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Is Ticket Scalping Illegal? Understanding the Legality of Reselling Tickets

Editorial Team
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Is Scalping Tickets Illegal?

Navigating the complex landscape of event ticket sales, one might wonder, "Is ticket scalping illegal?" In the United States, the legality of ticket scalping—where individuals, not the official venue or organization, resell event tickets often at a premium—differs from state to state. 

While there's no overarching federal law banning the practice, it's outright illegal in approximately 16 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. States like Alabama and New York are among the seven that mandate a license for reselling tickets, as detailed by the Better Business Bureau. This patchwork of regulations underscores the importance of understanding your state's stance on ticket scalping to navigate the secondary market legally and ethically.

When ticket scalping laws are broken, consequences are often not enforced. As with crime in general, police officers handle the offense according to severity. Scalping is a nonviolent crime without a victim — in fact, it is a crime where both parties are agreeable to the transaction. Therefore, cops are often hesitant to get involved.

In addition to state laws, other laws make scalping illegal in raceways and the NFL. Those who can enforce the law at races or football games include box office personnel, supervisors, venue managers, ticket agents, security agents, event promoters and seat holders. At other events, reselling tickets is not illegal, but it's not permitted on stadium grounds. This is why scalping often occurs in close proximity to events, such as concerts or baseball games, but not within the grounds or stadium.

Laws became even more difficult to enforce when the practice became widespread online. Internet sites that resell tickets are regulated, tax-paying websites that capitalize on fans’ eagerness to buy tickets at any cost. If the official website for the event sells out, these sites promote themselves as a second chance. Efforts to make the practice illegal are overshadowed by such websites.

Those in favor of the legality of ticket scalping say that going through brokers creates a safe and reliable way to get tickets. They state that it creates a fair, open market that both parties are agreeable toward. Those who want to make the practice illegal argue that the system favors the wealthy and prompts scalpers to buy large quantities of tickets strictly for resale. If the reseller buys up the tickets, fans may not have the opportunity to purchase tickets at their original cost.

Ticket scalpers are motivated by different factors, including greed, the desire to prey on fans’ emotions, and a love of capitalism. When scalpers buy large quantities of tickets, they take the risk of failing to resell all of them, losing money. People who attend concerts or sporting events are usually emotionally invested in that event, and resellers take advantage of those feelings. Others see themselves as businessmen. In an effort to compromise on ticket scalping laws, licenses or permits are often required, and the decision to make scalping illegal is made by individual states or municipalities.

What Is Ticket Scalping?

Scalping tickets is the practice of mass buying and reselling of tickets by an individual who is not associated with the organization that is sponsoring the event. A scalper will generally buy as many tickets as they can, and then sell them to others at an inflated price. Often they will wait until the authorized tickets are sold out in order to create more demand for their overpriced tickets. The goal of scalping is for the seller to make an additional profit off of selling the tickets.

Events that commonly attract ticket scalpers include the following and more:

  • Concerts
  • Sporting Events
  • Performing arts

If there is an extreme shortage of tickets for an event that is in high demand, scalpers may go even further than simply buying and reselling authentic tickets. Some have been known to forge tickets, selling them to unsuspecting people who will later be unable to enter into the event they believe they have paid for.

Ticket Scalping Online

While it may at first seem like the shift from purchasing physical tickets for events to buying digital versions would have dissuaded scalpers, the problem has only continued to get worse with technological advancements. Using the internet, scalpers are able to disguise themselves as more reputable ticket sellers, which can cause confusion for anyone trying to buy tickets. When looking for authorized tickets, it is important to do your research and ensure that you are truly purchasing off of a platform that is backed by the organization sponsoring the event. Scalping bots, computer programs specially designed to purchase and resale items at inflated prices, have become common for tickets as well as other items sold online.

Other Items Commonly Bought and Sold By Scalpers

In addition to ticket scalping, there is another common form of this practice called retail scalping. This is when a scalper buys items or equipment, often high-ticket items such as technology or items experiencing a shortage, and resales them at increased prices. This is common around the holidays and other times when there are scarcities of popular items.

Why Is Scalping Tickets Illegal?

Scalping tickets is illegal in many areas due to the fact that is unethical and can be harmful to the success of an event. If a scalper buys up the majority of tickets that are available and attempts to resale them for a much more expensive price the event can quickly become inaccessible to many people who would otherwise have attended.

State Laws Against Scalping

While there are no federal laws against ticket scalping in the United States, many states have their own restrictions against the practice. Additionally, organizations try to prevent the practice of scalping by personalizing tickets with the buyer's name in order to prevent resale. The laws preventing scalpers from operating can take several forms. One common form of regulation is the banning of ticket sales within a certain distance of where the event is taking place. Additional rules may limit to amount above the original price that scalpers can charge for tickets, or require scalpers to pay fees.

