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Are raffles considered gambling winnings?

Whether winnings from raffles are considered gambling winnings is a complex question with no simple answer. There are a few key factors to consider when determining if raffle winnings should be classified as gambling winnings or not.

What are raffles?

A raffle is a game of chance where participants can purchase tickets for a chance to win a prize. The prize is awarded to the holder of a randomly drawn ticket. Raffles are often used as fundraising events by non-profit organizations, charities, schools, churches, and other groups. The money raised through raffle ticket sales goes to support the organization or cause behind the raffle.

How raffles work

Raffles operate by selling numbered tickets which are then entered into a random drawing to select the winning number and award the prize. The more tickets someone purchases, the more chances they have at winning. Raffle participants pay for a chance to win, but there is no guarantee that they will actually win the prize. The randomness of the winning number being selected is what categorizes raffles as games of chance.

Are raffles considered gambling?

Whether or not raffles are defined as a form of gambling depends on the laws and regulations for gambling activities in the relevant jurisdiction. In the United States, laws regarding raffles vary by state. Some states allow certain types of raffles for fundraising purposes, while other states prohibit most forms of raffles altogether. The distinction often depends on who is operating the raffle and where the proceeds go.

Raffles for non-profits

Many states allow non-profit organizations to operate raffles as a legal and regulated form of fundraising. These charitable gaming raffles are not classified as general gambling when they meet state requirements. States that allow non-profit raffles view the activity as a beneficial fundraiser rather than problematic gambling, and regulate the practice appropriately.

Raffles for profit

If a commercial for-profit business attempts to operate a raffle, this is more likely to run afoul of gambling laws. Raffles operated for private profit rather than as regulated fundraising are illegal in most jurisdictions. Some states have restrictions on who can participate in non-profit raffles as well. So a raffle operated by a business could potentially be considered an illegal lottery or gambling activity based on state law.

Are raffle winnings taxed?

Assuming a raffle is legal, there are still tax implications for raffle winnings. Under IRS rules, prizes won through raffles are categorized as “other income” which means they are subject to income tax. The taxability applies whether the raffle was held by a non-profit or commercial entity. The value of raffle winnings must be reported as income on federal tax returns.

Reporting requirements

For large raffle prizes over $600, the organizer holding the raffle is required to issue a Form W-2G to the winner reporting the winnings to the IRS. For smaller prizes, it is still the winner’s responsibility to report the income when filing taxes. All raffle winners must pay taxes on the fair market value of prizes received.

Withholding requirements

Raffle organizers are required to withhold federal taxes at a flat 25% rate if the prize is over $5,000 and the winnings are at least 300 times the cost of the raffle ticket. State income tax withholding may also apply. If taxes are withheld, the W-2G shows the full prize amount and the income tax withheld.

Are raffle winnings considered gambling income?

Since raffles involve an element of chance, some may wonder if raffle income qualifies as “gambling income” for tax purposes. However, the IRS makes a distinction between general gambling winnings and legal raffle winnings.

Key differences

Gambling Winnings Raffle Winnings
Winnings from casino games, lotteries, horse racing, slots, etc. Prizes won in legal fundraising raffles
Reported on Line 21 (“Other Income”) of 1040 form as gambling income Reported on Line 21 of 1040 but not under gambling income
Can only take gambling loss deductions up to the amount won No gambling loss deduction permitted

The key factor is that legal raffles are not treated as general “gambling” activities from an IRS standpoint. So raffle winners cannot classify the income as gambling winnings or claim any gambling-related deductions.

State differences

A few states such as New Jersey and Massachusetts do classify raffle winnings as gambling income on state tax returns for their residents. But federal tax treatment follows the IRS distinction between gambling winnings and legal raffle prizes.

How are raffle winnings taxed?

Raffle winnings are subject to the taxpayer’s ordinary federal income tax rate. The prize value gets reported as “other income” on Line 21 of IRS Form 1040. Any state or local income taxes also apply based on applicable rates.

One special rule provides tax relief for certain high-value raffle prizes. For raffle winnings over $5,000 where withholding occurred, the winner can elect to spread the income evenly over 3 years on federal returns. This can help ease the tax burden in the year the prize was received.


Say a raffle winner receives a $90,000 car. The 25% withholding of $22,500 was paid by the raffle organizer. The winner can report $30,000 of raffle income on Line 21 annually for 3 years instead of the full $90,000 in Year 1. This income spreading is only allowed if taxes were initially withheld from the prize.

Are raffle losses deductible?

Unfortunately for raffle participants, buying raffle tickets never results in a tax deductible loss. Since raffle winnings are not classified as gambling income, any amounts spent on tickets cannot be claimed as gambling losses. Losing raffle tickets have no tax benefit whatsoever.

Key points

  • Amounts spent on raffle tickets are not deductible
  • Only winning raffle prizes have tax implications
  • Losses cannot offset or reduce raffle income

So while winning raffles comes with tax bills, losing raffles does not provide any ability to write off the cost of tickets purchased.

Should raffle winnings be reported?

