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October 26, 2014

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Steve Wynn’s move to ‘protect fans’ leaves sour feelings

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Steve Marcus

A sign advertises performances by Garth Brooks at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel-casino at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel-casino Thursday, October 15, 2009. A new deal will bring Brooks out of retirement for a series of special performances in the Encore Theater.

Garth Brooks to perform at Wynn

Entertainer Garth Brooks, left, and Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn announce a deal during a news conference in the Encore Theater at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel-casino Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009. The arrangement will bring Brooks out of retirement for a series of special performances in the theater. Launch slideshow »

Mike Napier set his alarm for 8 a.m. last Saturday, hoping to be one of the first to purchase Garth Brooks tickets online as a surprise Christmas gift for his girlfriend.

Just before tickets sold out at 1 p.m., Napier finally got through the gridlock of buyers, purchasing four tickets so he and his girlfriend could go with another couple.

The day after purchasing tickets, he received a call from a Wynn employee, demanding information that he had never before been asked in all his years of buying concert tickets: Tell us the name of each ticket holder, or we’ll cancel your order. Panicked by the short notice, Napier named his parents as the other couple, knowing they, at least, would be available.

“If I would have known ahead of time, that would have been fine, but to get a call at the eleventh hour saying you must provide names or your tickets will be canceled was just poor customer service and very unprofessional,” Napier said.

Hours after his resort sold out of tickets for Garth Brooks’ first 20 shows, Steve Wynn instituted an unusual anti-scalping procedure that has angered fans and ticket brokers alike. His resort not only demanded the name of every concertgoer for every ticket purchased but said tickets could be picked up only on the day of the show and photo IDs would be checked at the door.

Well within his legal rights, Wynn promised that anyone who purchased a resold ticket would be denied access to Garth Brooks’ shows. He said he was going after “scalpers” — lumping black marketeers in with legitimate ticket brokers who have been legally — and profitably — reselling tickets to Strip shows for more than two decades.

Ticket brokers don’t use the term scalping. They say they are reselling on the secondary ticket market, which has become an integral part of Las Vegas’ entertainment scene. The practice allows fans to nab tickets at the last minute or to sold-out shows and sporting events, frequently at prices far above face value. It also helps venues fill their seats on less-than-full nights — including shows at Wynn Las Vegas.

But Wynn lured Brooks out of retirement to perform at the 1,500-seat Encore Theater on the promise that he’d keep ticket prices low — $125 a seat, which comes to $143 apiece after taxes and fees. After tickets sold out last Saturday, they were being resold for hundreds of dollars — some were advertised online for more than $1,000 apiece.

That triggered Wynn’s decision to retroactively crack down on scalpers invoking a seldom-used Clark County ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor to sell tickets for more than face value without permission from the venue. Wynn claims he helped write the ordinance in the ’90s to thwart scalping of Siegfried & Roy tickets. County officials say the law dates to 1987 and may even be older.

So fans such as Napier learned they’d have to provide the names of concertgoers — effectively shutting out resellers.

Both Wynn and ticket brokers say they are trying to protect fans.

The National Association of Ticket Brokers, which was founded in 1994 to set standards for the resale industry, fired back at Wynn’s new policy: “Fans hire brokers to help them find the tickets they want for the price they can pay or to resell tickets they can’t use. Wynn has no right to tell these fans ‘Hey, tough luck. Unless you bought them at our box office within two hours of going on sale then you can’t go to the show.’ ”

Gary Adler, legal counsel for the brokers association, said he can’t imagine why anyone would want to prevent brokers from reselling tickets in Las Vegas.

“Once you open up a market, it is much better for the consumer. You then have people doing business in the light of day and not through back alleys or the trunks of their cars,” Adler said.

“They say they are representing the fans?” Wynn told the Sun this week. “Well, Garth Brooks and I don’t think so. Scalpers were selling tickets online for $700 the day of sale. Garth wants to protect his fans, and I’m with him. We don’t want them exploited. The price is $125, and nobody but us and Garth Brooks are going to make money.”

Adler said the secondary market’s customers run the gamut — from sports fans who don’t have season tickets but want to see a particular game, to music fans who want closer seats and are willing to pay the premium, to people who don’t have the luxury of making plans months in advance.

Adler said 40 percent of tickets on the secondary market sell for less than face value.

There have been instances where primary sellers such as Wynn have tried to shut out the secondary market, but Adler said it only drives up prices and forces street corner deals. Adler said Wynn’s policy to identify in advance every ticket holder by name is unprecedented.

“Frankly it makes no business sense and in this case I guess they don’t care,” Adler said. “First of all, most people wouldn’t change the terms after someone bought the ticket. Second of all, most people aren’t in the position Mr. Wynn is in where they can afford to do that.”

Las Vegas attorney Barry Levinson said the procedure is an example of Wynn trying to control what goes on inside his resort.

“I think it’s an invasion of people’s privacy. I don’t want the resort to know who I’m going with and where I’m sitting,” Levinson said. “It could be a misrepresentation issue or contractual dispute, depending on what it says on the back of the ticket.”

Wynn’s policies have left a sour taste in the mouths of brokers and buyers. Adler said National Association of Ticket Brokers will no longer be hosting its annual convention at the Wynn.

The resort’s Facebook page has been filled with complaints from buyers, including Napier, who is thinking twice about doing business with Wynn again.

“Before this, I probably would have stayed at the hotel, I probably would have had dinner at one of their restaurants before the concert, I probably would have gambled in their casino,” Napier said. “I don’t see myself spending a dollar more at their resort.”

And it looks like his parents are going to be seeing Garth Brooks.

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