DALLAS -- By the time Darren Moore decided to woo out-of-town clients with tickets to the Southwest Conference Post-Season Basketball Classic, seats were gone. Or so the SWC ticket office told him.
Then he saw the advertisement from a company in suburban Plano, Golden Tickets Inc., that promised Classic tickets. Moore, a regional salesman for International Staple Co. of Philadelphia, bought 10 ticket blocks. Instead of paying the $60-per-block face value, Moore met Golden's $1,515.50 price.
In 21 states, Golden's action would have been considered illegal ticket scalping. In Texas, it is legal ticket brokering.
Golden is among several dozen ticket brokerages operating in Texas. The company purchases seats to entertainment events -- especially sports -- from services like Rainbow Ticketmaster, season-ticket holders and, at times, event promoters. Golden then sells the tickets at whatever price the market will bear.
Ticket services such as Rainbow contract with event promoters to sell their tickets at set prices. In Texas, Rainbow is allowed to levy a convenience charge on each ticket it sells, but the extra charge is within an established range. Rainbow, for example, charges an extra $2.50 for Dallas Cowboys tickets.
Brokers such as Golden say they provide a service in the spirit of supply and demand. Some legislators, consumers and ticket services call those brokers swindlers.
One thing is certain: Brokering tickets is big business often wrought with ethical problems. One study by Arizona State University showed the practice can create artificial demand, make events too expensive for many people and leave consumers with little recourse when they encounter problems. But the study also agreed it is legitimate commerce.
"We provide a service in obtaining tickets people are trying to get," Golden vice president Ram Silverman said. "We don't hold a gun to peoples' heads."
Robert Frohling, a policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, disagrees. "It's a consumer protection issue, a tax issue and a potential crime issue," he said. "But it's real lucrative right now."
According to the Texas comptroller's office, sales in Dallas County by theatrical producers and services -- under which most ticket brokerages fall -- rose to $30 million last year from $21 million in 1987, about 42 percent.
The Dallas Yellow Pages now lists nine ticket brokerages. Four years ago, it showed seven. One of those brokerages, Texas Tickets Inc., has a billboard on the same North Central Expressway block that Rainbow's headquarters are located.
Golden Tickets, which started in 1988 with two employees, now has seven, Silverman said. It also has corporate accounts, Silverman said, and pays thousands in state sales taxes.
"I don't understand the argument against ticket brokers," Silverman said.
Here is one: When the SWC Classic sold out rapidly this year, it did so mostly because of ticket brokers rather than college basketball fans, said Allen Archer, an assistant to the SWC commissioner. As a result, Archer said, many fans who otherwise might have bought tickets no longer could afford them.
"They've [brokers] had a lot of effect on demand . . . the last two years," he said. "They drove the price up. It was the same with the NCAA Tournament. We take a lot of public criticism when there's a 'Sold Out' sign in the window, and a broker has tickets for sale at twice the cost."
The brokers' high prices are the most common consumer complaint, according to the Dallas offices of the Texas attorney general and Better Business Bureau.
Two complaints filed with the attorney general's office in Dallas against First Row Tickets Inc. and Texas Tickets, two Dallas-based brokers, cite the companies for charging inflated prices.
So, too, do numerous complaints against ticket brokerages filed with the Better Business Bureau in Dallas. Many of those petitions, like Darren Moore's, also charge ticket brokers with misrepresentation.
Moore said Golden delivered his tickets late and did not give him a package of seats as he had requested. Instead, he said, the seats Golden provided were scattered throughout Reunion Arena.
"I had people coming in from Fort Smith, Little Rock and Joplin, Missouri," Moore said. "Before every session [five over four days], I had to meet him [Silverman] at the Hyatt to get the tickets because he had scalpers out every day buying his tickets from people walking up.
"For the final game, he only had two tickets. Eight of my clients couldn't go to the championship game. It was ridiculous."
Moore wants his money back. The Better Business Bureau stated it will send his complaint to arbitration, where plaintiffs win about half the time.
"You can't make everybody happy," said Silverman, who refused to discuss the case prior to its hearing.
One professional sports team ticket manager in Dallas, who asked not to be identified, said the manner in which Golden operates is par for brokerages.