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All hail ticket scalpers!

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There was a time when the Mariners couldn't give away their tickets, unless they also threw in Microsoft stock options. And even then, only if "Northern Exposure" was a rerun.

Ticket scalpers
"Hey, buddy, slow down! I've got your tickets right here!"
Thanks to several postseason appearances, Ichiro's arrival and the best record in baseball, times have changed in Seattle. The team is so wildly popular now that the Mariners have begun a ticket resale service, in which season ticket holders may sell their tickets online at prices above face value. The M's receive a cut of the resale for a tidy additional profit on tickets they've already sold.

The Mariners aren't alone. The Giants have a similar service, with other teams expected to follow the money as well, as if they were players joining a bench-clearing brawl.

As in many cities, however, scalping is illegal in Seattle, and critics complain that if the Mariners are not actually breaking the law (the team insists it is not, because only season ticket holders living outside the city are allowed to charge more than face value for tickets through the service), they are, at the very least, hypocritical to run such a service while expecting the police to arrest scalpers on the street.

If you must buy tickets from a scalper, you'll want to check out Jim Caple's tips for landing tickets to the big game.

Those are compelling arguments, but the much more important issue is not whether the team is flaunting city scalping laws but why there are these ludicrous scalping laws in the first place.

Scalpers generally are portrayed as a seedy bunch of grifters only a few steps up the food chain from child pornographers, fantasy football participants and Pete Rose's circle of friends. I don't see it that way, though. Rather than a bigger blight on society than the Backstreet Boys, the scalper is a humble businessperson and a fan's best friend, next to $1 Heineken Night.

Is there a more victimless crime than scalping? Of course not. It is capitalism at its purest level. An event is sold out, you need a ticket and the scalper provides you one at a mutually agreed upon price. You don't need to be Louis Rukeyser to understand the remarkable efficiency of this market.

If tickets are in high demand, why shouldn't we let the market dictate price -- like we do for everything else?
While the scalper's ticket price might be far higher than you want to pay, you always have the option of going home and watching a very special episode of "Judging Amy" instead. Remember, we're not talking about gasoline or heating oil or some other precious commodity. We're talking about tickets to a game. You don't have to buy them.

But if you do, you might be a shrewd enough negotiator that your cost is less than the ticket's face value. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported in March that during a random sampling of events, the newspaper often found premium seats going for substantial discounts.

Who is hurt by this?

Not the team, which already received money for the seat and stands to gain further revenue when the fans buy $5 hot dogs and $6 beers at the concession stands. Not the fans who might otherwise be shut out from a game they obviously really want to see. Not the players, who perform in front of real live people, instead of empty seats when the corporate executives who get their tickets free from the office decide not to attend. And obviously not the scalpers, who leave with a thick wad of cash to add to their Roth IRAs.

Don't moan that scalpers buy up huge blocks of tickets either, preventing the average fan from getting a ticket at face value. Ticket brokers can already do this legally in many places. Lifting the scalping laws on individuals wouldn't make that situation any worse.

Ticket buyers
Before you buy from a scalper, make sure to check the stadium office for tickets that might have been returned.
True, some scalpers sell bogus or used tickets to unsuspecting fans, but that isn't a problem with scalping, that's a problem with fraud. And that's an entirely different issue. Crooks caught pawning off fake tickets should be punished to the full limits of the law by forcing them to buy hundreds of Expos season tickets at face value and then reselling them at whatever price they can get.

Ticket scalping laws vary widely and are more involved than the BCS formula or Fermat's Theorem. By the time you finally figure out whether it's legal to scalp a ticket, the game is likely to be over.

Better to keep it simple and get rid of the scalping bans entirely. After all, we live in a capitalistic society. We can buy a house, a car, a Monet or an Ichiro bobble-head doll, then turn around and resell it for whatever price we can get. Why not be able to do so with a ticket to a game?

Jim Caple is a senior writer for

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