How Much Do Game Show Winners Have To Pay In Taxes?

Who wants to be a millionaire? Pretty much everyone who isn't a billionaire, which is pretty much everyone. That's why so many people love game shows. Unlike the game of life, whose arbitrary rules might screw with you like an overzealous power drill, game shows make people feel like they have a chance to prosper in the face of drastically stacked odds. Spinning a wheel might make you a fortune. Maybe you'll win a car if you're good at feuding with families or great at answering random questions. 

Even if you're not one of those Ken Jennings or James Holzhauer types who make winning bajillions of dollars look easy, you know you have everything to gain and nothing to lose — well, maybe not "nothing" to lose. If you guess the wrong price on The Price Is Right, a phony yodeller might fall off a cliff and lose his phony life, which may weigh on your conscience. And if you do happen to gain "everything" on a game show, you will lose some of it to the IRS. How much? To find out, you could win a boat, or boatloads of money, and play "Let's Make a Tax Return." Or you could just keep reading this article.

So what's the exact tax bill on game show winnings?

Forbes reports that "All winnings on game show are ordinary income, taxed up to 37% by the IRS." This applies to both cash and prizes. If you win a boat, the load of money you pay to Uncle Sam will depend on the fair market value of the boat. Plus, you may have to pay state taxes. So if you fatten your wallet on a game show, be prepared to see your wallet shed a few pounds, too. According to Market Watch, after Matt McMahan won $31,700 in cash and trips on Wheel of Fortune, the final tally after taxes was a whopping $6,000 in cash.

The amount you pay will also depend on the tax code, which changes pretty regularly. For instance, as of 2018, game show contestants can no longer claim tax deductions for airfare, hotel fees, and other expenses related to their game show attendance. In that regard, the winners of today pay higher taxes than their game show predecessors, and the winners of the future may pay even more (or less) as tax laws evolve.