Is It Legal to Buy Tickets From a Scalper?

Buying tickets from a scalper is riskier and more expensive than purchasing them from an authorized vendor. Not only can scalpers set the price however they want, but it may be difficult to determine whether the tickets are real and not counterfeit. Still, if the event you want to attend has been sold out, it can be tempting to look for alternative ways to buy tickets.

It is generally frowned upon and might even be considered a misdemeanor in some states to purchase tickets from a scalper; however, anti-scalping laws are generally more focused on stopping the scalper from selling tickets rather than charging people who purchased them. As some people purchase scalped tickets unknowingly, it would be difficult to enforce many rules against individuals purchasing the tickets.

Finding Authorized Ticket Vendors

If you want to attend a ticketed event, but are having a difficult time determining where to buy your tickets, there are a few things you can do to make sure you are purchasing tickets from an authorized vendor. Firstly, avoid buying tickets from platforms such as Facebook Marketplace and eBay, as these are almost certainly being sold by scalpers. You should do some research into the event, and if possible, follow the organization's links to the authorized seller's webpage. When googling an event, avoid the first few results, which will be tagged as ads, and scroll down to find the authorized seller's webpage.

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Editorial Team
By Editorial Team
Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon1005732 — On Nov 05, 2021

".. crime without a victim — in fact, it is a crime where both parties are agreeable to the transaction" is incorrect. The individual buyer and seller may agree, but the competitors in obtaining an originally affordable price may be the victim. Tickets are limited, so snatching up tickets in essence limiting availability to others is criminal.

By anon1005020 — On Jun 04, 2021

I appreciate how the article presents both sides of the argument with regard to scalpers and the actual practice itself. It actually helped me realize something, which would likely be seen as a secondary argument in favor of deeming it illegal: although it operates on foundational principles rooted in capitalism and all is fair in love and war. There is a lack of symmetry in logic when it comes to the argument of creating fair, open markets as in an ideal system of capitalism, one creates a product and others are free to create a competing, similar product of their own volition (infers not stealing the design of the first creator) then that in principle is what we know as a fair and open market. But, what scalpers do is take the product of someone else, and either through organically existing scarcity or as a result of higher demand to serve the purpose of scalping, then position themselves in a way as part of the supply chain. It doesn't necessarily require a degree or high degree of knowledge to attempt the act of scalping. So, then what separates scalping from something like drop shipping? Well, for one, other than just purchasing the inventory for resale, it's modified, branded, and becomes a product of the seller. Scalping does nothing to add value to a product, let alone modify it in any way so the only source for potential profit lies within the scalper's ability to purchase what they determine as being in demand and profits only exists when they are able to take advantage of the conditioned behavior consumers will experience as a result of their psychological need to have something sooner than later or what they couldn't or weren't able to be present physically at the time the original products were sold.

TL;DR: I realized that if the system of capitalism is meant to act as a defense to the legality of their actions, it should be taken into consideration that it is in no way an ideal model or example of capitalism.

By anon967031 — On Aug 24, 2014

Street scalpers offer a win-win proposal that carries the risk of lose-lose. They want your money, you want their ticket; open market regulates the price based on supply/demand. Their risk is not being able to find a buyer, the buyer's risk is paying more than standard. Scalpers are not guaranteed a return on their investment, even as far as having to sell them for less than face value. I have bought tickets from scalpers for more than 20 concerts, and only one time have I had to pay more than face value. Negotiation is an art, patience is a virtue.

By anon942832 — On Mar 29, 2014

I have a question out of curiosity that hopefully someone could help me answer. I'm wondering where this fits in this argument of ticket brokering being legal/illegal, etc. I've had a difficult time figuring out where this scenario fits.

Is it illegal to buy tickets from one secondary market (anywhere other than the original ticket seller such as Ticketmaster or directly from a team/arena from a site like eBay, StubHub, Vivid Seats, other ticket resale marketplaces) and sell them at a different price in another secondary market. For example, let's say I purchased a pair of tickets for $100 on eBay. A couple of days later, I sell the same tickets for $150 on StubHub. Unlike bigger ticket scalpers who buy a ton of tickets at once, this is buying and selling tickets from secondary markets.

Would I still be subject to the same laws of scalping being illegal? Would I be subject to paying tax at the end of the year or declaring this as "profit" I make at the end of a calendar year? Would the rules be different if I did this regularly versus infrequently (making two to five transactions a week versus two to five transactions a month, would the rules that apply be different)? Or would this viewed as nothing more than buying and selling to demand like stocks or collectible commodities?

Thanks in advance for any answers you can provide.

