It was written by the same team that brought the last classic poker movie to Hollywood, but can Runner Runner have the same impact?
The blockbuster poker movie, starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, is ready for release in October at a very opportune time as online poker makes regulatory headway in the United States.
But will the fictional story of a Princeton student who loses his tuition money playing online poker resonate in the same way that Rounders did in 1998?
Runner Runner is not a poker movie in the sense that Rounders was as far as game play. It may have been written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the producers of Rounders, but this movie will be more focused on drama surrounding the greed that the characters display rather than scenes involving poker play (as seen between John Malkovich and Matt Damon in Rounders).
Timberlake’s character attempts to expose what he believes is a shady game. Instead of exposing the fraud, he ends up joining it, and once the FBI gets involved, the high level of drama ensues.
So while the timing may be right with Nevada and other states embracing and regulating online poker, the subject matter may not. If the story paints a negative picture of the online poker industry, it may not be accepted by the poker community as a classic poker movie.
The storyline is eerily similar to cheating scandals that have plagued the industry.
Poker has taken American society by storm and spread to the farthest reaches of the planet. A perfect storm of ESPN coverage of the World Series of Poker, the creation of online poker and the release of Rounders sent the game of Texas Hold'em skyrocketing in popularity.
When novice poker player Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker in 2003, it flooded poker rooms with wannabe players. It has been dubbed the Moneymaker Effect.
Despite efforts from the federal government to keep Americans from playing online poker, the game continued to grow stateside and abroad.
Over the last five years, the game of poker has continued to grow in land-based card rooms, while a number of online operations continue to offer action to U.S. players. Online poker has become legal and regulated in many countries, while others are still developing methods of providing the game and collecting revenues from the action.
During that time, Hollywood tried poker movies they hoped could rival the impact that Rounders had on the game, but no production has managed to become popular with the general public. Movies like The Grand, Shade, Deal and others have all failed to reach the public.
“Many question whether a thriller like Runner Runner will help or hinder the cause of online poker,” said Dean Stone, a writer with OddsShark.com. “Or it could have no real impact at all other than its entertainment value.”
The one edge that Rounders had over other poker movies is that it taught the game of Texas Hold'em to many potential players. The timing of the release (1998) was one of the main factors for the success of the movie. All the other poker movies that have followed have been released in a time where the game is in flux legally in America, but that is finally changing.
Individual states have the legal right to control gambling operations, and some have already legalized poker within state borders. Nevada is already operating online poker, and New Jersey and Delaware will be dealing cyber poker to residents and visitors this fall.
More states are expected to join in on the action over the next year until an intrastate poker network is established.