The Miccosukee Indian Village in Florida. Photo: El Gringo

Miccosukee Tribe 'disappointed' by ruling on taxation of gaming per caps

Citizens of the Miccosukee Tribe must pay taxes on their shares of gaming revenues, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday.

In the unanimous decision, the court said the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is clear when it comes to taxes on per capita payments A subsequent federal law, known as the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act (GWEA), does not change the situation, Judge Gerald Tjoflat wrote for the majority.

"Congress spoke clearly when it imposed federal income taxation on per capita payments derived from gaming revenue," the 21-page decision stated. "If Congress intended GWEA to undo this arrangement, it knew the words to do so. It chose not to use them."

The Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act became law in September 2014. It was written to ensure that tribal citizens won't have to pay taxes on certain benefits received through tribal general welfare programs.

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: United States v. Jim

The tribe and Sally Jim, one of its citizens, cited the law in hopes of addressing whether per capita payments derived from gaming revenues qualify for an exemption. But the court ruled that the "Tribal GWE Act was not meant to supplant" IGRA, which became law in 1988.

"We're disappointed. We're looking at our options, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court," tribal attorney Robert Saunooke told The Miami Herald.

According to the court's decision, Jim owes $267,237.18 for failing to file a tax return in 2011. She eventually filed one in 2015 -- after the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act. became law -- claiming that $272,000 of her income was not taxable.

If the holding were extended to other citizens who failed to report or pay taxes, they could be on the hook for more than $1 billion, according to The Herald. Similar figures have been reported in the past.

The tribe operates the Miccosukee Resort and Gaming on its homelands in southern Florida. Revenues from the facility, referred to as Miccosukee Indian Bingo and Gaming (MIBG) in the ruling, go into a non-taxable distributable revenue account (NTDR). Per capita checks, drawn from the NTDR, are made every quarter to citizens.

The court acknowledged that the revenue account is not entirely based on gaming. But figures show that the "lion’s share" in fact comes from the casino, the decision stated.

"In the financial year ending on September 30, 2001, MIBG contributed $32,103,681 into the NTDR; the tribe distributed $32,268,000 to its members that year," Judge Tjoflat wrote. "This means that $164,319 originated from other sources."

"Similarly, in 2002, MIBG paid $37,462,023 into the NTDR; the tribe distributed a total of $36,335,300 that year, leaving an excess of $1,126,723 in gaming revenue," he continued. "As the numbers reveal, MIBG contributed the vast majority of the funds for distribution. Despite this fact, the tribe neither reported the distributions nor withheld federal taxes on them."

The tribe could ask the 11th Circuit to rehear the case or petition the U.S. Supreme Court for review.

Turtle Talk has posted briefs from the case, United States v. Jim. The Miccosukee Tribe intervened in the case.

Read More on the Story:
Miccosukee tribe may be on hook for over $1 billion in gambling taxes (The Miami Herald June 4, 2018)
Florida Tribal Casino Revenues Subject to Federal Taxes, 11th Circuit Says (Law.Com June 4, 2018)
Appeals Court Rules Against Miccosukee Tribe On Member Taxes (CBSMiami / News Service of Florida June 5, 2018)

11th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
United States v. Jim (June 4, 2018)

Federal District Court Documents:
Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law | Order

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