Runner, Runner poster

Some Concerned, Others Less So About Online Poker’s Portrayal in Runner, Runner

Runner, Runner posterAmid the cacophony created by the recent announcement that Ben Affleck would be portraying Batman in a future installment of superhero-centered cinema, casino representatives and others with an interest in online poker are weighing in regarding another film in which Affleck is involved, the action thriller Runner, Runner scheduled to premiere September 27.

In “Casinos to spin Timberlake, Affleck film as cautionary tale,” Sue Zeidler of Reuters reports on concern being expressed by some that the film which portrays a college student being cheated while playing online poker may create a negative impression of online poker as corrupt and unregulated.

From the perspective of some banking on the return of online poker to the U.S., such a portrayal of online poker is considered undesirable, especially as the first legal, regulated sites are being launched in Nevada and New Jersey, and legislation regarding online gambling is being considered in other states as well.

According to Zeidler, the American Gaming Association is already taking preventative steps to counter such negative impressions by planning to produce ads and conduct “discussion screenings” of the film in order “to draw a distinction between its portrayal of the seedy trappings of global online poker, and a federally regulated market they are trying to plug.”

Reuters additionally obtained an email sent by AGA President Geoff Freeman to its board outlining “plans to argue that the film underscores the risk of a poorly-regulated market.”

In Runner, Runner, Timberlake plays an online poker-playing Princeton student who is cheated in a fashion not unlike occurred with the so-called “superuser” scandals at Absolute Poker and UltimateBet. Those scandals no doubt provided inspiration for the film’s first act, as the student next travels to Costa Rica to confront the site’s owner, portrayed by Affleck. From there the student is convinced to join the operation, then is eventually recruited by the FBI to help topple the corrupt enterprise.

The film had existed on the periphery of the poker world’s attention for quite some time thanks to the combination of its poker-themed title and the news that Rounders co-scripters David Levien and Brian Koppelman were again collaborating for its screenplay. A trailer unveiled in early June confirmed once and for all that the film would be incorporating online poker as part of its plot as well as the fact that it was not a Rounders sequel.

John Pappas of the Poker Players Alliance is quoted in the Reuters piece as well expressing concern that “People very well could get the wrong idea” about online poker from the film. “Not all offshore operators are unregulated bad guys,” says Pappas, insisting that the film’s suggesting that players can be cheated “shows what could be happening in a worst-case scenario.”

However, not everyone with an interest in online poker in the U.S. is fretting about Runner, Runner. Joe Versaci, chief marketing officer of Station Casinos who continue to operate the only live online poker site in Nevada with Ultimate Poker, is quoted saying that “the specifics of the film are not what we’re associating ourselves with.” Likewise, Caesars is obviously on board with the film, with plans to host a red-carpeted premiere at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

Runner, Runner adCaesars’s endorsement of Runner, Runner was made clear to those playing and attending the World Series of Poker this summer by advertisements of the film’s fall release placed around the main feature table.  Indeed, one of the ads appeared right next to another for, the yet-to-be-launched online poker site which has been extensively promoted since late May.

The Reuters piece includes a quote from Caesars’ chief marketing officer Tariq Shaukat noting how after “a lot of discussion” they felt comfortable they “could draw a nice distinction between the illegal, unregulated world [of the film] and the regulated market we are advocating.”

Whether Runner, Runner ultimately helps, hurts, or has little or no effect on online poker’s future in the U.S. remains to be seen. Meanwhile, judging from the overwhelming response to that other piece of entertainment news yesterday, the overall level of concern regarding Ben Affleck’s potential effect on the Batman franchise is much, much higher.


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