Lottery organizer tried to disguise raffles after law enforcement told her to stop all operations
By Kate Northrop
HIBBING, Minn. — A Minnesota woman has allegedly raked in at least $117,000 by operating an illegal lottery on Facebook and tried to disguise further attempts to run it after authorities gave her a hard warning.
Kathryn Jean Deblack, 39, of Hibbing, has been issued multiple charges after she ran an illegal lottery that brought in more than $117,000 over the course of ten months.
She reportedly manipulated over 200 participants to believe that their paid entries were being donated to local charities, but an investigation by officials found that this couldn't be further from the truth.
Deblack made $117,723.57 over a ten-month period.
A criminal complaint says that Deblack initially conducted illegal raffles on a Facebook page called "Iron Range Razzles." The Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division (AGED) was notified by the Gambling Control Board (GCB) on April 13, 2021 about her activity on social media.
According to Deblack's page, entrants could buy numbered spots to win "brand new items... for a fraction of the price." She selected winners using a random number generator.
The organizer encouraged her own participants to refrain from using any language on the page and in payment apps that would indicate these activities were related to gambling.
"VENMO PAYMENTS NEED TO HAVE AN EMOJI IN THE DESCRIPTION, not raffle please," Deblack wrote in a Facebook post. "I was informed they may lock the account because they may worry about it being gambling."
An investigator had contacted her to inform her that the raffles she was conducting were illegal, but Deblack didn't see it that way. She assured them that the prizes were donated to a nonprofit organization called "Operation 120."
When police reached out to Operation 120 to confirm that Deblack had been following through with her promise, they discovered that she had made only one donation, told the charity that she would look into legal requirements, and had since never been in touch again.
Regardless of whether Deblack was intentionally pleading ignorance, the investigator gave her the benefit of the doubt and closed the case as an "educational matter."
However, on Nov. 24, 2021, the AGED received yet another complaint from the GCB about Deblack's illegal lottery, in which she was accused of selling 100 tickets at $120 per ticket for a chance to win her 2018 Grizzly 700 Special Edition ATV. Participants would submit payments either on PayPal or Venmo, and the first name pulled out of a bucket at random would win the ATV, while the second name would win a runner-up prize of $500. Deblack also promised that she would donate $1,000 to the Schnorr Mudfest. All these details were outlined in a video she posted on her Facebook page.
An investigator contacted Deblack again, and while she denied ever conducting a raffle for the ATV, she later admitted to using the profits to pay off the loan on the ATV and claimed she donated $1,000 to Fishing With Vets.
A board member of Fishing With Vets said in an interview that he knew who Deblack was but never authorized the raffle — the nonprofit preferred to "do things by the book."
"I'm sorry and I just though[t] if profit was given to [charity] it was considered charitable gambling," Deblack wrote in an email to the investigator. "You clarified all that yesterday. What can I do to avoid being in trouble here? I feel sick about this!"
Deblack may not have been as oblivious to the law as she made herself out to be. A search warrant found that, less than four hours before she sent that email to the investigator, she had set up another private Facebook page called "IRR" to continue conducting the illegal gambling activities.
Going by the name "Razz Queen" in her new page, she was continuing to purchase new products and raffle them off for a profit. In one instance, she had 20 people enter at $20 per ticket for an item she bought new at $100.
AGED was notified of the social media activity again in February 2022, which had privacy settings active in an attempt to keep the page hidden.
While she deleted some records of her original Facebook page, police found that Deblack held at least 25 raffles between December 2021 and February 2022, after her second interaction with the investigator. There were 167 group members on her new page.
Deblack was quoted as saying she was "attempting to avoid detection," with much of the discussion topics revolving around how to participate in the lottery without attracting unwanted attention.
In Minnesota, one count of conducting a lottery may deliver a sentence of up to one year in prison and/or a fine of up to $3,000.
She was charged with 12 counts of conducting a lottery, which means she faces up to 12 years in prison and a $36,000 fine.
Deblack is set to appear in court for her first hearing on Oct. 9, 2023.