Earlier this summer, as Lin-Manuel Miranda prepared to take his final bow as the star of Broadway's Hamilton, a thought kept nagging him. Ticket scalpers had reportedly used electronic "bots" to snatch up more than 20,000 Hamilton tickets as soon as they went on sale. Resellers charged an average of $1,000 per seat, according to one estimate – more than twice that of the top face-value ticket at the time – en route to earning $15.5 million from Hamilton during Miranda's run. "I'm so scared of the way scalpers fuck with prices," he told Rolling Stone.
The concert industry faces the same problems: Bots buy and sell tens of thousands of concert tickets in a typical year, marking them up an average of 49 percent, according to the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. In early August, Miranda decided to fight back, holding a press conference with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to urge Congress to pass the BOTS Act. The bipartisan bill, which Schumer introduced to the Senate in the spring, would fine bot-users up to $16,000.
Even if the legislation passes, it's only a first step toward curbing a ticket-resale market that's estimated at $8 billion and has more tools at its disposal than just bots (some resellers also use banks of computer operators to repeatedly reload Ticketmaster's pages for hot concert sales). Another complication: Many ticket bots are located overseas, meaning they're beyond the scope of the legislation. "[Fighting the bots] is like Whack-a-Mole," says Stuart Ross, tour director for Tom Waits. "The average fan doesn't have a chance."
Artists have tried their own anti-scalping remedies. For her arena tour, Adele mandated that buyers of the best 3,000 seats show credit cards to get in, yet $40 to $150 face-value tickets appeared on StubHub for as much as $9,000. Michael Rapino, head of Live Nation, has encouraged artists to raise prices to ward off scalpers – which Hamilton just did, boosting top seats from $475 to $850.
The only surefire way to stop scalping, it seems, is also the most cumbersome: paperless ticketing, which gives fans nontransferable tickets and requires them to show ID at venues, a practice that often creates long lines. Still, Miranda hopes, the BOTS Act will at least level the playing field for the average fan. "You shouldn't have to fight robots," he wrote in The New York Times in June, "just to see something you love."