An Edina man and his brother were charged Friday with roaming Twin Cities area casinos and playing slots for gamblers who paid to have their bets placed, then watched live on TikTok in hopes of striking it rich.
Blake C. Fitzgerald, 40, was charged in Scott County District Court with three gross misdemeanors. He's alleged to have run a remote bookie business for at least four months until January while at Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake or Treasure Island Resort & Casino just outside Red Wing in violation of a law that prohibits placing bets on behalf of someone else.
State officials say they also detected Fitzgerald carrying out the same venture at a Detroit casino months later and using offshore slot betting sites in recent weeks as a way to keep his wagering modus operandi going.
Nicole Roddy, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division (AGED), said early this year that "prior to that case, we have had no other cases of that nature reported to us."
Roddy explained Friday why it's important for her agency to go after illegal gambling, even if everyone involved participates willingly.
"It's about consumer protection," she said. "Without protections, there's no guarantee that you'll get paid if you win after placing a wager. There's no way to know if the betting will be run fairly. There is no way to prevent children from gambling illegally."
The American Gaming Association, which represents sports books and casinos across the country, also said it has never heard of such a gambling scheme. Alex Costello, the association's vice president for government relations, said that "actions like this violate casinos' ... anti-money-laundering protocols and are a threat to our financial system."
Fitzgerald was charged by summons and has declined to comment on the charges. During an interview in January with the Star Tribune, he said he plays with his own money.
At times, his younger brother acted as a moderator of the video hookup. Christopher J.L. Mattison, 34, of Warren, Minn., was charged by summons with two gross-misdemeanor counts. He also has declined to comment about the charges. Both brothers are due in court on Sept. 22.
According to the criminal complaints and other court documents:
Fitzgerald collected through cash apps an initial $5.99 subscription fee and then $25 that he keeps for every $100 deposited for wagering, which he streamed live on TikTok.
Archived videos on his main TikTok account revealed 165,000 followers from around the world. Video highlights showed wads of cash and slot machines rolling up occasional big jackpots, including one in December that topped $15,000.
More than 100 people sent roughly $65,000 to Fitzgerald for betting during one monthlong stretch late last year. In that same time period, he sent back to them about $27,700 in either gambling winnings or refunds if his time betting had run out.
Administrators at both casinos caught on to Fitzgerald's TikTok bookie business. On Jan. 12, he livestreamed about being booted from Mystic Lake during a previous visit. That same day, he was in his car outside Treasure Island and said he had just been given a permanent trespass notice. One court document filed Friday said Fitzgerald has been "excluded from TikTok."
AGED discovered the out-of-bounds enterprise thanks to tips from someone in Las Vegas and the mother of a 16-year-old from Pennsylvania who caught wind of the TikTok bookie the night of Jan. 11 "just before her [son] sent ... money to gamble."
A state agent said she watched him livestreaming from Treasure Island's casino, and, "I observed [him] conduct the same illegal gambling activity" that the Las Vegas tipster described.
"It was apparent that [he] was ... placing bets for his followers during this livestream," the agent wrote in her search warrant affidavit. "[He] would verbally ask players by name which slot machines they wanted [him] to play for them."
At one point, one player in the TikTok chat field asked whether the minimum bet was $100 or $200. In an apparent attempt to avoid being outed as placing wagers for others, Fitzgerald responded verbally, "What's the minimum bet? You mean deposit. It's $125." At other times, payments from gamblers were dubbed "donations."
Once AGED and Twin Cities casinos got wise to the brothers' alleged racket, Fitzgerald shifted his operations to Detroit, according to a request by law enforcement filed in Hennepin County District Court for permission to put an electronic tracking device on his SUV.
The same agent who watched Fitzgerald at Treasure Island saw him betting for others live in late April at the MGM Grand Detroit via the Clapper app, the filing revealed. A gambling enforcement official in Michigan declined to comment about Fitzgerald's presence there and whether he was breaking any state laws by betting for others.
Not to be denied, Fitzgerald set up shop in his girlfriend's home in Farmington to place slot bets on online gambling sites based outside the United States for others as recently as July 25 as they watched over a livestream, court documents filed Friday disclosed.
The state agent suspects that Fitzgerald has a deal with Lucky Tiger Casino, registered in the Caribbean Island nation of Curacao, which compensates him for promoting the betting site and teaching others how to use the site.