Kahn aims to legalize ticket scalping

Ticket scalping is illegal in Minnesota and results in a misdemeanor.

by Brady Averill

ACORRECTION: Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, has authored a bill that would make ticket scalping legal. Under the current state statue it is illegal.

Across the street from Huberts Bar and Restaurant on Sunday night in Minneapolis, a half-dozen ticket scalpers held Twins tickets high in the air. They promised a good deal.

The tickets were going for less than face value. It was a slow night, scalpers said, even with Johan Santana pitching. They said they sell tickets at a price the market demands.

But scalping tickets in Minnesota is illegal.

Dan Romig, a University alumnus, knows firsthand. He said he’s been arrested a few times for scalping tickets to professional athletics events.

“Sadly, it should not be part of the job. But in reality, unfortunately, it is part of the job,” he said.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said she wants to change that.

Kahn has authored a bill that would repeal the state statute that makes scalping legal.

The practice is legal in some states, but in Minnesota it’s a misdemeanor. People found guilty can be punished with up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine, said Raymond Cantu, an assistant attorney for the city of Minneapolis.

Kahn said the bill has been held over for possible inclusion in the omnibus public safety bill.

If repealing the law is too drastic, Kahn said, she would be OK with reducing ticket scalping to a petty misdemeanor.

Lawmakers, ticket scalpers and law enforcement workers have varying opinions on the bill.

At the heart of the issue, Kahn said, the bill would allow law enforcement workers to better allocate their time to stopping crimes such as robbery and rape instead of arresting ticket scalpers.

For Romig, he said it’s a matter of the state’s restraint of trade law. According to the statute, the law prohibits using monopoly power over trade to affect competition or price control.

Minneapolis law enforcement said the issue is about regulating legitimate ticket sales and allocating police officers’ time.

The law

The current statute prohibits scalpers from selling tickets at a price above face value.

One provision prohibits re-selling a ticket that has conditions restricting its transfer.

This sometimes includes language restricting transfer of ownership on the back of the ticket, said a House researcher.

Rep. Kahn said that since 1913, ticket scalping has been illegal in Minnesota.

The current statute has been on the books since 1963. It was enacted a few years after professional sports teams arrived in Minnesota.

In 1961, both the Twins and Vikings formed professional teams in the state.

Not the first time

This isn’t the first time Kahn has pushed for the bill.

She first got the idea during the 1987 Major League Baseball World Series.

She said that she was “totally appalled” when 15 Minneapolis Police Department officers arrested 30 scalpers while there were 300 other crimes reported that day.

Arresting ticket scalpers, she said, is a waste of police resources.

If ticket scalping was reduced to even a petty misdemeanor, she said, there wouldn’t be this “incredible waste of police resources.” But, she added, it’s a petty half-step.

Kahn said she always buys tickets from sources other than the box office.

A scalper’s qualm

Scalping tickets is a part-time gig for Romig. He said that he has scalped tickets for “quite a long time” for all sports.

He said his problem with the statute is not being arrested for scalping; he has a lawyer on retainer. Instead, he said what bothers him is his belief that the scalping law and the free restraint of trade law contradict each other.

By prohibiting scalping, the state is allowing monopolies to exist.

“The state of Minnesota is the criminal in this affair,” he said.

Romig has lobbied for Kahn’s bill before, but he said he won’t this time.

“There will be no vote on it,” he said. “It won’t be taken up, and that’s OK.”

He said Kahn is “fighting an uphill battle” to get the bill passed. The Legislature, he said, has more important things it should deal with than the scalping law.

Law enforcement’s role

For more than a decade, Lt. Kim Lund has worked for the Vikings as security in the ticket booths when she’s off duty.

Lund, a police officer in the Minneapolis Police Department’s 4th Precinct, said she sees scalpers all the time.

She said police officers have always tried to stop ticket scalping when there are enough officers on duty.

“It’s one of those things that are lower on the priority lists when we’re so low on the manpower as it is,” she said.

She usually arrests scalpers when they’re selling tickets above face value. But often, she said, scalpers have received the tickets for free and are reselling them. In that case, she said, selling them at any value is illegal.

One problem with ticket scalping is overlooked, she said.

She said 10 percent of tickets scalped end up being stolen tickets.

She said people will come up to her who are “very irate” because they think they bought the ticket legitimately from a scalper.

“The Vikings cannot back a ticket that was bought at (the intersection of) Eighth and Chicago,” she said.

Scalpers have even contacted her, she said, because they don’t want to push stolen tickets.

Lund said she is not in favor of the bill because she does not believe it regulates which individuals are selling tickets.

Whether police are enforcing the law or the bill repeals the law, she said scalping is a “business that will probably always be there.”