Curlers face tax man

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

Neil Houston knows what it's like to have the tax man try a cashspiel-winnings takeout.

The Canadian Curling Association manager of communication services was a 19-year-old back in 1979 when Revenue Canada contacted him about the money he made on the cashspiel circuit.

It's the same thing Wayne Middaugh, who will skip the Ontario entry out of Toronto St. George's in this year's Tim Hortons Brier beginning Saturday in Edmonton, is facing. The federal tax authorities sent Middaugh a letter about six weeks ago with concerns about his cashspiel earnings the past three years.

Middaugh's team grossed between $300,000 to $400,000, but the net amount once the money had been divided among the four players (and more than that on occasions when spares were used) combined with expenses reduced the individual amount significantly.

The actual amount -- and Middaugh wouldn't specify it -- is tax free. Revenue Canada doesn't tax curling winnings because the overwhelming majority of players lose more than they make in a season.

Houston was a member of Paul Gowsell's high-profile Calgary team when Revenue Canada notified him about plans to collect about $19,000 for a three-year period.

"The whole thing lasted for about a year and it went right up to the point of walking in the court room when they just dropped it and never went any further," Houston said yesterday.

Houston never found out why Revenue Canada initiated the matter then dropped it and why he was singled out. He was receiving a student-athlete grant of $900 a semester at the time.

HILARIOUS

"It was hilarious because they give you $900 on one hand, but they want the money going back the other way," he said.

Houston said he'd heard rumblings in the past few months that Revenue Canada planned to assess a curler because of the growth of cashspiel prize money.

"Back then (in 1979) we were making $70,000 as a team (in one season). (Teams) make that in a month now," Houston said. "If they're going to come after me, they're going to have to come after somebody sometime."

Warren Hansen, the CCA's manager of media relations/competitions director, said published reports about money the players are making likely contributed to the red flag by Revenue Canada.

"It's one of the reasons we are very careful with anything we give (at CCA-sanctioned events)," he said. "We don't call it prize money. It's all intended to assist them as amateur athletes. But you start blatantly calling it prize money -- and now it's a fairly good size sum to it -- and it's going to get somebody's attention."

While not professing to be a tax expert, Hansen said Revenue Canada would have to define who is attempting to making a living out of the sport and who isn't.

"There could surely be some difficult lines there to have to draw on to deal with it all, but it doesn't surprise me (something has happened)," he said.


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