Scalping boom as NHL playoffs begin, but is it legal?

Winnipeg Jets fans celebrate during a game in St. Paul, Minnesota February 16, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Mil

The NHL playoffs are here, and it’s time for intense, emotionally-charged battles, and maybe a little bloodshed.

And that’s just to get tickets.

Hockey fans are snapping up tickets — Winnipeg Jets playoff passes sold out in five minutes — and plenty of opportunists are busy jacking up prices. Business is booming for scalpers and other re-sellers.

“Do not send me low-ball or sob-story requests. These tickets will sell fast,” reads a callous kijiji ad for a Calgary Flames’ ticket seller asking an audacious $3,000 for two seats normally priced at $850.

Ironically, the Ottawa Senators have created an increased demand for scalped tickets by restricting sales to buyers living in the capital region. It’s leading Ottawa-area buyers to pick up tickets and post them online for frustrated fans who live elsewhere.

Five Canadian teams — Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver — made the playoffs this year, so there’s plenty of excitement across the country right now. That means more fans for greedy scalpers to prey on. But how much of it is legal?

Ticket resale and scalping laws vary according to province. While it’s never illegal to simply resell, some provinces say you can’t jack up the price.

Ontario’s Ticket Speculation Act and Manitoba’s Amusements Act both forbid reselling of a ticket for higher than face value. Offenders face a maximum fine of $5,000.

But try telling that to people selling Jets playoff tickets at $800 for two seats, or fans offering $1,000 for a pair (one ad on kijiji offers a cool million for two, but it’s likely tongue-in-cheek).

Anyone who’s sought concert or event tickets in either province can tell you that markups are routine, despite being illegal. Those laws are rarely enforced and it’s difficult to do so.

In fact, many people may not even be aware the law exists. One Winnipegger whose made thousands of dollars scalping recently issued an ironic and tone-deaf call to action, saying Manitoba should regulate ticket scalping (the Amusements Act has been on the books since 1920).  The scalper, who wouldn’t identify himself, noted that his sales are uniquely “ethical and human” since he never charges more than a 50-per-cent markup. Congratulations on your self-restraint, sir.

Quebec’s Bill 25 also bans merchants and individuals from inflating ticket prices. The 2011 legislation survived a court challenge from ticket companies, who claimed it prevented them from doing business.

Scalpers have a freer hand in other playoff-bound provinces.

Alberta repealed its own Amusements Act in 2009, since it was too difficult to enforce. British Columbia also allows unfettered scalping and resales.

So good luck getting tickets hockey fans. It’s a tough game.

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