By anon319987 — On Feb 15, 2013

What about when a scalper uses a program to jam up the system with automatic purchases preventing private individuals wanting to purchase tickets the hour they go on sale? I agree it is not fair. I wanted two tickets, and I knew when they went on sale. I could not get through and now they are charging more than double the fee. The artist isn't making any more money. The scalper hasn't performed any service other than to block my original purchase.

By anon250127 — On Feb 24, 2012

@anon143266: It's actually not fair. It'd be one thing if they charged for even close to the face value, but they don't.

There have been numerous times (this morning included) where I have been online with my finger on the refresh button two minutes prior to the official selling time.

At 10 a.m., I was not able to get tickets. I tried, over and over again, because I am optimistic but kept getting the same message saying they didn't have the two tickets I wanted. An hour later, the event was declared sold out.

I immediately checked Stubhub - they had 172 tickets for the event, all starting at three times the face value of the ticket! I now realize I couldn't get them because resellers were buying them at the exact same time, not even letting us eager consumers purchase the tickets for the event we want!

If I could, I would pay the artist directly, but no, I already have to give ticketmaster x amount in fees, and now some jerks purchase up the tickets I"m trying to buy and want to charge me triple the price!

I can barely stand paying ticketmaster, so I am definitely not going to pay some stranger more than the actual artist who created the music I want to hear live! Total extortion.

By anon180074 — On May 25, 2011

The unfair part of scalping is when scalpers buy up a large amount of tickets, making it impossible for enough customers to buy the tickets they want at the affordable price. I don't know if there is a limit to the number of tickets you can buy at one time, but I'm sure there are ways to get around it.

What if a scalper buys up a whole section at once? Yes, they run the risk of not selling, but why should they care if they've sold their other tickets at a huge markup? Another thing is, yes, you should not wait until the last minute. But I just got a flyer in the mail about a show I had no idea about. Tickets went on sale in March. It's not till next month, but now there is only one seat left.

I'm sure it's because of scalpers, because I found some selling seats on ebay. Now I can't go because I can't afford the huge markup. I couldn't buy tickets to a show I didn't know about. Just the other side of the coin.

By anon174884 — On May 11, 2011

if you really want the fair price, how about buy the tickets before that night? Who said you had to wait till the last minute to get a ticket. Use some foresight!

By anon143266 — On Jan 15, 2011

RE: higher price because of greed: Really? It's not "fair?" Seems perfectly fair to me. Someone's got a product to sell, someone else is looking for that product. They get together, negotiate a deal, and everyone walks away with what they want. What on earth could be *more fair?

Of course, one has to be over the age of, say, nine, emotionally speaking, to appreciate the absolutely beautiful way the system works, which may be why some folks find it "unfair." --xtina

By anon133457 — On Dec 10, 2010

FrameMaker, nicely said. I do the same thing with my Red Sox season tickets.

By cougars — On Nov 01, 2010

@ FrameMaker- I am with you, I think that the only ones really complaining about scalpers are the sports teams who wish that they were making more money. Real fans follow their teams or favorite artists, and know when the tickets go on sale. Everyone has access to the tickets at the same time, scalpers and non-scalpers alike. Scalpers also run the risk of not selling all of their tickets as well. I have shown up late to concerts and been able to get in for less than half price by buying tickets form a scalper who bought too many tickets.

I just think that the sports leagues and states should just let people do what they want with services that they have paid for. I can buy almost anything for someone else, whether I know him or her or not, so why not tickets to an event? Outlawing scalping is like telling people that they can't buy collectibles to resell, or sell the hottest Christmas toys to the highest bidder.

By istria — On Nov 01, 2010

@ FrameMaker- I disagree with you. Why should I have to pay a higher price than the next person because someone else was greedy? Scalping isn't fair, and just like the article says, it makes the average person pay higher prices. If I loved the Cowboys, and I had just moved from my home state, you charging $500 per ticket would be like playing my emotions against me.

By FrameMaker — On Nov 01, 2010

I personally don't see a problem with ticket scalping. When I first moved to Phoenix, I bought Season tickets to the Cardinals in the Club Section. I paid about 2000 for two season tickets, but ended up seeing most of the games for much cheaper. I sold the tickets to the Dallas Game because I had no interest in seeing the Cowboys play, and I knew that there were a lot of transplants from Texas who wanted to see the game. I figured that if they were going to be rooting against my new home team, I would make them pay.

I sold the tickets for $500 apiece, making back half of the money for my season tickets in one sale. I sold one more pair of tickets that season and made another $400, so I only paid $600 for six sets of great regular season tickets, plus preseason games. If scalping were illegal, then I would have never been able to afford such great seats. I was able to live like the wealthy, eating at the premium buffets, extra wide seats, full bars with lounges and player meet and greets, all for less than the price of a pair of cheap seats for the season.

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