CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

They lead a very active fantasy life

Fantasy football doesn't pay the bills for many, but there is $2.5 million at stake in a tournament this weekend in Las Vegas.

Fantasy tournament

Players take part in last year's fantasy football tournament at Bally's in Las Vegas. This year, the tournament winner will take home $1 million. (Maldin Films / December 10, 2013)

Erik Hafner, 28, works for nobody but himself. He watches sports all day and night. Without having to leave the house — or deal with rush hour, or please some screaming boss — he has pulled in $150,000 playing fantasy sports so far this year, on an original $25 investment.

That's right, Hafner is living your dream.

Don't quit your day job yet. Not a lot of guys can pull it off — pay-out fantasy sites estimate only a handful.

But the way pro poker players make a living on the game they love, so go these elite fantasy players, turning an obsession into a six-figure salary.

"I've been playing high stakes lately," said Hafner, a UC Riverside business grad. "I've been putting up 10 to 20 grand a day."

How illegal is that? Not a bit. Congress has declared play-for-money fantasy sites legit, saying they involve "games of skill," as opposed to other forms of gambling.

How that differs from placing a bet with a bookie, only Congress knows. But that's the law (Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006). Some states still prohibit fantasy pay sites on their own. California is not one of them.

In fact, L.A. is the most-represented metro area in this weekend's Fantasy Football Championship, a national tournament with $2.5 million in prize money. Three players are from the L.A. area, and two others are from the San Diego area.

Hafner, who just moved to Sacramento from Riverside, would seem to be one of the favorites to win the $1-million top prize, partly for his skill, and partly because he qualified for two spots in the 40-team tourney being held Sunday at the Palazzo in Las Vegas.

The qualifying process reads like a confusing electoral college of sports. Host site DraftStreet.com held pre-tournaments all season, and seven players won twice. That means they can enter two teams. So the 40 teams in Sunday's finals will be run by 33 players.

Unlike more conventional fantasy drafts, the tournament's "salary cap" rosters can overlap. With players priced according to performance, each roster must stay under the hypothetical $100,000 cap. In theory, every team could have Peyton Manning as a starting QB.

Like Hafner, most of the finalists have serious business backgrounds, accounting degrees or better, a borderline unhealthy relationship with sports and almost saintly girlfriends and wives. My math's a little weak, but I think that eliminates about 99% of you (especially that last one).

Trust me, the dude who brings home a $1-million bonus this weekend will have a pretty happy home life.

Adam Dishman is another L.A. player vying for Sunday's grand prize. You may remember Dishman from his fantasy football reports on Fred Roggin's sports show. Dishman also runs a website and has a noggin full of numbers.

"I work a 40-hour week only so I can spend 80 hours a week doing something that easily brings home nothing," the entertainment industry consultant says of his work/hobby split.

Dishman isn't a pro like Hafner, but neither is he just another bozo in the next cubicle. In addition to his website, he juggles more than a dozen teams.

"This year I got a little carried away," he says, citing his eight expert leagues, a couple of personal leagues, several best-ball leagues and the DraftStreet team he'll assemble for Sunday.

If that makes him a bozo after all, so be it. At least Dishman's heart is in the right place.

"I wake up at 6 a.m. and I feed the baby and I take an 8:30 walk with her," he says, explaining that actions speak loudest when it comes to fantasy football. "Marriage is like a depo [deposition]: Nothing you say can ever help you."

A.J. Van Gilder, 30, is another Vegas tourney finalist from L.A. He's married too, with a baby on the way in February, and acknowledges that the $1-million prize would do wonders for him at home.

But for Van Gilder, an accountant, fantasy football is pure hobby.

"I can tell you exactly how much I've made off of DraftStreet, which is zero," he says.

Like most of the nation's 20 million fantasy football players, Van Gilder mostly plays for the fun of it, the joy of the research, then watching his predictions come true. And, of course, the trash talk.

There is also, amid the frantic obsessions, simple returns that aren't always apparent.

Says Dishman: "I get emails on my website from soldiers who say that when they're under fire, the way they stay sane is to think who they'll start on their fantasy team that week."

Worth a million bucks right there.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

Twitter: @erskinetimes

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