Gaming leaders are looking at leveraging the release of a feature film that depicts the seedier side of illegal Internet poker to raise awareness of the need for proper regulation of online wagering.
American Gaming Association President Geoff Freeman, in an email to the organization’s board of directors last week, said the Oct. 4 release of “Runner Runner” presents the Washington-based lobbying group an opportunity to state its case for Congress to pass regulations governing Internet gaming in the United States.
The movie, which stars Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, centers on illegal offshore Internet poker and the cheating of U.S. gamblers. According to the plot summary on IMDb.com, Affleck portrays an online gambling tycoon in Costa Rica who is confronted by Timberlake’s Princeton graduate school student who believes he’s been swindled by the website.
“This film provides our industry with an opportunity that the AGA will capitalize upon,” Freeman said. “The AGA will leverage the certain coverage this film will receive to raise awareness about the need for proper regulation of online gaming.”
Freeman, who became the association’s president in June, said tactics could include releasing research data on the amount of illegal Internet gaming that is estimated to be taking place in the U.S.
Freeman also is exploring ways to drive theatergoers to the association’s website to learn more about regulated gaming.
“The film underscores the AGA’s message to lawmakers about the urgent need for online poker regulations in the United States,” he said.
Spokeswoman Holly Wetzel said the association is in the planning phase on how to leverage release of the movie.
“We’re looking for every opportunity to spread the word about the need for a regulated online poker market in the U.S., and the movie is an opportunity,” she said.
The American Gaming Association supports the legalization of Internet poker in the U.S. and has encouraged Congress to pass a bill allowing for the taxation and regulation of the activity.
Bally Technologies Chairman Richard Haddrill, chairman of the association, said he’s worried the average movie fan might view “Runner Runner” as how all Internet gaming is conducted.
“A great majority of the public doesn’t understand that regulated Internet gaming is taking place all over the world, but it has been slow to come about in the U.S.,” Haddrill said. “Ideally, the film allows us to present our message for a strong regulated system.”
MGM Resorts International Chairman Jim Murren, who is the vice chairman of the association’s board, said the movie “draws stark attention to the dangers posed by illegal offshore operators of gambling websites.”
Murren said unlicensed foreign gaming operators will continue to thrive unless the U.S. passes poker regulations.
“The AGA has been vocal about these dangers for a long time,” Murren said.
Efforts in Congress to legalize Internet poker have stalled over the past few sessions.
Two bills regarding Internet gaming have recently been introduced in Congress. In June, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., introduced an Internet gaming regulation bill that would allow all forms of online gaming. On July 11, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, introduced legislation that would legalize poker only.
Nevada has legalized Internet poker. The first pay-to-play website, operated by Ultimate Gaming, a company majority owned by Station Casinos, has been accepting wagers since April 30. Other sites are expected to launch soon.
New Jersey casino regulators hope to launch Internet gaming — poker and casino games — by November.
Internet gambling in Nevada and New Jersey is restricted to computers and mobile devices located within the state’s boundaries.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.