The new film Runner, Runner is perhaps more notable for the response it has stirred up in the US regarding the regulation of online gaming, than in the reaction to it as a film in its own right.
Written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (the team behind the hit poker film Rounders in 1998) Runner, Runner, starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake and directed by Brad Furman, was released in the US and Australia at the beginning of October and, while far from receiving universal praise, it has nevertheless stirred up strong emotions, particularly in the online gaming industry.
Timberlake plays Richie Furst, a former Wall Street banker who has returned to graduate school at Princeton. In order to pay his tuition fees he turns to online gaming, supplementing his winnings by acting as an affiliate and recruiting fellow students and staff to play online.
However, when Richie loses $17,000, his next term’s tuition fees, through what he believes is a scam by the online casino he plays at, he sets off to Costa Rica where it’s based in order to track down the owner and recover his funds.
The shady and ruthless owner of the online site Ivan Block (Affleck) is impressed by Richie, and not only returns his money but gives him a job with a seven-figure salary. What ensues is a fairly glossy, predictable thriller, and although ably supported by a cast including Gemma Arterton and Anthony Mackie, the film rarely manages to reach great heights and, were it not for the controversy surrounding it, would more than likely sink without trace fairly quickly.
However, the American Gambling Association (AGA) has leapt upon the film as a means of promoting the long- and widely-held view that there needs to be an overhaul of the legislation regarding online gaming in the US. Their contention is that figures like Ivan Block, while not being based on a real person, do nevertheless exist, and the unscrupulous manner in which he runs his unregistered, unregulated online casino means that everyday players do get fleeced in an unprotected marketplace.
On the film’s release, the AGA bought ads on social media sites and the IMdB website highlighting the film as a “cautionary tale” about what can happen if online gaming sites are not able to be accessed legally by US players, and pushing for federal legislation rather the current piecemeal approach, which sees three states—Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware—preparing to allow real money gaming to take place within their borders soon. It is being argued that if a fully regulated and legal market were to exist, there would be no need for US players to go offshore and risk being exposed to unscrupulous practices.
Therefore, while the film itself is not generally being counted as a great success (although there have been a number of positive reviews of Affleck’s performance), there have been a number of unintended consequences that may further the case for properly regulated and controlled online casinos being introduced throughout the US. The writers of the film are said to have been surprised by this reaction and, although it was not their intention, they may have unwittingly played a valuable role in the introduction of more sensible online gaming laws to the US and beyond. More about the movie.
Watch the trailer of “Runner Runner” here: