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Schneiderman is right to try to curb unscrupulous ticket scalping industry

It may not be the most pressing matter on Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s docket, but his investigation into the malodorous activities of event ticketing is worth the time.

Most infamous in recent Buffalo history is October’s concert by Paul McCartney, where thousands of fans were locked out by mass purchasers using illegal technology to scoop up tickets for resale at grossly inflated prices. But it’s hardly the only such event, which also includes Bills games and other big-drawing concerts.

Scalping is an ancient tradition and, within bounds, nothing for government to worry about. If someone buys tickets for some event, then decides to sell them for whatever the market will bear, there is little to complain about – assuming that traditional market forces are in play. Too often, they are not.

The problem today, and one that Schneiderman described, is that professional scalpers are working to corner the market. Their sophisticated computers – called bots – block average users from access to large proportions of tickets available for whatever events they target.

For example, one ticket broker last year snatched 1,012 tickets in just 60 seconds for a U2 concert in New York City. On secondary markets, those ticket then sell at an average markup of 49 percent, though huge markups are not uncommon.

Other issues also harm everyday ticket buyers, including “holds” that are placed on blocks of tickets for the benefit of insiders. At a Kanye West performance in Brooklyn, for example, 29 percent of tickets were kept from the regular marketplace, while a 2014 concert by Katy Perry allowed just 12 percent of tickets to go on sale in an initial sales period.

There may be less that government can, or should, do about that kind of practice, though there may be some leverage to the degree that events take place in taxpayer-supported venues.

Albany has tried, unsuccessfully, over the decades to limit profiteering on the resale of tickets. Often, there has been a lack of interest by elected officials to pass such legislation or by law enforcement to devote the resources needed to enforce laws that did get passed.

In truth, though, the problem of gouging would be of lesser concern if the ability to buy the tickets on the primary market were protected.

If people had only a few tickets to sell, their impact on the marketplace would be less. If average ticket fans had a fair chance to buy tickets at retail prices, the market would do a good enough job of dictating the resale value.

That’s where Schneiderman and the State Legislature should focus their attention. Washington should get involved, too, since ticket-buying bots located outside any given state are difficult to police.

The goal should be to make it too expensive for these operators to want to stay in business, through both regulation and fines that are not worth the risk. Government may have more pressing matters than this to deal with on any given day, but ensuring a fair marketplace for events that are of interest to millions of Americans deserves some kind of effort.