Former Poker Sites Portrayed in “Runner, Runner”

Justin Timberlake was one of a handful of entertainers who stole the headlines from the recent Video Music Awards on MTV.

And while he proved his singing and dancing skills are still intact, poker players are anticipating his return to the big screen next month, when he’ll star in the feature film Runner, Runner.

Timberlake portrays Richie Furst, a Princeton student who is cheated out of his tuition money by playing online poker. But when Furst learns the website is hosted from a remote island location, he goes to confront the site’s owner, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), and ends up becoming Block’s protégé.

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The movie hits at a time when online poker is enjoying some hard-earned legitimacy with regulation in the United States. However, it also harks back to a 10-year old scandal Affleck knows all too well and which scarred the poker community.

The premise of Runner, Runner is based on a scandal that took place from 2003-2007 with former websites UltimateBet.com and its sister site, AbsolutePoker.com. According to several reports, and audio tapes, poker pro Russ Hamilton and his crew were able to see the hands of players thanks to the site’s software developers, Iovation.

Bettors were swindled for tens of millions of dollars. Once the scandal was exposed, a number of prominent names surfaced in regard to victims, including poker pro Prahlad Friedman, who reportedly was bilked for $360,000, and Affleck, who allegedly was taken for $500,000.

Travis Makar, a computer expert who worked for UltimateBet, allegedly leaked a tape that featured Hamilton, Iovation CEO Greg Pierson and two UltimateBet lawyers in a conversation that detailed ways to bury the superuser information and avoid refunding big-money players.

The Kahnawake Gaming Commission – the official licensing and regulating authority for gaming activity within and from the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake in Quebec, Canada – did an investigation and revealed Hamilton admitted to the scandal, as audio tapes revealed a clear indication on how Hamilton cheated players out of millions, while a number of UltimateBet key employees worked to hide the scandal.

Based on newer evidence, it is believed those involved with the scandal cheated bettors out of more than $50 million dollars.

Runner, Runner is due out in theaters on Sept. 27.

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