WASHINGTON - From sold out to shut out, fans are finding it harder and harder to score seats to the big event without shelling out big bucks to a scalper.
The culprit: ticket bots.
Ticket bots are computer programs that help scalpers skip the line when hot events go on sale.
Now, state and federal lawmakers are trying to short circuit ticket bots, so real fans don't pay the price.
From sports to concerts to the smash hit show Hamilton coming to town, the competition for tickets is fierce.
"It's like winning the lottery,” Rich Romine said as he stood outside a sold out Verizon Center before a Washington Capitals playoff game.
“Except it costs you money, it doesn't bring you money,” Romine added.
If you ever wondered why the hunt for tickets has gotten so hard, the answer lies in progress.
Back in the day, you just stood in line for tickets, even if it meant camping out. First in line meant front row at the show.
Then things moved to phones, where you had to try and try again just to get through.
The internet now gives anybody in the world access to a show through online waiting rooms. But, one scalper using a ticket bot fills that waiting room with his people. That allows scalpers to buy up big chunks of tickets and resell them at a markup on sites like StubHub.
It all started with a guy named Ken Lowson. He is credited with inventing ticket bots.
“So by geographically spreading our servers, one of our 30 servers would get all the tickets every time,” Lowson said in a recent Skype interview.
Lowson was busted by the FBI for wire fraud related to his scheme. Now he works to help the industry stop guys like him, founding a group called TIXFAN.
"The priority is eliminate ticket bots and professional scalping,” Lowson said.
If only it were that simple.
A Maryland law banning the use of ticket bots has been on the books for three years. But a spokesperson for Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh told the WUSA 9 Special Assignment Unit, they've never taken action under it. Not once.
It's the same story in a number of other states, based on research by the WUSA9 Special Assignment Unit.
Meanwhile, Melissa Dickey, Federal Trade Commission attorney, is part of the team that is still trying to figure out how to enforce a newly passed federal law created to fight ticket bots.
"It's too soon to tell,” said Dickey on any possible prosecution under the new law could come to fruition.
"That is going to be one of the challenges that we'll face as we move forward,” Dickey said. “Unfortunately this is not going to be the type of scammer that's walking into a bank."
Dickey said identifying the person behind a ticket bot is as difficult as figuring out who's behind a robocall.
The user is always masked so tracking them down is really hard. The FTC is reaching out to groups like Ticketmaster for help with ways to stop the bots.
Meantime, Lowson has switched to fighting for the fans seeking to buy online tickets.
"I had sort of an epiphanic moment if you will, something popped in my head and said 'Ken, you're on the wrong side.'"
If you’re looking for ways to “Beat the Bots:”
- Create an account with Ticketmaster. That will speed up the process of logging in and getting tickets when they go on sale.
- Take advantage of pre-sales. Sometimes that means joining a band or team's fan club. It gives you access days before the general public.
- And if you do end up having to go through a broker, check back in the final days before the event, when prices can plummet.