WASHINGTON -- What do fans of "Hamilton," Taylor Swift and Chance the Rapper have in common? They've all lost out on tickets to performances after they were snatched up by ticket-buying bots.
And despite efforts by federal and state governments, little has changed.
Sophisticated internet software known as bots race through ticket sellers' online ordering forms and buy hundreds of tickets well before human eyes even reach a captcha. Those tickets then get resold with a serious markup.
One broker used bots to buy 30,000 "Hamilton" tickets over 20 months -- vacuuming up as much as 40 percent of available seats for some performances -- according to a lawsuit by Ticketmaster. During Bruce Springsteen's Broadway run, tickets with a $75 face value were selling for $1,400 on StubHub. Bot-reliant brokers have drawn the ire of pop star Taylor Swift, who vowed to foil them with a ticket-buying system aimed at rewarding the most active fans. And Chance the Rapper bought about 2,000 tickets from scalpers and sold them back to fans.
Federal and state governments have tried to push their way into the murky gutters of the web, banning the use of bots software and, in some cases, instituting criminal penalties for those who are caught. But so far, few have been.
The Federal Trade Commission, which, alongside state attorneys general, is assigned to enforce the federal law, has yet to bring any enforcement action. And of the 13 states that ban bots, New York appears to be the only one to have reached a settlement with ticket resellers.
According to the New York Attorney General's Office, tickets are resold on the secondary market at an average markup of 49 percent. Of course, the markup can be even higher for major events: The average ticket price for this year's Super Bowl was an eye-popping $5,500. The face value for nosebleed seats is $950.
To be sure, bots aren't the only factor limiting ticket availability to the public -- an investigation by NewsChannel 5 in Nashville, Tenn., found that just 7 percent of tickets to a Justin Bieber concert were actually up for grabs. The rest were set aside for promoters, fan club members and American Express cardholders. But bots are most targeted by lawmakers.
Proponents say the legislation still has a deterrent effect, particularly once criminal penalties become a part of the package.
"The first step to stop bad behavior is to make it illegal," said Arizona state Sen. John Kavanagh, a Republican who sponsored a bill banning bots. "Even if it's difficult to enforce, you can put a dent in it by making it illegal and hopefully deter people."