Ticket scalper Kevin Stevens of Detroit talks to some potential customers outside Comerica Park before a Detroit Tigers playoff game on Oct. 3, 2011. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Lansing — Michigan could join a majority of states that have some form of legalized ticket scalping after the the state House Thursday approved a bill that would allow the resale of tickets for a profit.
The Republican-controlled House voted 66-42 to repeal a 1931 law and allow people to resell tickets to college and professional sporting events or concerts above face value. But it still would allow municipalities like Detroit to keep ordinances that outlaw the practice — similar to Ohio’s law.
The bill heads to the GOP-dominated Senate, where Michigan’s major universities and the venues of Detroit’s professional sports teams hope to stop it.
The legislation has stirred debate about the fairness of ticket prices, the rights of ticketholders and the ability of sports teams, entertainers and event venues to make a profit.
Proponents say outdated rules discourage ticket purchasers from recovering their costs, including fees, for tickets they find they won’t be able to use.
“Our country’s free-market economy should apply to concert or sports tickets,” argued Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, the chief sponsor. “It’s about leveling the playing field for individual ticket holders and giving them the same rights as outlets like Ticketmaster.”
Opponents say existing regulations offer at least some protection against shadow marketers who scoop up large quantities of tickets to sell at inflated rates, driving up prices for everyone.
Matt Blasy, general manager of the Dow Event Center in Saginaw, said the legislation “is of great concern to our fans as well as all sports and entertainment venues across Michigan.”
“We’re going to continue talking to legislators to urge them to support our state’s businesses, instead of out-of-state scalpers,” said Blasy, whose center is in Kelly’s home district and is part of the Michigan Sports & Entertainment Industry Coalition that opposes the legislation.
The legislation puts Michigan on a track to join a slowly growing number of states legalizing ticket scalping, according to the American Bar Association’s Entertainment and Sports Lawyer publication.
A November 2012 survey by the publication found at least 20 states had no laws against ticket scalping. About eight states, including Michigan, prohibited ticket scalping at the time. Most other states allowed the practice with varying levels of regulations and restrictions.
The 82-year-old law, which is unevenly enforced, prohibits a ticket holder or other party from selling a ticket to an event at a theater, circus, sports venue or place of public entertainment or amusement for more than the advertised general admission price without permission from the venue’s owner or manager.
Scalping is designated as a misdemeanor with no maximum penalty. It’s punishable by no more than 90 days in jail and a fine of not more than $500.
Linda Teeter, executive director of Michigan Citizen Action, said passage of the House bill into law would help update policies that no longer fit today’s realities.
At the same time it’s possible for someone to be prosecuted for scalping a couple of tickets outside Ford Field in Detroit, she said, profiteers use software called bots to buy up blocks of tickets minutes after they go on sale with the full intent of reselling them at a markup.
“This is really a consumer protection bill,” said Teeter, whose 10,000-member Kalamazoo-based group espouses citizen involvement in public policy.
A ticket buyer who can’t use it and wants to sell it to a neighbor runs the risk of, she said, “is (current law) going to be uniformly enforced?”
The House action also was endorsed by two free-market groups, the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research and R Street.
Kelly noted some online ticket sales sites have deals with professional sports leagues or entertainment venues. There’s no federal law against scalping, he added.
“Michigan law enforcement agencies will be freed up to concentrate more on genuine public safety issues,” Kelly said. “Supply and demand should dictate the market, not an overly intrusive government.”
But opponents — including Clarkston singer Kid Rock — say it’s not that simple.
The House bill would eliminate the only restriction keeping scalpers from commandeering most tickets to every event, then running up the prices, they say. Venue operators say it is different from their own offers of discounted tickets or blocks of tickets to senior citizen or youth groups.
Opponents also note entertainers such as Kid Rock and singer/composer Tom Waits have vowed not to perform in places where ticket gouging by scalpers drives up the admission cost for everyday fans.
Southfield resident Percy Davis said he was still on the fence about the proposed law.
“I guess if (scalpers) are buying hundreds of tickets and it cuts out the regular fans that would be messed up,” Davis said. “But if you happen to catch someone selling a ticket that you want, it could be a benefit.”
A House Fiscal Agency analysis said the bill wouldn’t affect anti-scalping ordinances in Detroit and other cities and might prompt more such local laws.