The world premiere of the online poker film ‘Runner, Runner’ starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake with production overseen by Leonardo DiCaprio, is scheduled to debut on September 27. The movie is deliberately controversial, but casinos and poker advocacy groups believe it will encourage federally regulated online poker in the US and Canada.
The movie stars Timberlake as Richie Furst, a Princeton student who gambles on an offshore poker site managed by Ivan Block, played by Affleck. Feeling he was cheated out of his money, Richie flies down to Costa Rica to confront Ivan who instead takes the young student on as his protégé. The film also stars former Bond girl Gemma Arterton as Rebecca Shafran, right-hand woman to Ivan, as well as Anthony Mackie as FBI Agent Zbysko, who attempts to use Richie to take Ivan down.
The film is a departure from other gambling movies in that it deliberately displays the seedy underworld of unregulated online poker. The timing of the film’s release is also questionable as many states are independently legalizing online gambling, and forming partnerships with offshore casinos.
The Poker Players Alliance and the American Gaming Association are two of the largest pro-online poker organizations in the US, who recognize the political storm brewing behind the movie’s release. Both groups support a federally regulated online poker market, and are lobbying lawmakers to support two new federal bills that would legalize online poker. The organizations believe Runner, Runner will help convince the federal government that a regulated market is safer for player security than unregulated sites.
Casinos like Caesars Entertainment with locations across the US and in Canada also believe Runner, Runner will shift the US to a more liberalized position regarding online poker. Caesars recently partnered with 888 Holdings to launch an online poker room in Nevada, and is negotiating a similar arrangement in New Jersey.
Tariq Shaukat, Chief Marketing Officer for Caesars Entertainment, says the company supports the political message associated with the movie.
“There was a lot of discussion of whether we wanted to be part of ‘Runner, Runner,’ but we decided we could draw a nice distinction between the illegal, unregulated world and the regulated market we are advocating.”
The stars of Runner, Runner will be on the red carpet for the premiere next month.