Bad Bet: Pennsylvania Woman Arrested For Threatening Lottery Officials After Years Of Losing

lottery5n-1-webTowanda A. Shields, 47, seems to lack an understanding of the odds in a standard lottery but found a way to dramatically increase her odds of securing free long-term housing. Shields was arrested for allegedly threatening to kill state lottery officials in an outburst of frustration with her lack of success.

Shields is described as “completely obsessed with the lottery.” Police say that she made “very graphic and vulgar” threats by phone and on voice mails between April and December 2016. She is now charged with three counts of terroristic threats and 25 counts each of harassment and stalking.

Once again, we have been discussing the use of “terrorism” charges for what were once conventional crimes like criminal threats. This seems like a good example.

As for Shields’ shaky hold on statistics, it is worth noting that the odds of winning a six number lottery is roughly 1 in 14 million.

The odds of winning the Mega Millions multi-state lottery? 1 in almost 176 million!

The odds of being convicted for leaving recorded threats against lottery officials? 100 percent.

23 thoughts on “Bad Bet: Pennsylvania Woman Arrested For Threatening Lottery Officials After Years Of Losing”

  1. Prof. Turley misunderstands what is meant by “terroristic threats” in Pennsylvania law. 18 Pa.C.S. § 2702 was enacted in 1972, is based on Section 211.3 of the 1960s Model Penal Code, and not on any modern concern with terrorism. It is not an anti-terrorism statute. This is the second or third recent article which criticizes Pennsylvania’s terroristic threats law based on this misunderstanding.

  2. Many exceptional people have contemplated the lotteries of life. . . .

    “I have set my life upon a cast,
    And I will stand the hazard of the die.” — Richard III, Act V, Scene IV.

    “The lottery is a tax on stupidity.”–Voltaire.

    “Here’s something to think about: How come you never see a headline like ‘Psychic Wins Lottery’?”–Jay Leno.

    “The universe will throw somebody a bone every now and then, and you win the lottery. But for the most part, you get in this life what you put in.”–Arian Foster.

    1. The Voltaire quotation is almost certainly bogus.

      The lottery isn’t any kind of tax. It’s voluntary. Most people play the lottery for amusement. They likely do get a large stream of revenue from people who can ill afford it and are given to a certain magical thinking. That the state treats these people as marks is the locus of the evil in the lottery (and why AME and Convention Baptist ministers are commonly opponents of state lotteries).

  3. 1A:
    “Congress shall make no law … abridging … the Right of the people … to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”.

    “systematic use or threatened use of violence in order to intimidate a population or government and thereby effect political, religious, or ideological change”.

    Q. At what point did her petitioning for redress of grievances turn into terrorism?

  4. Concerns about in/multi-state lotteries has been raised in Alabama, which is 1 of only 2 states without any lottery (Mississippi is the other), yet strongly considering implementing one. Clergy, compulsive gambling counselors, and others have clearly and strongly stated that lotteries are detrimental to the poor, who make up the overwhelming majority of ‘players’. The affluent have no need nor desire to ‘play’.

    The Lottery” (by whatever name, in whatever form) is nothing but a Voluntary Tax. Don’t pay it.

  5. Did she think she was paying into a 401K?

    I blame this on the public education system’s poor results in mathematics, and its application to everyday life.

    1. It’s statistics, not mathematics to which you’re referring, and, no, you don’t need much of an understanding of statistics to grasp that buying a lottery ticket isn’t going to work out for you financially. It’s a consumer amusement at best (and a snare at worst).

  6. For what it’s worth Terroristic Threats are defined under the Assault chapter of the PA penal code. When I lived and worked in Pittsburgh back in the early to late 90s, the charge was often used where simple assault didn’t cover the behavior, but aggravated assault was a step too far.

    Unless involving public transportation, it’s a 1st class misdemeanor, and until today, I’ve never seen anyone imply it has to do with what I politically/religiously motivated terrorism.

    An example where I saw it used was when I was attacked at work by an extremely drunk teenager. After I’d defended myself from his attack, he fled the premises yelling about his gang and how I was a “target” for them now, and “you’re a dead man”. Since the threat wasn’t immediate, and was intended to create fear in me, the police charged him Terroristic Threats in addition to the Battery for his direct physical attack on me.

    1. Thanks for the explanation of terrorist threats, and the non ISIS implications. Glad your story ended well.

  7. Want to put the chances of winning the Powerball grand prize into perspective? Imagine a road 292 kilometers in length (181 miles). Now I will randomly select a 1 millimeter slice of that road. If you can pick the correct 1 mm you win!
    Think about that the next time you go on a three hour road trip.

  8. The best strategy is to buy exactly one ticket. That way, your chances increase from zero to infinitesimal.

    Many years ago, my grade-school educated father wondered why, since I had gone to college, I did not know how to win the lottery …..

  9. Lotteries are like cigarettes, booze, and other crap. The feel good hit whether it be nicotine, alcohol, or momentary hope will always have adherents. Lotteries are perhaps the least damaging of all. The proceeds should go entirely to offset the cost of health, education, and other social services. Unfortunately, once governments get their hands on the money, they don’t always spend it well.

  10. State run lotteries should be removed from the face of the earth. So should the face of the lottery player shown above after she got busted for terrorism.
    In picking the jury in this case, if I were here attorney, I would first ask if any of them worked for the state lottery system. Then if any had been duped into buying a lottery ticket? How often? Then I would ask about the statement possibly made by an email person to the lottery office about “went in dumb, come out dumb too”. Then I would ask the panel if any of them were fed up with the lottery system which got them called to the jury room that day. I would ask them from what they knew so far, what were the chances that my client would lose. I would ask them to put themselves in her shoes.

  11. She’s kind of old to be with the mentality of “awards for participating generation.”
    But your right she will get the bonus prize of 3 squares and a cot.

  12. I’m recalling stopping in on a local vendor on my way to work 25 years ago and seeing a woman buy 16 lottery tickets from him. She had a ‘system’ she’d worked out. The whole mess could not have been sadder. State lotteries are evil.

  13. Most lotteries run int he millions to oneas odds range. The odds to do not improve each time as the entire set of numbers is valid each time. For the dollr scratch tickets it’s probably lower but so are the prizes. Basic arithmetic and common sense. As a Judge I would only ask her lawyer does she have enough to pay court costs.

    1. Fran Leibowitz: “I figure you have about the same chance of winning the lottery if you play or not”.

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