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Thursday, May 05, 2005 | The Internet is a fool’s paradise. It thrives thanks to all the surfers riding waves into virtual worlds where dreams come true, for a price.

Profitability of pornographic Web sites is well known, but fantasy sports sites surprisingly rank right up there with the top online moneymakers. These sites recreate realities allowing fans to feel like Alex Spanos, John Moores or George Steinbrenner.

Fantasy “owners” can trade, sign and release athletes just like A.J. Smith and Kevin Towers. They will delve out hundreds of dollars just for a taste of the front office life. Basically, participants act like real team owners and build their rosters with actual players through drafts, auctions or random drawing.

Leagues usually consist of 10 to 12 teams, which can range from a group of longtime friends to complete strangers. The real world results of each player determine the fate of a fantasy squad.

For example, San Diego was a goldmine for fantasy football owners thanks to surprising seasons from Drew Brees and Antonio Gates. On the diamond, a championship hopeful should own a few Padres pitchers, but must avoid Brian Giles and Ryan Klesko at all costs.

The competition can be fierce, especially when considering how many leagues reward champions with monetary compensation or fantastic prizes. Sure sounds like a familiar guilty pleasure, but although similar to gambling, fantasy games remain legal and lucrative.

Daniel Okrent and Glen Waggoner started the phenomena in 1979, inventing a game based on real-life Major League Baseball statistics. The trailblazing duo never fathomed their little hobby would become a national pastime.

A simple search for fantasy sports Web sites provides more than 12 million results. Today it’s estimated that more than 15 million American adults, mostly male, are living out their fantasy online. So-called experts fill the Web with statistical trends, inside information and medical reports that satisfy a desire to gain a winning edge.

An average owner spends hundreds of dollars and several hours each week “working” on their teams, often neglecting their marriage and family life to do so. Trouble does not end at home as two-thirds admit they are taking care of fantasy business at work.

Companies are taking extreme measures to prevent the loss of millions of dollars in productivity. Locking employees out of mainstream sites such as ESPN.com, which provides a wealth of fantasy games and info, is not feasible.

Firewalls and divorce papers have yet to deter this delinquent behavior. Perhaps there is another way to turn some of this negative into a positive. After all, if you can’t beat them, join them.

Fantasy Sports Enterprises CEO Aaron Bruski believes, “When people spend money, especially on a game or hobby, it just feels better knowing that dollar is doing some good.”

“Fantasy sports generate a lot of revenue,” Bruski says. “The DreamWired Foundation was created to give something back to the community.”

Kevin Aron is a freelance writer in San Diego and outright sports junky. As luck would have it, he turned a childhood obsession into a professional career. Kevin has worked in college sports information, sports agent offices and, most recently, as managing editor of DIRECTVSPORTS.com for nearly five years.

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