Legally, all raffle winners are required to report their prize winnings as taxable income regardless of the amount. In practice however, smaller prizes often go unreported.

For large raffle winnings, reporting compliance is enforced because the organizers must issue Form W-2G for the IRS. But for prizes under $600, many winners never voluntarily report the income leading to undetected tax evasion.

Risk of not reporting

Choosing not to report small raffle winnings is extremely common. But this violates IRS rules and can lead to penalties, interest, and back taxes if discovered on audit. The safer legal approach is to report all raffle prizes as income regardless of value.

Should taxes be withheld from raffle prizes?

Raffle organizers are required to withhold taxes from prizes over $5,000 at the 25% flat rate. Voluntary withholding is also allowed for smaller prizes. Many organizers choose to withhold taxes from all large prizes even if under $5,000.

Benefits of withholding

  • Allows winner to elect 3-year income spread
  • Remits taxes immediately so winner doesn’t owe lump sum
  • Provides clean documentation via Form W-2G

While not required, most reputable raffle organizers will withhold taxes from large prizes as a courtesy to winners. This facilitates proper tax compliance for the prize recipients.

Do raffle tickets qualify as charitable contributions?

For raffles run by non-profit groups, some participants wonder if buying tickets can count as a tax deductible donation. However, the IRS clearly states that amounts paid for raffle tickets are not charitable donations.

Contributions must be voluntary gifts with no chance of personal benefit. Because raffle tickets are purchased to potentially win prizes, they fail this test. Only the portion of a raffle ticket purchase exceeding the fair market value can qualify as a deductible donation.


Say a raffle ticket costs $100 for a prize worth $50. Only the $50 excess above the prize’s fair market value would potentially count as a charitable deduction. The $50 cost of the chance to win is never deductible.


Determining if raffle winnings are taxable as gambling income depends heavily on the jurisdiction and nature of the raffle. In the United States, legal raffles run as fundraising events result in taxable income that is reportable but distinct from gambling winnings. Illegal for-profit raffles may be treated as gambling activities in some states. While raffle winners must pay taxes, amounts spent on tickets are never deductible as losses or charitable contributions.

Raffles occupy a complex middle ground between charitable fundraising and gambling. As games of chance offering prizes, raffles share similarities with casino contests and lotteries. But well-regulated raffles for non-profit charitable causes have a more favorable position than pure gambling activities. This nuanced distinction is reflected in the tax code’s treatment of raffle winnings and losses. The taxation of raffle prizes represents a compromise between allowing beneficial public raffles and curbing potential gambling abuses.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are raffle prizes always taxable?

Yes, the IRS considers all cash and non-cash prizes from raffles to be taxable income regardless of amount. The fair market value of prizes must be reported. An exception may apply for certain tuition raffles by charitable groups if eligibility rules are met.

Can you deduct the cost of raffle tickets?

No, amounts paid to purchase raffle tickets are never tax deductible. Buying raffle tickets is not considered making a charitable donation even if the raffle benefits a non-profit. Deductions only apply to voluntary gifts, not payments for a chance to win prizes.

Is tax withheld from small raffle prizes?

No, the 25% withholding requirement only applies to raffle prizes over $5,000 where the winnings exceed 300 times the cost of the ticket. For smaller prizes, no tax is withheld, but winners still owe tax and must voluntarily report income.

Are losses on unclaimed raffle prizes deductible?

No, the IRS does not allow raffle participants to deduct any amounts spent on tickets, either as losses or donations, even if they don’t win. Unclaimed prizes and money paid for tickets provide no income tax benefit whatsoever.

Can student groups hold tax-free raffles?

Non-profit student groups can hold legal raffles if state laws permit it for fundraising purposes. The prizes will still be taxable income to the winners. Groups may need to register and get licenses for raffles based on state requirements.

Are raffle apps gambling?

Free raffle apps that offer prizes may appear similar to gambling but are structured to comply with laws. For example, requiring no purchase or limiting free entries avoids being an illegal lottery. Apps use creative reward systems like points instead of direct purchases.

Is a 50/50 raffle gambling?

50/50 raffles where winner receives half the pot are popular but sometimes considered borderline gambling, so legality depends on state laws. Non-profits using 50/50 drawings for fundraising must follow appropriate gaming regulations in their jurisdiction.

Are cash prize raffles illegal?

Offering straightforward cash prizes in raffles is more likely to categorize the raffle as an illegal lottery. However, non-profits can offer cash raffle prizes in some states if properly organized and regulated under charitable gaming laws.

Do you have to claim raffle prizes?

Yes, legally all raffle winners must report the fair market value of prizes as taxable income. In practice small prizes often go unreported, but there is risk of penalties. By law, all raffle income from legal raffles should be declared on tax returns.

Key Takeaways

  • Raffles are games of chance often used for fundraising purposes
  • States regulate raffles differently – some allowed for non-profits, others prohibited
  • IRS treats raffle prizes as taxable income but not gambling income
  • Taxes must be withheld from raffle prizes over $5,000
  • Losses on raffle tickets are never tax deductible
  • All raffle winnings technically must be reported as income, regardless of amount