Their presence is felt from the bright lights of the Paramount to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
They are being fought by artists and the state’s top lawyer, with the cost of that battle being paid for by angry fans.
That elusive foe: ticket bots. Computer programs run by scammers who snatch tickets in milliseconds.
And a year after Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill making ticket bots illegal, they haven’t gone away.
“It’s a joke,” said Josh LaBelle, executive director of the Seattle Theatre Group, which includes the Paramount.
In the last several years, the Paramount has seen repeated attacks that have hurt many customers.
How? The tickets purchased by bots end up being resold in the secondary market.
“That means the consumer is paying more than we or the artist are intending, and ultimately that’s going to make it harder for them to bring their family back sooner,” LaBelle said.
To go forward with this story, we have to go back to the beginning. The year is 1999 and a man named Ken Lowson founded a company named Wiseguy Tickets.
“We invented ticket bots,” Lowson said.
It’s an absolute fact. Lowson pulled in more than $25 million through his bot empire. He and his partners set up a network of servers that would make sure his company was first in line when tickets went on sale.
“It wasn’t us looking at all these seats and having to pick oh those are good those are good. It would just be on a screen, preselected to purchase, and we’d hit a button at the bottom and 500 tickets would get bought for that show.
So what about the picture test ticket sites use to prove you’re a human. It didn’t slow the Wiseguy Tickets team down a bit.
“An image is just ones and zeros behind it. So if it’s the same image that keeps popping up then your system can know right when it pops up.
Lowson was indicted by federal authorities on wire fraud charges and a myriad of other crimes.
Prosecutors say Lawson sold more than a million tickets in just four years. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and did no jail time.
But what Lowson left behind was a business model that’s been copied worldwide.
“Now you have these guys with these servers and they are able to hit a show in a way that is 100s of attempts. And you multiply that by 50 computers and 50 shows …,” he said.
LaBelle, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and I worked to pass the bot law last year.
However, since the law’s passage there have been no prosecutions.
“It’s a challenge when you start with a brand-new type of violation,” Ferguson said. “You have to get the expertise in your office. The resources there get the tips as to who may be violating the law.
That takes some time to develop, but we’re confident we will be having a case before too long,” Ferguson said.
If there’s one band leading the charge against bots it is Pearl Jam.
Tim Bierman runs the band’s fan club, called 10 Club.
Join the club and you become part of a lottery to get tickets.
“We assign them to members based on their seniority so people who’ve been in the fan club the longest will get better tickets,” Bierman said. “We make people pick up their tickets at the window. We don’t send them to them.”
The next great test for the Paramount is when the Broadway hit “Hamilton” comes next season.
Thanks in part to bots a $199 face value ticket for the show in New York now costs close to $2,000.
LaBelle says fans can’t afford to have that happen here.
“Jesse, we’re just going to have to blow off the internet,” LaBelle said. “I’m not sure if we can get this under control. We are really going to have to take a hard look at how we get tickets into real people’s hands.