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Lawmakers across the U.S. want to crack down on bots and ticket resellers

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Many fans have had to deal with surging ticket prices for popular tours in recent years. Some blame bots for flooding ticket selling sites, saying they buy up tickets and create bidding wars on the resale market. In Arizona, state lawmakers are trying to address the problem. Wayne Schutsky reports from KJZZ in Phoenix.

WAYNE SCHUTSKY, BYLINE: Ahead of Taylor Swift's Eras Tour launch in Glendale, Ariz., Lisa Abelar marked her calendar to make sure she could snag tickets for her two daughters, who she described as hardcore Swifties.

LISA ABELAR: I remember feeling really frustrated, thinking, what are you talking about? There must be a glitch, or there must be something wrong.

SCHUTSKY: Abelar never even got a chance to see what tickets were available because Ticketmaster's website experienced now-infamous crashes that booted thousands of fans from the website. So Abelar says she went to the secondhand ticket market, but...

ABELAR: There was no possible way that I could ever justify paying anything close to what they were going for at that time.

SCHUTSKY: Eras Tour ticket prices originally averaged around $250 each but fetched an average of nearly $2,200 on the resale market. Fans across the nation faced similar problems. The debacle resulted in congressional hearings, where Ticketmaster faced accusations that its dominance in the market and a lack of competition is to blame. Joe Berchtold with Ticketmaster-affiliated Live Nation said the company took responsibility for the problems on its website, but the secondhand market was also to blame.

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JOE BERCHTOLD: We also need to recognize how industrial scalpers using bots and cyberattacks to unfairly gain tickets has contributed to this awful experience.

SCHUTSKY: In Arizona, Republican state representative David Cook is pushing for a pair of bills to try and remedy the situation. One would ban bots from jumping the line on websites like Ticketmaster. The other would impose new rules on the resale market.

DAVID COOK: Congress in Washington, D.C., likes to talk about things like they're actually doing something, but they don't. So Arizona is going to step up and protect consumers today.

SCHUTSKY: In 2016, Congress passed a law restricting the use of bots to purchase concert tickets. But venue owners say it's not effective. Stephen Chilton owns The Rebel Lounge in Phoenix.

STEPHEN CHILTON: The BOTS Act has done nothing because there's no enforcement mechanism.

SCHUTSKY: Chilton says speculators target smaller shows, too, preying on consumers who might even think they're buying from the venue.

CHILTON: On a non-demand show - say, a local show at Rebel Lounge - the scalpers just list every one of those shows at crazy prices - $90 for a $15 ticket.

SCHUTSKY: And he alleges in some cases those speculators don't even own those tickets when they list them. That can result in ticket sales being canceled at the last minute because the reseller didn't secure the ticket they had already sold. Cook, the bill's sponsor, says that's what he's trying to stop.

COOK: If you own something then you want to sell it, that's fine. But you're selling property that you don't own or you don't possess, and then the fees are just astronomical.

SCHUTSKY: Third-party ticketing sites like StubHub and Vivid Seats say they support bans on misleading, speculative ticket sales. But Kelsey Lundy, a lobbyist for Vivid, says any new law targeting bots should require primary ticket sellers like Ticketmaster to report when bots flood their sites.

KELSEY LUNDY: But the reason that we haven't seen very many investigations, very many prosecutions is because these breaches are not necessarily reported.

SCHUTSKY: But Howard Waltzman, an attorney for Live Nation, says that's easier said than done.

HOWARD WALTZMAN: That's an IP address that's bouncing around from Bulgaria to the Philippines to wherever else. You can't identify who's using those bots, let alone who is paying for those bots to be used so they can sell tickets.

SCHUTSKY: Arizona Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs says she's still reviewing the bill.

KATIE HOBBS: I will support things that make things more affordable for Arizonans, and if this is a way to do that, then yeah.

SCHUTSKY: Before it can reach Hobbs' desk, the legislation must make it through the Arizona State House. If that happens, Cook says he's going to invite Taylor Swift to the bill signing. That's a plan Hobbs says she can get behind. For NPR News, I'm Wayne Schutsky in Phoenix.

(SOUNDBITE OF MC PIETRO ZN SONG, "DEUS ME MOSTROU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Wayne Schutsky