, but Uncle Sam wants his cut. How you choose to receive your payout helps determine exactly how much you'll cash in. Here's how it works:

• Jackpot taxes

If you win $1-$1,199: You cash out and go. The IRS doesn’t care about jackpots less than $1,200.

If you win $1,200 - $4,999: Now you’ve entered the tax threshold. You must fill out a W-2G form to report your winnings to the feds, but casinos aren’t obliged to take out withholdings. It will be up to you to pay the taxes later. However, if a winner fails to provide a Social Security number, the casino will then take out 28 percent for the IRS.

If you win $5,000 or more: The IRS will consider your winnings part of your income, which could bump you up to a higher tax bracket. If you hit it really big, expect to pay up to 40 percent in income taxes. For that $33 million Megabucks jackpot, that would be more than $13 million.

• Payment options

Most slot companies give winners two ways to receive their money. The choice you make could have important tax implications.

Lifetime payout: This is a set annual payout for a certain number of years. For IGT, maker of Megabucks, it’s 25 years. On a $33 million jackpot, that means an annual payout of about $1.3 million and an annual tax bill of $525,000. That’s just more than $13.1 million in taxes over the span of the payout.

Lump Sum: Winners have 60 to 90 days to decide whether they want a lump sum or lifetime payment. If you opt for a lump sum, you’ll have to deal with a hefty interest rate. That’ll leave you with 60 percent of your jackpot. But don’t forget: you still have to pay the government. From the remaining $19 million, the IRS will demand another 40 percent, leaving you with about $12 million.

E.J. Coyle’s phone woke him up at 3 a.m. Christmas Eve. It was his boss at Bally Technologies. Someone had just hit a $1.3 million jackpot on a Millionaire Sevens slot at the Four Queens.

Coyle is a jackpot SWAT man, of sorts.

A Bally business analyst by day, he’s the company’s first responder when it comes to big wins. He is one of a four-man team that responds to million-dollar-plus jackpots players hit in Southern Nevada.

Because it’s impossible to know when the next big win will register, Coyle keeps his phone volume set to loud. He doesn’t mind wake-up calls.

“I get excited every time,” Coyle said. “I’m delivering money to people in amounts they never dreamed of. That’s really exciting.”

But his job isn’t as simple as delivering a check.

Step 1. When a player hits a jackpot worth more than $1 million, casino bosses call a Bally control center where technicians monitor the company’s slot machines on computers. A technician confirms where the jackpot hit and calls Coyle or another responder.

Step 2. Coyle typically heads to Bally headquarters on Bermuda Road before heading to a casino. He has to pick up an oversized check for the winner. Bally designs them with logos from specific games: Michael Jackson, NASCAR, Betty Boop. If he’s lucky, Coyle already has the check in his car. He keeps an armful handy, just in case.

Step 3. At the casino, Coyle has to find the winner. It’s usually pretty easy, since crowds tend to form around winning machines.

Step 4. A technician verifies the jackpot and confirms that it was valid. Casinos won’t pay on a machine that malfunctioned.

Step 5. Coyle presents the check to the winner. He interviews them about why they’re in Las Vegas and how they plan to spend their winnings. Most want to remain anonymous and collect their money without a big show.

Step 6. The paperwork. Winners have to provide Coyle with a valid Social Security number to collect their winnings and a bank account number so the cash can be wired. Winners can choose to take a lump sum payment or monthly payouts, typically spread over 20 years.

Step 7. Within 24 hours of hitting a jackpot, all winners automatically receive one-twentieth of their money wired to their bank account. That’s so they have plenty of cash on hand to continue to gamble.

Step 8. Once all the paperwork is filed, staff in Bally’s finance department process it and wire the money to the winner. Sometimes, a representative delivers a real check. As for the giant commemorative checks? Most winners don’t keep them. They are too much of a hassle to transport.

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