DENVER (CBS4) It is estimated that some 33 million people in the U.S. and Canada are playing fantasy sports, but for many, fantasy has turned into an ugly reality. It’s become an addiction costing time, relationships and money.

Duvalier Johnson of Aurora is a typical fantasy football player—a young male with disposable income to spend on pay-to-play fantasy leagues. He usually has 8 or 9 teams playing each day, spending $30 a week, hoping to win and turn that $30 into a lot more.

“I know a lot of people who spent a lot more money. Some are really addicted to it,” Johnson says. “I know a guy that spends 200 to 300 a day on it. He’s losing hundreds of dollars every day…every single day.”

The fantasy addiction is proving costly. There are now many pay sites where players pay to get in with the potential of winning big: cash payouts every day for winners.

But many lose a fortune and end up talking to people like Nancy Lantz, who says “we have nothing telling people there is a downside to this. It only looks like it’s fun.”

A Greenwood Village psychotherapist specializing in gambling addictions, Lantz sees many who are addicted to fantasy football and losing big.

“He’s probably $50,000 in debt at this particular time,” she says of a player, many of whom don’t equate their fantasy football with gambling.

“It’s much different because they can look at if they’re betting on sports or if they’re betting at the casinos, that’s gambling. But this is just entertainment and strategizing and it’s a game, it’s fun,” says Lantz.

These online pay-to-play leagues, where you bet on your own picks, are not considered gambling under federal law because there is skill involved.

But in five states, state laws prohibit cash payouts for fantasy football.

Cecil Lammey is a fantasy football guru, hosting a radio show dishing out tips to fantasy football players hoping to turn their hunches into cash.

He says the average player spends 20 hours a week researching players and teams, “and there have been marriages disrupted by fantasy sports because it’s such a time suck. It doesn’t have to be. If you’re addicted to it and ignore other things in your life you can take it too far.”

It is currently estimated that fantasy football is a multi-billion dollar a year business. And while it is called Fantasy Football, and is in fact a pretend game, the consequences can be very real.

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