The New York State Assembly has passed a measure criminalizing the use of so-called “ticket bots”—software that snaps up prime seats to Broadway shows, concerts and sporting events within minutes of their going on sale.
The State Senate passed a similar measure last month. All it needs is the governor's signature to become law. Up till now the use of ticket bot software was a civil offense punishable by a fine. The new law would classify use of the bots as a class A misdemeanor, punishable by much greater fines or even jail time. The measure was sponsored in the Assembly by member Marcos Crespo and had been urged in a New York Times op-ed by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose show has been a special target of the “bots.”
“This kind of ticket scalping has had a very negative impact on fans that want to enjoy sporting and entertainment events,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who helped pass the bill, in a prepared statement. “Ticket scalpers often buy up as many tickets as possible with this illegal software and then resell tickets at prices that many New Yorkers simply cannot afford. This measure aims to discourage the tactic by criminalizing this offense.”
It will remain up to law enforcement to track down and prosecute offenders, if the new law is enacted.
It sounds like something out of science fiction: “ticket bots.” But these computer programs that circumvent ticket-buying limits and snatch up hundreds of the most sought-after tickets within moments after they go on sale are one of the primary reasons why ordinary ticket buyers seem like they can never get their hands on the tickets they want without resorting to high-price resellers.
The abuse of “ticket bots” was highlighted in an investigation by the office of New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and published in February 2016 under the title, “Obstructed View: What's Blocking New Yorkers from Getting Tickets.” The probe was published as state ticket-selling laws were getting ready to expire May 14.
Schneiderman's report found that “bot use is a major reason why New Yorkers cannot get tickets at face value.”
As New York State lawmakers grapple with ways to update and upgrade ticket laws throughout the state, and as a new block of Hamilton tickets goes on sale last week, Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda took things a step further and published an op-ed in The New York Times headlined “Stop the Bots From Killing Broadway.”
Miranda voiced the common fan complaint “that tickets to their favorite shows, concerts and sporting events are sold out within minutes — if not seconds — after they are posted for sale,” and joined Schneiderman in pointing his finger at “brokers who buy tickets using bots [who] substantially mark up the prices — sometimes by more than 1,000 percent — yielding enormous profits.”
Miranda pointed out the startling truth that ticket bots are already illegal under New York law and their use is subject to civil penalties, but observed that “the markup on resale tickets is so lucrative, earning brokers millions of dollars per year, that they happily risk prosecution and treat civil penalties as the cost of business.”
Miranda expressed his support for a law, recently passed by the full State Senate, “making it illegal for ticket brokers to knowingly resell or offer to resell tickets purchased using bots and requiring ticket resale platforms like StubHub to post the price they paid for tickets on their platform so that consumers can easily see the markup price.” The bill also ups the ante by creating criminal penalties, including imprisonment, for repeat offenders.
Miranda used his op-ed to urge the Assembly to quickly pass a similar bill sponsored by Assemblyman Marcos Crespo. The effort seems to have paid off. Miranda concluded, “You shouldn’t have to fight robots just to see something you love.”
Playbill.com obtained a copy of Schneiderman's 41-page report. While it focuses primarily on abuses in the worlds of concert and sports tickets, several of the issues overlap with the world of theatre ticketing.
The report similarly calls on the New York State Legislature to act immediately to impose criminal penalties for bot use, to end the ban on non-transferrable paperless tickets, and to cap permissible resale markups.
Among the findings in the report:
- Complaints from consumers (and often from the artists themselves) concerning ticketing “commonly cite 'price gouging,' 'scalping,' 'outrageous fees' and 'immediate sell-outs.'”
- The investigation harkens back to a similar one conducted by the A.G.'s office, which found that the state's ticketing system provides “access of quality seating on the basis of bribes and corruption at the expense of fans.” While noting some improvements since then, including the fact that changes in the law made it "easier to sell unwanted tickets" through online resale platforms, the report finds that “many of the problems in 1999 have persisted and, in some cases, have grown worse.”
- "Holds" for insiders and pre-sales for holders of particular credit cards reduce the number of tickets available to the general public.
- Brokers use insider knowledge and often illegal “ticket bot” software to edge out fans. The investigation cites a New York Times report that “60 percent of the most desirable tickets for some shows” that are put up for sale are purchased by bots.
- The Attorney General recommends that ticket reselling platforms must police brokers to make sure they comply with existing state law.
- Ticket vendors “must address the bot epidemic” by “analyzing purchase date to identify ongoing Bot operations for prosecution, and investigating resellers of large volumes of tickets.”
- The entertainment industry must provide “greater transparency” about the allocation of tickets.
The report was a collaborative effort by the Bureau of Internet and Technology and the A.G.'s Research Department.
(Updated June 21, 2016)