Orioles try to shut out scalpers

June 26, 1994|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Sun Staff Writer

On game days, Peter G. Angelos surveys the streets around Camden Yards and can't quite stomach what he's seeing. Ticket scalpers -- two to three dozen hustling entrepreneurs -- are working the streets, clutching tickets and trying to close the next high-priced sale.

"It's offensive to see what goes on out there," says the Orioles owner. "There's a husband and a wife. A father and a mother. They go to the window, 'Sorry, no tickets.' But the scalpers are walking around with handfuls, waving them under your nose, holding out a $10 ticket and asking $35, $40, $50.

"See where I begin to get irritated?"

Mr. Angelos is doing more than stewing over the scalping problem. Halfway through his first season running the team, he's overseeing a major effort to put scalpers out of business, or at least push them away from the ballpark's gates.

The Orioles are battling the problem on several fronts. This year, the club is paying for a police undercover detail specifically to zero in on ticket scalpers. The cost of the four-person team is $700 to $1,000 a night, say club officials. The Orioles also say they soon will open a window or kiosk at the ballpark for fans who want to exchange their tickets or obtain refunds.

The Orioles also are scrutinizing their ticket office and dealing with employees suspected of supplying scalpers. Although such incidents are rare, club officials say a part-time employee recently was fired after billing $4,000 worth of tickets to a single credit card. The circumstances of the sale suggested the buyer might be a ticket broker, club officials say.

That incident followed the prosecution this year of a ticket office employee charged with misapplying more than $42,000 in payments from season-ticket customers.

In his anti-scalping campaign, Mr. Angelos has sought -- and received -- help from Baltimore City Council. Urged on by the Orioles owner, himself a former councilman and mayoral candidate, the council last week put new teeth in the city's existing ban on ticket scalping.

Council members passed two scalping bills, including one that would prohibit the resale of tickets on streets and sidewalks within one mile of Camden Yards, even if the seller wants only the ticket's face value. The measure, which is waiting Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's signature, could become law next month.

Ticket scalping is illegal in Baltimore, but legal in every other jurisdiction in Maryland. Police make on average of three scalping arrests per game at Camden Yards. But offenders, after paying fines of $250, often are back the next day, say police. Under the new law, the maximum fine would be $1,000.

Mr. Angelos' efforts have earned praise, especially from those who deal most often with the scalpers.

"Mr. Angelos is taking a very impressive stand on this. He's on top of it," says Lt. Russell Shea, who directs the Camden Yards police detail.

But scalpers are upset with the owner.

"He's greedy," says Gino Brown, a veteran scalper from Baltimore, as he stood across the street from the ballpark last week. "He should be concentrating on safety inside the stadium, not us outside."

Michael Hugley, 32, is a laid-off construction worker who says he relies on his scalping income to support his family and help his mother.

"I don't have a high school degree. I don't have a college education," Mr. Hugley says. "I learned how to hustle all my life. And this is the safest hustle I ever hustled."

The scalpers declined to talk about what they earn selling tickets.

For his part, Mr. Angelos says his objections to scalping have nothing to do with the quick money scalpers earn. "I don't care about that. If people can make a profit, great," he says. "What I'm concerned about is fans being required to pay exorbitant prices for tickets, because somehow we are not masters of the situation.

"I feel responsible for what's going on, because, in a sense, our fans are getting fleeced."

To be sure, Mr. Angelos isn't the first Orioles owner to discover the scalping problem or to try to curb it. But he has inherited a frenzy for Orioles tickets that exceeds what most past owners dreamed possible.

During their 38 years at Memorial Stadium, Orioles games frequently were played before more empty seats than paying customers. With ticket demand low, opportunities for scalpers were lean. Still, there were a few celebrated cases. Bobby Shriver, whose father, Sargent Shriver, later was an Orioles investor, was arrested for scalping tickets during the 1983 World Series.

Rising demand

Demand soared when the Orioles moved to Camden Yards in 1992. Since then, 171 of 198 Orioles games at the ballpark have been sellouts. Buying a ticket now requires planning months ahead or searching out a seller on the street.

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