Lobbying Group to use “Runner, Runner” Movie as Political Tool
Poker players have been looking forward with some enthusiasm to the upcoming movie “Runner, Runner,” which brings some elements – including some very controversial ones – of the online gambling industry to the big screen.
But apparently they’re not the only group looking forward to Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck’s take on the world of Internet betting.
Also intrigued: Lobbying group the American Gaming Association (AGA), who recently informed members of their plan to use the movie as a launchpad for a nationwide discussion of the dangers of state-regulated online gambling.
Plans revealed in email to members
The plans by the AGA to use “Runner, Runner” as a tool in their quest for federal regulation of online poker were revealed in a private email to members which was acquired by journalist Jon Ralston.
In the email, apparently authored by recently appointed AGA head Geoff Freeman, AGA members are informed of Freeman’s plans to “leverage the certain coverage this film will receive to raise awareness about the need for proper regulation of online gaming.”
By “proper,” Freeman means federally-based – as opposed to state-based – regulation of online gambling.
The email offers few specifics regarding the tactics the AGA plans to employ in order to leverage the attention surrounding the film to advance the cause of federally-based regulation. Freeman mentions “releasing research,” “driving theatre-goers to the AGA website” and “discussion screenings for targeted audiences” as three possible avenues the AGA might pursue.
Whether their campaign is meant to be national or focused primarily on states like Massachusetts and Illinois where online gambling regulation is more clearly in play was not made obvious by the email.
Movie is highest-profile take on online gambling to date
While online gambling has been featured as a peripheral subplot in some films, and poker featured as the primary in others, “Runner Runner” will easily be the most high-profile Hollywood treatment of online poker so far.
Affleck and Timberlake easily fit most qualifications for A-list status, especially with Affleck’s recent critical triumph Argo. The movie is getting a sustained promotional push that began months ago and is ramping up as the film’s September release date approaches.
In short, if you’re looking for an opportunity to debate online gambling on the national stage, Runner, Runner definitely provides the potential surge of interest necessary for a mainstream conversation.
Could Runner Runner impact online gambling legislation in the United States?
It might seem a bit silly to ask whether a Hollywood movie could have a direct and profound impact on a political issue such as legal online poker, but the question is a legitimate one.
It’s obvious that we’re at a critical point in the history of online poker in the United States. But online gambling remains an issue about which many Americans are simply uninformed or have yet to cultivate an opinion. And some very powerful forces – both commercial and political – have a good deal at stake.
Mix those conditions with a movie that could potentially become a breakout hit in the relatively slow fall movie season, and then further consider the fact that the final table of the 2013 Main Event of the World Series of Poker will be playing out in roughly the same time frame.
So could “Runner, Runner” materially impact the debate over online gambling in the United States? To put it in the parlance of the film, it’s a longshot – but not completely drawing dead.
AGA likely to move ahead despite disclosure
Obviously the email sent by AGA officials to members describing the strategy for Runner, Runner wasn’t meant for public consumption.
But there’s no reason to believe that the disclosure of the email – which itself was about as benign as emails come – will have any impact whatsoever on the AGA’s plan to use the film as a springboard for advancing their political aim of a federal solution for regulated online gambling in the United States.
In short: Expect the release of Runner, Runner to be quickly – and aggressively – followed by a major media campaign propelled by the AGA and its various surrogates.