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Pataki Proposes Ticket Broker Bill

Gov. George E. Pataki has entered the political debate on how much New York ticket brokers can charge for tickets to entertainment and sporting events, proposing a resale cap of 40% above face value. The former law, which allowed brokers to charge no more than 10% or $5, expired on June 1.

Pataki's proposal was developed in tandem with the Consumer Protection Board, which, prior to the June 1 deadline, had promoted a bill which would retain the 10% limit, while permitting loopholes which often drive ticket prices higher. That bill, which was then backed by Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Nassau County), also called for increased supervision of brokers.

"We have spearheaded this effort with the governor," said Tim Carey, the board's chairman and executive director. "We have been working with industry professionals over the last few months."

The bill's 40% cap would be all-exclusive, eliminating any other surcharges. The measure also "seeks to plug the enforcement loopholes in the present law" with increased penalties for violations of the law. For instance, failure to print the established price on a ticket would become a misdemeanor, carrying a $1,500 fine for the first offense, $3,500 for the second offense, and $6,000 for the third offense. Furthermore, offenses such as aggravated ticket speculation would be felonies, if the instance was the accused's second or third infraction.

The bill also calls for the formation of a nine-member task force, charged to report back to the governor and the legislature by January 1999 with recommendations on the ticket broker industry. The bill would expire on June 1, 1999.

Assembly Democrats are reportedly unenthusiastic about Pataki's bill. Calls to the office of Sen. Roy Goodman (R-New York), who is sponsoring a bill which asks for a 30% fee limit and forbids any further charges, were not returned. The senator's bill has the support of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the Shubert Organization, and the League of American Theatres and Producers.

Jersey Returns to Free Market

In other news on the ticket broker front, the New Jersey legislature-- despite the results of a free market 18-month experiment which many regarded as inconclusive--recently approved legislation which would allow ticket brokers to charge whatever the market will bear for a second year-and-a-half period.

Barbara Janowitz, director of governmental affairs at the League of American Theatres and Producers, said she was "less than thrilled about the New Jersey bill." The bill duplicates the fiscal environment of a recent 18-month experimental period in which ticket brokers were free to charge whatever price they could command for tickets. Before and since that period, brokers were allowed to charge no more than $3 or 20%, whichever is greater, on top of ticket prices.

The New Jersey experiment was meant to illustrate whether a free market approach to the ticket broker law was viable. The resulting report from the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, released April 1, was widely deemed a wash. Janowitz had termed the study "not a successful one," and suggested the division leaned toward the opinion that a free market approach did not work.

Janowitz was not completely surprised that, despite the lackluster study, the free market legislation was passed. "I think they did it because the ticket brokers have been very active in New Jersey," said Janowitz. "They made a lot of campaign contributions."

She said, however, that there was a chance that New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who must sign the bill for it to become law, might instead issue a conditional veto of the bill, and ask for it to be rewritten. Whitman, who faces an election this year, has called the report "inconclusive" and been quoted as saying "I always feel more comfortable when we're doing everything we can to protect the consumer."

Whitman previously vetoed an attempt by the legislature to deregulate the ticket business in June 1995.

Janowitz did not expect that the New Jersey bill would influence continuing ticket broker negotiations

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