Gaming Association Spins New Movie to Its Advantage

An association representing casinos says the new movie Runner, Runner illustrates the need for government regulation of online gambling.

Hollywood movies can make a big impact on public opinion. When a film paints a negative portrait of a particular industry, the association or trade group representing it typically jumps into spin mode. The initial response is often a defensive one.

Earlier this year, a group representing the natural gas industry ran 15-second commercials refuting the negative portrayal of the hydraulic fracturing extraction process, also known as “fracking,” before the release of the Matt Damon movie Promised Land, which was critical of the practice.

Another controversial topic, online gambling, is set to receive its own negative depiction in an upcoming movie. Rather than jumping on the defensive, though, an association representing the gaming industry is taking a more nuanced approach: It’s embracing the film.

In the crime thriller Runner, Runner, opening in the U.S. on October 4, Justin Timberlake plays a Princeton grad student cheated out of his tuition money by an illegal gambling website. You’d think the gaming industry, which has been fighting for years to legalize some online games, would object outright. Instead, the American Gaming Association, which represents casino owners, says the film illustrates how regulation could protect consumers.

The legality of online gambling is murky. CNN reports that rules vary by state and make a distinction between “gambling” and “betting” on games that require some amount of skill, such as poker. Only three states—Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey—have legalized online gambling. As a result, many poker sites operate offshore in countries in the Caribbean and Europe but accept illegal wagers from players in the United States.

Despite a 2011 crackdown on sites by the Justice Department, online poker is a big moneymaker. Reuters reports that unauthorized sites earned around $4 billion as of 2011, and the market is expected to grow another $10 billion in the coming years.

The American Gaming Association has long advocated for a federal law allowing for the taxation and regulation of online poker (though it is pushing for a federal ban on other online casino-style games), but efforts in Congress have stalled. Two bills recently introduced seek to establish federal regulation of online gaming, though some see the push for either measure as an uphill battle.

In a statement on Runner, Runner, AGA president Geoff Freeman said, “The film underscores the AGA’s message to lawmakers about the urgent need for online poker regulations in the United States.”

The association intends to draw attention to the sketchy underworld of illegal online gambling depicted in the movie and raise awareness about the need for regulation in several ways:

  • Releasing research on the amount of illegal internet gaming currently estimated to be taking place in the United States
  • Driving theatergoers to the AGA website to learn more about properly regulated gaming
  • Hosting a “discussion screening” for targeted audiences

Considering the new legislative efforts in Washington, the movie may come at just the right time. And the American Gaming Association could see its gamble in embracing it pay off.

Gemma Arterton and Justin Timberlake in "Runner, Runner," which shows online gambling in a negative light. (20th Century Fox)

Chris Brandon

By Chris Brandon

Christopher Brandon is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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