smart spending

Don't let fantasy sports tackle your wallet

Many fantasy players also create informal pools or prizes for the league's winners, similar to the ubiquitous office pool for the NCAA's March Madness college basketball tournament. It's important to note that such pools aren't officially sanctioned by fantasy Web sites, says Thomas, so don't expect the sites to take any part in these sorts of friendly wagers.

Fantasy sports, real cash

To Uncle Sam, fantasy sports are strictly entertainment, not gambling. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 specifically exempts fantasy sports from legally being considered gambling.

Still, for many, fantasy sports hold an allure similar to gambling, DiNitto says.

"You are risking a certain amount of money with a chance of making more money and you're risking that on the outcome of a sporting event," he says. "If that's not gambling, I don't know what is."

People who play fantasy sports and restrain their spending to the annual average of $467.60 shouldn't experience significant financial distress. However, it's all too easy to let spending get out of control. That's why it's important to fit fantasy sports into your budget the way you would any other expense, Lawrence says.

"If you have some sort of a budget in place and you know what your other obligations are, then you can also factor in (fantasy sports)," Lawrence says.

While you may be comfortable with your fantasy sports outlay, the spouse may have different ideas if your $1,500 fantasy team comes in dead last -- especially if he or she finds out after the fact.

"Is this an open activity or is this a secretive activity?" Lawrence asks. "Are you honest about the amount you actually spend or are you fibbing on the actual amount?"

Fantasy players who spend amounts that significantly dent the household budget are headed for friction, especially if they haven't been upfront with their partner, says Lawrence.

Lawrence says an open and honest conversation about any money spent on fantasy sports can help avoid a blowup later on.  

"It's critical that there's some kind of conversation or understanding with that partner," Lawrence says.

Avoid getting flagged by the IRS

Once you've alerted the spouse to your fantasy activities, don't forget to inform one more person: Uncle Sam. The winner of a fantasy football cash prize has to deal with tax issues, especially if the prize is paid out through a bona fide fantasy sports provider.

Fantasy football winnings are considered regular income, says Kay Bell, Bankrate contributing editor and author of "The Truth About Paying Fewer Taxes."

"There's a line on the (1040) that says 'other income,' and that's where you enter the amount," she says.

Thinking about having a convenient memory lapse around tax time? Be careful.

"Depending on how much you earn, you're probably going to get a form from the payer called a 1099 miscellaneous, which means that you definitely have to tell the IRS, because when you get one of those forms, it means they've told the IRS," says Bell. "Six hundred dollars is usually the threshold amount, but some entities issue them regardless of the amount."

The same rules apply to amounts won in informal bets or pools surrounding fantasy sports.

"Technically, you should report those winnings," Bell says. "But realistically, nobody does -- it's just one of those sad things for the IRS that people are going to gamble informally and ... just see it as found money."

Fantasy sports at work

Fantasy sports leagues are a staple in many workplaces. How does playing with co-workers affect your career?

On the plus side, it can help you get to know the people you work with better, especially co-workers from other departments.

In the Ipsos study, 54 percent of fantasy players said fantasy sport participation increases the camaraderie among employees in their workplace. Another 16 percent said it allowed them to make valuable business contacts.

"Fantasy football was social networking before anybody even knew what social networking was," Thomas says. "You may never meet your senior VP of marketing in a big company, but if you get in a fantasy football league with him, you've not only met him, you're talking smack with him every week."

Some companies actually sanction company-wide fantasy football leagues and even put up leader boards in their offices as a morale-building tool, Thomas says.

Still, there's a fine line between benefiting through friendly interaction and being seen as a time waster. Too much time spent chatting with co-workers and researching teams and players online could cause your work to suffer.

"It's good for camaraderie; it's a fun thing to talk about," DiNitto says. "Where you have to be careful is lost productivity."

Lawrence adds that smart workers will try to find out how the boss reacts to losing before playing fantasy sports with him or her. After all, you don't want to win the fantasy battle only to lose the career war.


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