Latest Los Angeles fad: Olympic ticket scalping

Los Angeles has begun to dress itself in Olympic bunting, with banners hung along streets and brightly colored freeway signs directing rush-hour drivers toward far-flung tennis, weightlifting, or judo exits.

But it appears that many southern Californians bought their Olympic tickets in order to become speculators, not spectators.

Scalping, the private reselling of tickets for profit, is outlawed in many states. But it is legal in California, so long as the tickets are not resold on the premises of the event.

The Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOCC) has sold more tickets than it expected to, by a healthy margin, and the resale market is flooded.

Local classified columns are full of ads offering to sell tickets for high-priced events that are officially sold out: opening and closing ceremonies, boxing and basketball finals, some track and field sessions.

Local ticket brokers are touting choice seats to any event at prices two to four times the face value of the tickets. Brian Harlig, owner of Good Time Tickets, sells $200 seats for the opening ceremonies, the most expensive event, for $800.

The Olympic organizers took pains to be democratic in distributing tickets. There were no perquisites for local political chieftains or other bigwigs. Orders were filled by lottery, with a limit on the number of tickets an individual could buy.

The point was to get tickets directly to individuals, without going through the middlemen who buy in bulk and resell to individuals at a markup.

It worked, but a lot of those individual buyers are turning to scalping.

Apparently many simply ordered several tickets, expecting to get only part of their order filled, and got more tickets than they really wanted. Others may have changed their minds about attending the Games.

Many others, it is clear, saw an opportunity to turn a quick profit.

Los Angeles brokers say they are stunned by the number of tickets southern Californians are trying to sell. They also say the boycott by the Soviet bloc has had little effect on the ticket market.

The boycotting nations themselves had ordered only about 10,000 tickets, a pittance compared with the 3.5 million that have been sold. Those 10,000 seats have now been sold to local people on waiting lists.

The LAOOC allocated 600,000 tickets to be distributed outside the US, but other countries bought only 400,000. Now local brokers report that many countries are asking for help in selling off blocks of tickets in southern California.

Corporate sponsors of the games also have large blocks of tickets that brokers say are coming onto the market.

''We're no longer buying tickets for any events,'' says Brian Harlig, who has about a quarter-million dollars in tickets already in hand for which he says he has corporate customers. ''I'm telling my friends to try to sell their tickets as soon as possible, and don't look back.''

Larry Gold, owner of Ticket Time, notes that demand is strong for key events, although the Soviet-led boycott has weakened the market for events like boxing and swimming in which boycotting nations were especially strong.

Curtis Lantello, owner of Southern California Tickets, says he gets more inquiries from ticket sellers than buyers by a 100 to 1.

''We have quite a big demand'' for Olympic tickets, says David Adelman, co-owner of Murray's Tickets. But the number of speculators in the market, he adds, ''is the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen.''

Hotel bookings in southern California are looking stronger than they were before the boycott, indicating that not many Olympic travelers were put off by it.

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