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Key legislator looks to kill off antiscalping law

Consumers could sell tickets for any amount through licensed agent

A key House leader is drafting legislation that would do away with the state's antiscalping law, allowing tickets to sports events and concerts to be resold at any price as long as the seller is licensed and offers consumer protections.

Representative Michael J. Rodrigues, Democrat of Westport and House chairman of the Legislature's Consumers Affairs and Professional Licensure Committee, said his proposal would bring Massachusetts in line with the rest of the country and a host of Northeastern states that have scrapped their ticket scalping laws in recent months.

"I don't have any concern about what two consenting adults are going to pay for a Red Sox-Yankees ticket," he said. "My concern is that the consumer is getting a valid ticket and gets a full refund if the event is canceled."

The antiscalping law was passed in 1924 and caps resale prices at $2 above face value plus certain service and business charges. The law is rarely enforced because most in law enforcement view ticket scalping as a victimless crime. The Department of Public Safety, which licenses ticket resellers under the existing law, has never disciplined one.

Rodrigues said his proposal would allow individual consumers to resell their tickets above face value but only through entities that obtain licenses from the state. Rodrigues said licensees could include professional sports teams, ticket brokers, and even street scalpers.

Licensees would be required to post bonds that could be tapped if a customer is sold a counterfeit ticket or the event is canceled and a full refund is not issued.

Senator Michael W. Morrissey, the Senate chairman of the committee, indicated he was supportive of many of the proposals outlined by Rodrigues but would reserve final judgment until he had a chance to review the draft bill.

"Like everything else, the devil's in the details," the Quincy Democrat said. "We're actively working on a solution and hope to have something in the month of August."

Morrissey filed a much broader ticket bill in January that would have capped fees on initial ticket sales and allowed resellers to charge three times face value.

Rodrigues and Morrissey held a hear ing on the ticket scalping law in May. Businesses involved in the ticket resale business, including Ticketmaster and eBay Inc., almost universally supported eliminating the current law.

An official from Delaware North Cos., the owner of the TD Banknorth Garden and the Boston Bruins, said he favored increasing the cap on ticket resale prices. The Boston Red Sox didn't testify at the hearing and the New England Patriots didn't address the question of whether the law should be changed. Both teams declined comment yesterday.

The only opposition to scrapping the law or raising the cap significantly came from Dorchester consumer activist Colman Herman, who has filed complaints or lawsuits against several ticket brokers in a bid to enforce the law.

Herman said yesterday he believes lawmakers should increase the existing cap on ticket resale prices to two times face value instead of eliminating the cap entirely. He said he is working with Senator John A. Hart Jr. of South Boston to craft a bill that would keep ticket resale prices within the reach of regular fans.

"They don't care about the little guy anymore," Herman said of state lawmakers.

Since the Beacon Hill hearing in May, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania have all done away with their limits on ticket resales, leaving only a handful of states with antiscalping laws on the books. States with restrictive laws include Massachusetts, Kentucky, Arkansas, Michigan, and North Carolina.

Rodrigues said his goal is to let the free market decide what a ticket is worth while protecting consumers from counterfeit tickets and canceled events. To gain that protection, Rodrigues said, consumers selling or buying a ticket above face value would need to deal with an entity licensed by the state.

The lawmaker said anyone reselling a ticket at face value or below would not need a license to make the sale. He said person-to-person ticket sales above face value would be illegal, even those handled by online ticket marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist unless those companies obtained a state license and offered consumer protections. StubHub Inc., a subsidiary of eBay, operates another online ticket marketplace that could be affected.

A spokesman for eBay and StubHub said the companies would want to review the language of Rodrigues's bill before commenting, but he noted the companies offer significant consumer protections already. The spokesman said StubHub offers a ticket of the same or better quality or a full refund if there is a problem with a ticket sold via its online marketplace. He said eBay offers limited monetary refunds to customers who use Paypal, an electronic payment-processing system.

Problems do occur, however. The New England Patriots are currently suing StubHub for encouraging fans to violate the Massachusetts antiscalping law. The team alleges unsuspecting fans last year purchased tickets on StubHub that had been invalidated, leaving the purchasers stranded at the stadium on game day.

Bruce Mohl can be reached at mohl@globe.com.

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