Judge: Employee comp meals tax free, rewards club meals taxable
March 2, 2013
Casinos don’t owe sales or use taxes on complimentary meals they give employees but must pay taxes on the comp meals given to customers for points earned in their player rewards club, Carson District Judge Todd Russell ruled Friday.There is about $18 million in taxes involved in the Harrah’s case — the lion’s share of that in the rewards club portion, Senior Deputy Attorney General Blake Doerr said.“Employee meals are not subject to the sales tax, in this court’s opinion,” Russell said in his ruling.He said they would be if they constituted a “retail sale,” but that in his opinion, they don’t.Russell instead said they “really are a benefit to employees.”Meals given to regular players, he said, are a different matter.“The state is allowed to collect sales tax on a rewards program,” he said. Such programs “are a direct exchange” for player participation and marketing information, so they should be subject to sales tax, Russell said.The Harrah’s lawsuit is one of more than a dozen by casino operators statewide, Doerr said. Four are still in district court and one — involving the Boyd casinos — is at the Nevada Supreme Court. The rest, he said, are still in the Department of Taxation’s administrative process.Outside, lawyer John Bartlett, who represents casinos in most of the other lawsuits, said it was the same ruling he received in the suit on behalf of Boyd casinos. If the ruling stands, he said, casinos will have to pay millions of dollars.Doerr argued that the consideration that qualifies a meal as taxable “doesn’t have to be a cash transfer.”“It just has to be something of value,” he said.Lawyer Norm Azevedo said on behalf of Harrah’s that neither employee meals nor rewards card meals for patrons constitute a retail sale because there is no transfer of consideration. He also argued that the Department of Taxation isn’t going after businesses that provide coffee, soft drinks and even sandwiches to workers.Doerr said the definition of a retail sale is “a sale for any purpose other than resale.”Both sides are expected to appeal.