Will Poker Movie Runner Runner Help Regulation Odds?

Jeff Bottari

Can a movie depicting the bad old days of online poker actually help the push for poker regulation? Some are hoping the Ben Affleck flick Runner Runner does that when it opens in October.

U.S. gaming officials are hoping to capitalize on the release of a poker-themed movie that depicts online poker as a shady lawless con game.

They're hoping that the momentum of Runner Runner could provide an opportunity to gain the attention of Congress on the issue that has thus far been ignored in Washington.

Geoff Freeman, President of the American Gaming Association (AGA), sent an email to his board of directors that pegged the October 4th movie premiere date as an opportunity to make Congress aware of the need for regulated online gaming in the U.S.

"This film provides our industry with an opportunity that the AGA will capitalize upon," Freeman said. "The AGA will leverage the certain coverage this film will receive to raise awareness about the need for proper regulation of online gaming."

Freeman intends on providing data on the amount of illegal online gaming that is currently going on in the U.S. in order to show Congress that there is a need to control the industry and protect American poker players from potential shady offshore operations.

The AGA will also look to drive traffic to a website that will offer information on how a potential regulated online gaming market will operate. The movie stars Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake and enjoyed cameo appearances from some of the world's top poker players, including Antonio Esfandiari (see Q&A interview).

AGA Spokeswoman Holly Wetzel explained that the organization is still exploring different options on how to leverage the release of the movie in their favor and increase their odds of poker success.

"We're looking for every opportunity to spread the word about the need for a regulated online poker market in the U.S., and the movie is an opportunity," Wetzel said.

The AGA has been warning of these potential pitfalls of offshore online gaming for years and they are hoping that the movie can finally get their opinions heard.

Online gaming has had instances of unfair games and unlawful and unethical practices in the past, but the exaggerated version of the movie could be what it takes to finally get enough lawmakers interested in the issue.

Not every member of the AGA is looking forward to Runner Runner's potential impact on games like online Texas Holdem specifically and the online poker gaming community in general.

Some members like Bally Technologies Chairman Richard Haddrill, the current chairman of the American Gaming Association, has voiced his fear that the general public could believe that the movie setting is how all online gaming providers operate.

"A great majority of the public doesn't understand that regulated Internet gaming is taking place all over the world, but it has been slow to come about in the U.S.," Haddrill said. Ideally, the film allows us to present our message for a strong regulated system."

Nevada has been operating legal regulated online poker since April and New Jersey will be offering both online casino and poker action by November.

Delaware is close to developing its online gaming market and other states are sure to follow over the next couple of years.

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