Ben Affleck plays online gambling legend, Ivan Block in the upcoming 20th Century Fox film RUNNER RUNNER, opposite Justin Timberlake and Gemma Arterton. Princeton grad student Richie (Justin Timberlake), believing he’s been swindled, travels to Costa Rica to confront online gambling tycoon Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). Richie is seduced by Block’s promise of immense wealth, until he learns the disturbing truth about his benefactor. When the FBI tries to coerce Richie to help bring down Block, Richie faces his biggest gamble ever: attempting to outmaneuver the two forces closing in on him.
Ivan Block’s own journey down the rabbit hole has yielded untold riches, which is all the enticement Richie needs for what ultimately becomes a rite of passage. “Ivan Block is the unapologetic mentor who says, ‘Get what you can get and don’t think twice about it,'” says Affleck. “Block wants to manipulate Richie, to get him to be part of his team. His mission is to groom Richie so he won’t object to some of the darker things he sees.”
Affleck notes that reading people is one of Block’s chief strengths in distracting Richie from the tycoon’s less savory aspects: “Block knows what buttons to press on people, and his most impressive trick is to distract them from his true motives. To Block, people are insecure and almost desperate to succeed. He knows people feel they’ve been kicked around and that we’re taught to chase the dollar and to equate wealth with status, honor, success, and manliness. So he holds up that wealth, which blinds Richie to what’s really going on.”
Internet gambling is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, with outposts in exotic locations in South and Central America, the Caribbean, Asia, Europe and Dubai. Where these gambling hubs have sprung up, brick-and-mortar casinos have followed, their opulence sometimes dwarfing the U.S. gambling mecca of Las Vegas. While that city has annual revenues around $6 billion, the burgeoning online gambling sites and casinos of Macau – a tropical island a few hours from Hong Kong – did a combined $44 billion worth of business in 2011. Business practices at these exotic locales are murky at best; it is the Wild West all over again, but instead of guns, these white collar criminals use complex algorithms.