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Legislature OKs bill to make ticket ‘bot’ use a misdemeanor

ALBANY -- The state Legislature approved a bill Friday to make the use of ticket “bots” — computerized programs that scarf up the hottest tickets for Broadway and sports events so resellers can jack up the prices — a misdemeanor crime.

But the measure, a compromise, doesn’t contain penalties as strong as some lawmakers wanted.

The bill would make the use of “automated ticket purchase software,” a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail — though incarceration is probably not a likely scenario, lawmakers acknowledged.

The Republican-led Senate had favored a tougher version of the bill, which would have made the crime a felony. It also provides a mechanism whereby sellers could be compelled to post the face value of tickets on websites.

The industry strongly opposed the “face value” provision and many Assembly Democrats opposed the felony provision, according to the bill’s sponsors, Assemb. Marco Crespo (D-Bronx) and Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island). In the end, they decided to compromise rather than let the issue die.

“Assemb. Crespo did a yeoman’s job pursuing this, but the Assembly majority just refused,” Lanza said. “And, at the end of the day, we are going to have — for the first time — a bill that imposes criminal sanctions” for the use of bots.

The Assembly approved the measure Friday morning; the Senate followed suit in the afternoon. The bill will go to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo later this year for signature or veto.

By using automated software called “bots,” third-party ticket sellers can snatch large numbers of tickets for popular shows in a matter of minutes.

For example, a single broker purchased 1,102 tickets to a U2 show in a single minute, according to a report by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. Another scooped up 522 tickets in five minutes for a One Direction concert in 2013. Regular fans can’t compete with bots and often wind up having to go through brokers to get tickets at marked up prices.

“Ticketing, to put it bluntly, is a fixed game,” Schneiderman said. In April, he reached a settlement that forced six companies to pay $2.7 million in penalties and end bot techniques.

Elevating the issue, Lin-Manuel Miranda, star of the Broadway hit “Hamilton,” penned an Op-Ed recently in The New York Times headlined “Stop the Bots from Killing Broadway.” He wrote: “You shouldn’t have to fight robots just to see something you love.”

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