A Halifax activist says the media’s treatment of a disgruntled Chase the Ace jackpot winner feeds harmful stereotypes at the expense of confronting serious issues around gambling.
El Jones, chair of Mount Saint Vincent University’s women’s studies program, zeroed in on recent local TV news video quoting an animated Barb Reddick, who won Margaree’s Chase the Ace event on Monday, but was angry over having to split the $1.2 million prize with her nephew. His name was also on the ticket.
“The media promotes lotteries as a path to riches, to pleasure, and Chase the Ace is no different,” said Jones. “They’re always covered as a spectacle, like, 'Wow look at how big the jackpot is this week!' There’s never any critical coverage of why some of these people might need to win the lottery.
“Of course some people can act desperate when they’re presented with this huge sum of money. But we stick a camera in their face and think it’s funny when they fight over the money.”
The story, which has since made national headlines, is now focused on Reddick’s intention to take legal action for the entire jackpot amount. Jones says while zeroing in on a family being ripped apart, the media is missing an opportunity to examine some of the well-documented social harms associated with gambling in this province.
“What’s happening between them is not uncommon, it’s very common with lottery winners, that there’s a dispute over the winnings and it gets sorted out in court and it ruins families.
“But why does the media always focus on this instead of looking at the larger more important stories, like are lotteries a good thing? What that woman is going through, what those families must be enduring, that’s real pain. This is a family being torn apart. We don’t have any analysis of how often this is the case with people who gamble.”
The former Halifax poet laureate is also a well-known black activist and she believes Reddick’s race as a black woman is apparent in some of the heavy public criticism she’s been facing, especially on social media where her face has appeared on several memes. In a circulating video, her quotes from TV news stories are dubbed into a scene from the comedic movie, The Nutty Professor, starring Eddie Murphy. The character Reddick is supposed to inhabit is presented as a crusty elderly black woman.
“There’s a tradition of memeing black reaction online in the particular ways that black people are seen as entertainment,” said Jones. “It’s tied to the minstrel show, the dehumanization of black face tradition. Why are black people so often seen as spectacles, whether it’s the way we talk or look.
The provincial government has failed to adequately address a 2015 Auditor General report that found serious deficiencies in the province’s gambling prevention and treatment programs. The 22-page document said Nova Scotia generated more than $500 million in revenue in 2013-14 and also estimated 7,000 Nova Scotians experience adverse consequences related to their gambling.
“We found Nova Scotia is not adequately managing its problem gambling prevention and treatment programs,” read the report. “The Department of Health and Wellness does not monitor gambling treatment within health authorities for compliance with treatment standards.”
"The media promotes lotteries as a path to riches, to pleasure, and Chase the Ace is no different . . . There’s never any critical coverage of why some of these people might need to win the lottery."
The Auditor General’s report contained seven recommendations aimed at bolstering the province’s prevention and treatment program, including that the Department of Health and Wellness determine if gambling prevention and treatment efforts are effectively reducing the number of Nova Scotians experiencing gambling harm. The Auditor General’s followup report released in April showed that recommendation had not been completed. Only two of the seven recommendations had.
“I think it’s irresponsible that our government consistently promotes these types of gambling events and then we stand back and laugh when we see people feeling the pain from them. Why do people continue to pay for lottery tickets when there’s such a vanishing chance of winning? To me, that’s a real story.”
The province took in $347.9 million in net revenue from gambling activities during the 2016/2017 fiscal year. The majority of that money came from problem gamblers, says Dr. Mike Buckley, a Halifax registered counselling therapist and problem gambling specialist.
“The Premier and cabinet at the time when they introduced Casino Nova Scotia and the VLT machines were fond of making statements that if the province ever discovered that problem gambling was the main source of revenue, that they would stop it,” said Buckley. “The government is well aware it is profiting off of problem gamblers and that it is creating significant problems across our society.”
Buckley says coroner numbers show each year six to nine suicides in Nova Scotia are linked to problem gambling. “But conservative estimates go up to 40 people a year are dying from gambling,” he said. “Those figures you never see in the media. But you do see stories about big jackpots and happy lottery winners.”
The Chronicle Herald reached out to Service Nova Scotia, the government body that regulates gambling in Nova Scotia, on Friday in an attempt to find out what the province is doing to address the Auditor General’s recommendations. The Herald also wanted to know if given the current controversy whether it would consider a cap to limit future Chase the Ace jackpot amounts.
The department did not respond directly to either inquiry.
“To me, it’s a very sad story, it’s a very tragic story. When is it okay to laugh at human tragedy?
The Chronicle Herald