AGA Uses Runner Runner to Campaign for Online Poker Legalization

Runner Runner, a new movie starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, has not yet been launched, but features prominently in the fight for online gambling regulation in the US. Although Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake might not accept it, they were both playing important roles in the fight for online gaming legalization several hours before the opening of the movie.

The American Gambling Association (AGA) has purchased ads on major social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and others portraying the movie as a story that clearly sends a message to the Congress that it is the need of the hour to legalize US online poker. Anybody who Googles the title of the movie will be able to view these advertisements.

According to Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the movie’s screenwriters, the movie is based on the story of a young gambler who somehow gets involved in the criminal activities of an offshore online gambling site. However, the movie was never intended to be a political parable urging the Congress to legalize online poker, state the screenwriters.

A national non-profit organization called Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation has written a letter to the AGA, complaining that its ads are dishonest and demanding that a particular ad bearing the caption, “sometimes movie villains are real,” must be removed.

Voicing his opinions regarding the matter, Les Bernal, the national director, said that shady offshore online poker rooms will not disappear as soon as the US legalizes online poker. He wrote: “Casino operators now hope to expand another key demographic to their base: young people, especially those of college age, which is why the AGA greedily seized upon ‘Runner, Runner.’”

Online poker, which was never completely legal in the US, was definitely outlawed in the year 2011 when the US Department of Justice (DoJ) cracked down on major US-facing offshore online poker rooms. Online poker players now had to either play live poker or continue playing poker at offshore online poker rooms in violation of the gambling laws.

According to AGA President Geoff Freeman, US players spent $2.6 billion playing at offshore gambling sites last year. The AGA, which has the support of major gambling companies such as Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts International, advocates federal legalization of online poker and warns that state-wise legalization will lead to confusion for players as well as operators.

Dismissing the complaint of Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation, Freeman said that online gaming companies such as the one the movie depicts hardly bother about verifying player location and age and never guarantee fair play.

“Runner Runner,” a movie by Twentieth Century Fox, is based on the story of a college student who feels that an offshore online gambling site cheated him of his tuition fees. He therefore travels all the way to Costa Rica to take revenge on the online poker company, which then offers to employ him. The screenwriters of the movie, who had also been the screenwriters of “Rounders,” said that they were surprised and amused about the AGA’s campaign.

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