When one thinks of ticket scalpers, one generally conjures a mental image of shady men waiting outside theaters offering scandalously overpriced tickets to late buyers from under several layers of trench coat. In Michigan, this less than savory image is only enhanced by the addition of criminality to a hypothetical ticket scalper. Yes, that’s right, in Michigan, reselling a ticket for even a penny over its face value is illegal, even for private citizens who can’t make events.
This unquestionably anti-market law limits who can sell particular commodities. It is, moreover, an odd example of an anti-market law in that it attempts to limit competition from more expensive sellers. There is no immediately obvious reason these sales would harm venues, who have already been paid for the tickets and fill their seats either way. The only question is who will ultimately pay the most for the privilege of sitting in those seats.
Michigan state Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw, recently introduced a bill that would lift the ban on ticket scalping, allowing free competition. Opposition has, so far been thin on the ground, though a few arguments have emerged against the idea, most of which are either plagued by inconsistency, or make little sense when applied to any other industry.
The first and most obvious complaint is that tickets might be counterfeited and sold at a ridiculously high rate. This, however, is not an argument for making scalping illegal, but for more aggressive fraud prosecution and better anti-counterfeiting measures. The existence of paperless tickets on sites like Ticketmaster (about whom, more in a moment) is one example of innovation rising to solve this problem without the necessity of law.
The second complaint is that venues have the right to attach whatever conditions to tickets they like — for instance, in the case of the National Football League attaching many anti-resale conditions to Super Bowl tickets. This is not an argument for a ban on scalping, although it relevant to the question of whether to ban restricted use tickets, as New Jersey does. Instead, it strips away a property right – the right to resell – from all event tickets, and thus would hurt those venues who would otherwise be fine with extended that right to ticket buyers.