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How can fantasy football help charities?

What if your fantasy football league could be used as a tax write-off and you could donate to Doctors Without Borders, Children's Miracle Network, Operation Smile or the Environmental Defense Fund?

Forty million people spend $2 billion in fantasy leagues every year, which means that if fantasy leagues were a corporation, they would be keeping company with Burger King, Hostess and Mary Kay, according to MSN Money.

Those numbers gave Texas Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine and his college buddy John Ellis an idea. They launched Meaningful Wins, a site that allows players to convert their league entry fees to charity contributions.

The process is simple: sports fan players create a profile and sign up their league, and indicate how much their league is going to donate. Then they choose a cause — and at the end of the season, the donations are delivered to the charities chosen by the winning teams.

If you lose? You're still giving to a good cause (instead of an annoying co-worker), and you get a tax write-off.

If just 1 percent of the money spent on fantasy leagues went to causes, $20 million could be donated, Levine told USA Today.

"These guys go nuts preparing for their fantasy drafts,'' Levine said, "and now there's more of an opportunity to drive money to their causes. When you play, we send you a tax receipt, so you're playing for a tax write-off."

"As [former pitcher] Pete Harnisch joked, 'Now I can get my wife off my back. She can't get mad at me spending eight hours Sunday watching football since I'm actually doing it for charities.'"

Fantasy-leaguers are good candidates for giving, because they tend to have disposable income. The average player is a white-collar married man in his 40s earning $92,000 a year, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. Women are getting in on the game, too — about 20 percent of players are female, or around 5.2 million.

It might seem like players would be loathe to part with a portion of their winnings, but according to Levine, money isn't a top motivator behind the fantasy phenomenon.

"We did some focus groups to try to determine the reason people played," he told WTOP Sports. "It was some combination of staying in touch with old friends, bragging rights, the ability to make trades and then making money."

The effort gets a bump from sports stars, who are big supporters. Most of the featured nonprofits have been chosen, in part, through professional athletes that support them. Hall of Famer Greg Maddux's Candlelighters from the Childhood Cancer Foundation is one, and former major leaguer Kevin Millar's Children's Miracle Network is another. There are about 120 professional athletes supporting the project and spreading the word, according to WTOP.

Levine partners only with "five-star nonprofits," so players can feel like their winnings are going to a good cause. If the idea catches on, he hopes to expand to include other events, like March Madness.

Email: laneanderson@deseretnews.com

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