The American Gaming Association (AGA) has ruffled some feathers by running political ads about the new online poker film Runner Runner

Stars of films nowadays usually know ahead of time that all kinds of merchandising and interviews are part of the job. They know that entertainment reporters will ask them all kinds of nosey questions about their latest paramour, a scandalous outfit, or a run in with the paparazzi. But what Runner Runner stars Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck – both certainly seasoned in the ways of Hollywood by now – probably didn’t anticipate were the heated feelings their movie about an evil online poker operator, pre-Black Friday, and the broke student conned by his website would evoke.

Federal Regulations Still Vague

In the current tense climate – with a few states creating their own regulatory climate, but most of America still sitting in regulatory limbo while they wait to see if and when the federal government will finally act – the American Gaming Association (which represents the interests of many of the casino industry’s major players) has pulled out all their guns, buying ads throughout social media where they position the film’s message as a “cautionary tale,” and one that federal legislators should take heed of.

But the film- which just opened nationwide – is not meant to make any such statement, say the screenwriters, who simply thought the similar-to-real-life-but-slightly-embellished tale of a 20-something gambler, played by Timberlake, and his evil offshore poker site nemesis-become-crime-boss, played by Affleck, would make a pretty juicy story.

In a retaliatory mode, the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation – a national nonprofit outfit – has now demanded that the AGA remove the ads, saying they  paint a false picture, noting the screenwriters affirmation that they had no such motive in making the movie, and claiming that an ad saying “sometimes movie villains are real” be removed. This, although it’s hard to deny that real-life villains such as Full Tilt’s Ray Bitar – while he may not have been quite as sexy as Affleck – certainly wreaked havoc on millions of American lives, and at least some of that was indeed due to a completely unregulated morass.

Anti-Gambling Group Says Ads Are a Lie

But Les Bernal, the SPGF’s national  director, has a different view, saying nothing will eliminate the dark underbelly of gambling – particularly online gambling – and added that the legal casino lobby just wants their own pound of flesh.

“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,” Bernal wrote.

We hate to break it to Bernal that that horse left the barn about 15 years ago, but oh well.

AGA president Geoff Freeman claims that offshore gambling sites still take a huge bite out of what could and should be an all-American pie; he says these offshore sites scored some $2.6 billion from U.S. players alone last year. Of course, legal Internet gambling, for poker at least, is now full steam ahead in Nevada, and will be for a full range of casino games in New Jersey come November 26, the state’s anticipated launch date. Delaware has also legalized some types of online gambling.

As for Freeman, he makes no apologies for the AGA ad buy for his group that represents the likes of Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts International. He notes that a federal framework is necessary before too many states make their own rules and it all becomes a messy, uncoordinated stew. And he says he will use any means possible to grab legislators attention on this issue these days, and Runner Runner offers a perfect opportunity.

“Washington is changing, and how you share your message in Washington is changing,” Freeman said. “You’ve got to break through the clutter.”