In an opinion column published in the Washington Post, Joe Carr describes being arrested for the crime of offering to sell valid Washington Nationals baseball tickets for less than their face value. In Washington, selling event tickets for more (“scalping”) is illegal. But so is selling them for less (“soliciting”).
Carr writes that he had bought six club-level tickets with a face value of $360 for a game that was rained out. He and his friends could not attend the makeup game, so he attempted to sell them on makeup game day near the stadium. He was arrested and released after paying a $50 fine.
Carr admits that he was guilty, albeit for an act he did not know was a crime. His ignorance of the law is understandable. Despite an extensive online search, Neutral Source could not find the text of any DC ordinance prohibiting ticket resales. Several web sites, including the Nstionals’, clearly state that ticket resale is illegal in the District but do cite the applicable ordinance:
Resale of Tickets/Scalping
Resale of tickets is strictly prohibited by the Nationals and District of Columbia law. Violators are subject to arrest and prosecution by the DC Metropolitan Police Department.
The Nationals do, however, provide access to a legal method of ticket resale through StubHub. To the extent that prospective buyers are concerned about counterfeits, this secondary market is preferable to purchasing tickets on the street. StubHub charges 15% plus $1.50 per ticket for the service of providing this secondary marketplace. By keeping the transactions off the street, StubHub provides a legal way to evade the District’s prohibitions on both scalping and soliciting.
Law enforcement is always a discretionary act, so it can be interesting to examine why police departments want to invest scarce resources to deter on-site ticket resale. It cannot be concern about counterfeits because these ordinances are enforced against sellers of legitimate tickets.
A hint can be gleaned from a column by retired Ann Arbor (MI) police detective sergeant Rich Kinsey. Kinsey admits to having had an “undercover mission was to rid The City of Trees of professional ticket scalpers.” His motive appears to be to protect the most irresponsible of sports fans from themselves:
Why might the police department be so cranky about these lovable louts who provide a public service to the ticketless masses? First, consider where these tickets might have come from.
Many books of season tickets get stolen. Those foolish enough to leave their dormitory doors or bedroom doors in large rental houses unlocked find out the hard way that thieves know where to look
Football tickets are either hung on a mirror, left on top of a desk or chest of drawers or in one of the top drawers of the same items of furniture. Get a party going where strangers are wandering around and, next thing you know, those football tickets are long gone.
Leave the tickets in your dorm room, and it might not be a stranger, but the guy down the hall who thinks you ratted him out to the resident advisor about the keg in the shower, non-medicinal use of cannabis or loud stereo. Perhaps there might just be a common thief on your floor, but things including season tickets will come up missing if you leave your door unlocked.
Remarkably, Kinsey also admits to having regularly abused his authority as a police officer to stretch certain ordinances beyond their public purpose:
Soliciting in traffic falls under the disorderly conduct ordinances. This was my favorite ordinance for writing or arresting “professional” scalpers.
The law was initially enacted to keep Ann Arbor free of “squeegee men” who wash your windshield while you are stopped at a light and then solicit — spelled “demand” or “extort” — a tip for their efforts. The implied threat is that if you do not cough up some loot, the squeegee’s metal frame might “accidently” [sic] scrape the side of your car as you drive off.
This law works equally well with those selling tickets in traffic. The reason I preferred this violation was because they were easy to prove by just watching “professional scalpers” offer tickets for sale to a person in a car. It was also gratifying to get these guys off the street because they really hold up football traffic around the Big House.
Whether the deal is completed or not, the mere offering of tickets for sale or trying to buy tickets in traffic is a violation. The scalper’s actions also showed me where they were holding their stash of tickets.
Confiscating the rest of the scalper’s tickets was for evidentiary purposes, but, more importantly, it hopefully put that scalper out of business for the rest of the day.
As Carr found out, Kinsey’s personal opinions about the secondary ticket market are widely shared in law enforcement — including Washington DC, where even the police chief considers it a high priority to impede the on-site secondary ticket market. Of course, Carr could have avoided the entire problem, and perhaps captured a higher price at less cost, by selling his tickets through StubHub.